Downtown dust-up draws to dubious detente

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
December 21st, 2012

A conflict between two downtown business owners was discussed during a meeting this afternoon which included the two owners, a local liquor inspector, city director of Planning and Development Phil Markin, Castlegar top cop Sgt. Laurel Mathew, councillors Dan Rye and Kevin Chernoff, as well as Mayor Lawrence Chernoff.

According to councillor and Planning and Development Committee chair Kevin Chernoff, the issue arose as the result of the city sending ‘unsightly premises’ notification to the owner of 1209, 1217 and 1224 3 St. and 310 Columbia Ave., that she would have 14 days to remediate damaged windows and stucco,  or the city would proceed with same at the owner’s expense.

“The city was about to put a motion forward to repair the windows and stucco, and we notified the property owner with an invitation to come speak to the issue,” Chernoff said, adding the issue of boarded-up windows and unsightly stucco have been ongoing for at least a year or two now.

The owner’s husband, Basil McLaren, accepted the invitation, arguing before council that the damage was the result of intoxicated patrons from the nearby Element Night Club, Bar and Grill, citing as many as 28 broken windows costing as much as $1,500 each to replace. He said the Element’s failure to comply with its Good Neighbour Agreement (signed upon opening) was the root of the problem, not an unreasonable lack of upkeep.

Today’s 3:30 p.m. meeting was slated between the governing authorities, McLaren and Element owner Florio Vassilakakis in an attempt to reach some sort of compromise. Susan McLaren and Basil McLaren Jr. were also in attendance.

“It lasted about an hour and a half,” Chernoff said. “I’d say we made progress. It took us awhile to get there – we had to get through some long-standing issues between the two business owners, that didn’t really have much to do with the city.

“They made some progress; they agreed to have discussions over the next week or so and inform us if they reach some sort of mutual agreement. Either way, we’re bringing our recommendation forward to council at its next meeting on Jan. 6. We’re hoping to hear back from both of them by then.”

He said if they get no word, the likely recommendation will be to move forward with the original unsightly premises resolution, as it’s not an issue council is willing to keep on the table indefinitely.

“One of the reasons we put a time frame on it is because council really wants to move on this and get the downtown cleaned up.”

The Source was unable to reach either Basil or Susan McLaren for comment, but Vassilakakis said this evening that he regrets the issue had to become so contentious.

“I’m not without sympathy – I get windows broken, too,” he said. “But I pay to have them fixed – it’s a cost of doing business in the downtown core. I’ve always been willing to sit down and find solutions to the impact my business has, not only on other downtown businesses, but on the community as a whole.”

Further, he said that some of this vandalism occurs on nights the Element isn’t even open, so laying the responsibility solely at the feet of Element patrons is not necessarily a reasonable approach, nor is asking Element owners to pay for any and all vandalism that occurs in the downtown core.

“I’m investing in downtown business, I’m investing in downtown residential space – I care about the downtown, and I think I’ve been a part of revitalizing it. The idea that there was no vandalism before I got here – it just doesn’t seem realistic. I think we’ve had more positive impact than negative.”

All that being said, he said it was nice to meet McLaren face-to-face, and he hopes they can come to some sort of resolution to the contentious issue.