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New West council supports demolition of Brow of the Hill house

House has been the source of concerns about safety and unsightliness for years
City council has voted to demolish a house on 11th Street, at the owner's expense, because of ongoing concerns about the property.

New West council supports demolition of Brow of the Hill house

The City of New Westminster will demolish a Brow of the Hill house that’s considered unsightly and unsafe for years.

In November 2017, the city directed the owner of 509 11th St. to remove the scaffolding that had been erected around the house, demolish the house and discard any materials from the property. A Sept. 27 report to council outlines actions that have occurred since that remedial action requirement (RAR) was imposed, including court appearances and attempts to inspect the property.

“The condition of the property has continued to deteriorate since the RAR was issued in November 2017,” said the report. “It has been three-and-a-half years, and the property owner has not submitted application for permits to remediate or demolish the house and has made no attempt to improve the condition of the property despite agreeing to do so. ... All attempts to contact the owner and offer assistance in either effecting improvements on the property or proceeding with demolition have failed.”

According to the report, city staff and the solicitor considered several options, concluding the only option they could recommend was that the city hire contractors to remove the scaffolding and demolish the house. The city noted a pre-demolition inspection would be necessary to determine if remediation of hazardous materials in the house is needed.

“The cost of demolition will depend on the extent of hazardous material and access to the site,” said the staff report. “It is estimated the cost of demolition and removal of material to be in the range of $30,000 to $75,000. The cost of carrying out the work on the property is recoverable through property taxes.”

James William Richard Bell, who owns the property, also owns and lives in the neighbouring property at 507 11th St. He told council there’s a “certificate on the property” that’s making it difficult for him to get financing.

“It’s quite difficult to get financing, but I am still working on it. I want to repair it,” he told council Sept. 27. “I met some of the requirements. I am not going to go into detail what I’ve met, but I’ve met some of the requirements. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in materials to complete the rest of it. I want to say it will be devastating to lose my property.”

Bell said he suffered a back injury in March, which has also prevented him from working on the house.

“The property has been cleaned up,” he said. “I’ve had a fellow doing the landscaping and whatnot. It does look a lot better than it used to. I’m still working on getting it painted. I’d like to have it painted by the end of this year.”

Bell said the tenant who lives is the house “is quite upset” and doesn’t know what he will do if the house is demolished.

The staff report stated the tenant should be provided with reasonable notice of the house’s demolition.

“The tenant has refused all attempts by staff and outreach workers to provide assistance and is resistant to relocating,” said the report.

In 2017, city officials identified numerous health and safety issues related to the outside and inside of the house, including stagnant water in the basement, black mould in the wood framing in the basement, broken windows, a collapsing ceiling in the hallway on the main floor, and openings in the house that allow “raccoons and other vermin” to get inside. They also noted that scaffolding had surrounded the house for years.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr questioned what work Bell had done to the property since November 2017 to try and mitigate some of the concerns that were raised by council at that time.

“We certainly have provided a lot of time,” he said. “I am trying to understand what complications you have experienced since 2017 to sort of only show a minimum of progress on this property.”

Since that time, Bell said he has fixed the windows, cleaned up the outside of the property, did some repairs, made some changes to the scaffold “so it’s not quite so offensive” and bought roofing materials.

“I didn’t think it would be this tough, but it is tough,” he said.

In response to the property owner’s failure to fulfil the remedial action requirement imposed by council on Nov. 20, 2017, council authorized city staff and contractors to enter the property to remove the scaffolding, demolish the house and remove all waste from the property – at Bell’s expense. Councillors Puchmayr and Jaimie McEvoy voted against the staff recommendation.

“These are always very difficult situations, but this has also been an incredibly longstanding matter at the council table,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “We often struggle with properties that have not been properly maintained and pose significant challenges to neighbours and those potentially in there.”

Cote said the city has tried to take “a very patient approach” with this particular property, but it has continued to be a challenge.

“Certainly, I hope for the property owner that this process will lead to a better path forward, as it appears to be stuck,” he said. “I think the challenge that we continue to face is there does not appear to be any clear path forward or any significant action that would indicate any of the issues that have been longstanding identified by the city are going to be addressed. I think this is unfortunately the next step the city needs to take with this process.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus

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