EDITORIAL: Messy changes required

There are property-owner rights and in some cases mental health issues, but safety should be paramount when it comes to unsightly properties

It could have been much worse.

A house fire last week in Parksville has put the spotlight on a wider issue. No one was hurt in the blaze and thanks to the work of firefighters, it was contained to one property.

Sometimes, when a habitual criminal is arrested, it is said he/she is “known to police.” As for the house that burned at the corner of Pym and Soriel last week, it could be said the residence was “known to the city.”

Neighbours have been calling the city to complain about this residence for some time. We at The NEWS have received the calls, too. It’s a nice neighbourhood — then again, there are very few if any ‘not-nice’ neighbourhoods in Parksville — and the complaints to the city and the calls we received were mostly about aesthetics.

Like the old Sesame Street song — one of these things is not like the other — the house in question was not maintained and cared for like the others around it, and that may be putting it diplomatically.

We’re talking rough-looking RVs parked on the property, some garbage, or what looked to some like garbage, strewn around the unkempt yard and front porch.

It would not have been a stretch to predict something bad was going to happen here — we’re not sure fire could have been predicted, but you get the picture.

Thing is, the city and the fire department don’t have a lot of power to do much about these situations. Roughly every couple of months, city council has on its meeting agenda some “unsightly properties” it is asked to deal with, which means empowering staff to write a letter to the property owners saying the city will go in and clean the place up and bill the owner.

Inevitably, the owners make some effort and the city doesn’t have to step on the property. However, this process takes time, from the complaint by a resident to the bylaw officer, to the bylaw officer investigating, to senior city staff getting briefed, to getting it on a city council agenda. We’re talking months.

That’s too long a process, one that’s just asking for a tragedy. But what if there are mental health issues with a resident at some supposed unsightly property? And property rights — the king and his castle — are embedded in our society, which they should be.

It’s a sticky issue, but it needs to be addressed. Bylaws need more teeth. The mayor and council need to lead on this, and they need to do it with more speed than what we’ve seen from this group in its first year.

— Editorial by John Harding

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