In response to a petition signed by 28 property owners in the Stearns Subdivision area, 15 kms east of Burns Lake, the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) has begun a formal process that may see the removal of the derelict ‘Koffee Kup’ building and related trailer-park debris from the intersection of Dorothy Frontage Road and Stearns Subdivision Road.
The petition requested that the RDBN move to have the building demolished and the debris removed, citing concerns for safety, health, fire hazard and visual satisfaction.
The decaying building, which is clearly visible from the highway coming into Burns Lake, was abandoned approximately 12 years ago. It has been extensively vandalized and used as a garbage dump in the meantime. The floors are covered with an accumulation of household trash, furniture, clothing, and other unsalvageable items. The ceilings, where they have not already collapsed, indicate extensive water and mould damage. Some walls are smeared with layers of an unknown organic paste.
Rats, bats and human scavengers have been seen around the property. Beyond the aesthetics of having an eyesore border their properties, area residents are also concerned about the potential fire hazard.
The building exists outside the Burns Lake fire protection zone, and so would receive no emergency response from Village of Burns Lake fire services. However, Jim McBride, director of protective services for the Village of Burns Lake, expressed concern regarding potential fire hazard.
Although the property does not, at the present moment, present a great fire hazard, McBride said that, “In the spring, as the grass dries out, it becomes a greater hazard. If a fire took hold in the area surrounding the structure, it could spread and endanger surrounding property.”
According to Kelli Payne the fire hazard isn’t just hypothetical. With her husband, Kevin, she owns Homeside Antiques, an exceptionally well-maintained local antique business across the road from the crumbling building. She recalled that a few years ago a lightning strike set one of the abandoned trailers on the property ablaze.
“There wasn’t anything we could do about it [the fire],” she said. “We stayed away because there are old propane tanks scattered around over there.”
As the years go by and nothing is done to clean-up the property, things are not getting better.
“The ground is a fuel tank,” said Payne. “There’s a thick layer of pine needles, as well as dry lumber and old propane tanks.”
Payne and her husband haul away the occasional bags of garbage that are left outside of the building by unthinking motorists before wildlife gets into them spreading trash across the road and onto their business property.
Provisions exist that allow the RDBN to demolish and remove the building, with related expenses assigned to the property owner’s yearly property tax bill. The RDBN has repeatedly tried to reach the property owner since receipt of the petition, but no response has been received.
On Feb. 21, during a meeting of the RDBN, a delegate of concerned residents were on hand to hear the board’s decision regarding their request. The board has directed RDBN staff to proceed with determining the legal due diligence required before moving to enforce the unsightly premises bylaw.
The problem is that the RDBN has a responsibility to allow the property owner to respond to any request to have the property cleaned up, and to respond to a formal order to clean-up. The property owner, or a representative, needs to be at the meeting where a formal decision is made. The legal tangle is what to do if the property owner remains unreachable.
Legal costs associated with this process are estimated by RDBN staff to be between three and six thousand dollars. Although the cost of property clean-up is recoverable through property tax, it is believed that the legal fees will not be recoverable.
A July 31, 2013 deadline was suggested for the removal of the building, but the procedure is at too preliminary a stage for concerned area residents to count on a date when the building may be gone.
“We take a lot of pride in what we have,” said Payne of their antique business.
She and other area residents are hoping that the RDBN will take the same pride and do something about the rotting building and abandoned property.