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New West residents concerned about smoke pit on Belmont Street

Some uptown residents are upset that the city’s parklet on Belmont Street has turned into a smokers’ paradise.

Some uptown residents are upset that the city’s parklet on Belmont Street has turned into a smokers’ paradise.

The city created the parklet at Belmont and Sixth streets in July 2016 as part of a plan to transform the neighbourhood’s streetscape into an area the public can enjoy. Some Belmont Street residents, however, are concerned the parklet has become a giant smoke pit and no one is doing anything to enforce the non-smoking signs.

“About six months in to it being created it started getting really bad. Now it’s just terrible. No one sits in that park unless they are smoking,” said area resident Adrian Beer. “You can go by there and see hundreds of cigarette butts in the park.”

While some of his neighbours would like the city to remove the parklet, Beer would like it to stay – and be a place he could spend time with his family.

“Most of the people who are going there are not people of uptown or in the buildings. Most of us are avoiding that place like the plague,” said Beer, who has lived on Belmont Street for 13 years. “We walk to Moody Park or Queen’s Park. We will not go anywhere near that place.”

Beer said he’s contacted the city and Fraser Health about enforcement of smoking bylaws, but nothing has changed. In addition to the parklet, he said smokers have increasingly started hanging out in front of a nearby store on Belmont Street while watching their Keno numbers.

“The concern is all the littering that is going on and all the smoke that’s around the neighbourhood,” he said. “The businesses don’t do anything to enforce anything. Our building actually pays for the cleanup. We actually have to pay someone to clean all that up.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the city’s bylaw staff and police are going to be trying to figure out what strategies can be introduced to mitigate some of the challenges faced in the area.

“That’s obviously a concern from the city. We love being able to open up our public areas for the public to enjoy but there’s no doubt I have been by the parklet on many occasions and unfortunately seen people smoking there, which is not permitted,” he told the Record. “On one hand, it’s really encouraging when I go by there to see it filled with people sitting and enjoying the space, which is why the space is there in the first place, but we do face the challenges that a few individual are not respecting the rules that are in place there and that has a negative impact on everyone. I think if we want to build truly great community spaces we need to make sure that all community members are respected.”

Kim Deighton, the city’s manager of licensing and integrated services, said city officials are aware there’s an issue with smoking in the parklet and are brainstorming on how to handle the situation from a number of angles.

“It’s under review,” she said. “Staff are responding and we are trying to pull something together. Mostly it is probably going to be an education piece because there are challenges with enforcing no-smoking restrictions.”

Deighton said some of the challenges include the unpredictability of the offence, the transient nature of the offence,  the short length of time involved in the smoking violation, the amount of time it would take staff to respond if complaints are received and the requirement of bylaw officers to ask for someone’s identification.

“We don’t ask people for ID,” she said of bylaw officers, who typically ticket properties or vehicles.

Deighton said the city’s smoking control bylaw doesn’t prohibit smoking throughout parks, but in certain areas of parks.

“This doesn’t meet those restrictions. It’s not within 15 metres of a soccer field or a lacrosse box,” she said. “We have put no smoking signs there to educate people, to get them to be respectful that it’s a smoke-free zone, but I think there might be some design things that we can fix that might make it more clear.”