No ready solution presenting for downtown business conflict

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
January 11th, 2013

It seems unlikely a dispute between the City of Castlegar and two downtown business owners is likely to be resolved outside a courtroom, after discussions between the parties have clarified each position but offered little in the way of practical compromise.

The issue became public during a Dec. 3, 2012 council meeting in which, according to councillor and then-Planning and Development Committee chair Kevin Chernoff, discussion began about the city sending ‘unsightly premises’ notification to the owners of 1209, 1217 and 1224 3 St. and 310 Columbia Ave., (Basil and Susan McLaren) that they 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, 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.

McLaren and Element owner Florio Vassilakakis were given a 30-day window in which to discuss the issue, and a meeting was scheduled for Dec. 20 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.

The meeting yielded no solutions, and subsequent communications between McLaren and Vassilakakis have promised no mutually-acceptable answers. City council, in its most recent meeting Monday night, directed Markin to contact the two to see where matters stand, but Mayor Lawrence Chernoff indicated council may have to revisit its original resolution to proceed with the unsightly premises action.

In an interview earlier this week, McLaren said he’s not in the habit of adjudicating this sort of issue in the press, but feels it’s time he told his side of matters rather than opt for the media silence he said he felt cost him in a previous, similar issue with the city that saw the city demolish his City Centre Motel at McLaren’s expense last year. McLaren said he felt that interaction was a “travesty of justice” and “immoral”, and that he’s seeking a more positive resolution this time around.

“We’re going to start speaking out a bit,” he said.

McLaren said he’s brought the issue of broken windows, noise complaints, and complaints of, “urinations, regurgitations, broken bottles and vandalism” to the city’s (and police) attention on numerous occasions, to no avail.

“Nothing’s ever been done,” he said. “Most of the windows – not all of them, but most – are broken by patrons of the bar. We only had one broken window in 17 years before the Element came in. But the city does nothing – instead, they go after us, the victims.

“Nothing is done to protect the citizens and business owners of Castlegar.”

He said he’d be willing to fix the windows if the city would enforce the Good Neighbour Agreement signed by Element owners back when the bar opened, thus (he said) addressing noise complaints, demanding an outdoor staff presence to prevent or apprehend vandals, etc.

“If the city would just do their part, everyone would be happy,” he said, adding if the Element would follow the agreement, that, too, would resolve the issue. “It’s negligence and breached duty on the city’s part. We’re not asking for very much.”

He added he and his wife have been proactive since 2009, calling the city and the mayor and having their property manager approach Vassilakakis – all to no avail.

Vassilakakis, meanwhile, says the Element has done everything in its power to promote and revitalize the city’s downtown core, and that McLaren is blaming him for negatives that aren’t necessarily the result of his business, while making no note of the many benefits the Element has brought to downtown business owners.

“We keep track, and we’ve brought over 500,000 people to the downtown core, some of them from out of town,” he said. “It has helped all the surrounding businesses, including West’s (owned by McLaren). We’re heavily invested in a revitalized, appealing downtown.”

He said it’s a slippery slope to start allowing other businesses to start blaming his for anything bad that happens downtown – he said the Element is only open as a bar two nights a week, while vandalism, etc., takes place seven days a week. He acknowledges some of the problematic people have been Element patrons, but says he can’t be held wholly responsible for the actions of patrons during the times they aren’t in his establishment. He is, he said, careful not to overserve or engage in any activity that would promote unruly behavior, and points to seven years without a single liquor license violation as proof of his diligence.

“The building across the street (also belonging to McLaren) has been boarded up since before we opened in 2005 – it’s really not all because of the Element,” he said. “We get broken windows too – but we fix them. We don’t blame anyone else for it.

“The downtown core needs business owners who take pride, not only in their business, but in the image they’re putting forward.”

He said McLaren’s suggestion that the Element pay $10,000 toward fixing windows in McLaren’s business is simply not something he’s prepared to do.

“Even in the city’s report, they say that dilapidated buildings actually attract vandalism and further damage. There are options, like double-laminated, thicker glass.

“His stucco falling off his building has nothing to do with me, his signage falling apart has nothing to do with me. I’m not without sympathy for his position – but I’m not going to take responsibility for fixing his business.”

The issue will come before council again at their next regular meeting on Jan. 21.


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