Penticton council orders cleanup on Churchill

Neighbours complain about rats, drugs and garbage that's impacting ability to enjoy their properties

After years of filing complaints, residents of the 300 block of Churchill Ave. have some hope a neighbour’s property will be cleaned up.

Penticton City council voted Monday to designate 363 Churchill a declared nuisance, giving the property owners 30 days to clean up the trash, weeds, animal feces and other offences or have the city do it for them.

“It is a horrible thing to not be able to come home after a long day’s work and sit on your patio and enjoy your lake view, because the smell of the dog feces and the garbage and the rats,” said Margaret Russell, who owns a nearby home.

“It’s just a nightmare for us.”

The house is in a developing area of town, just a block south of the Okanagan Lake waterfront and zoned for low-density multi-family housing. Ken Kunka, the city’s building and permitting manager, provided council with a list of the actions taken by the bylaw department since 2011.

There have been six case files opened, he said, along with four bylaw citations issued.

“As of today, there has been no payment or cleanup of the property,” said Kunka.

There have been several attempts by phone, mail and one in-person meeting with the registered owner to get the property cleaned up, but little has been done, according to Kunka.

“It appears the owners are unwilling to take any action and have forced our hand,” he said.

Russell said problems with the property date back further than 2011 and the current tenants.

As early as 2008, she said she remembered raids on the house by the RCMP Drug Task Force.

“Several times the DTF came with their bulletproof vests on, their gloves, their guns drawn to break into this property to get the people that lived there and the people they were harbouring, drug addicts and drug dealers,” Russell recalled, adding task force members even warned her not to let her three children play outside in their backyard without supervision.

Russell also noted that dealing with the property is already costing the city. Every department — RCMP, the fire department, the SPCA, social services and city staff — is being stretched to the limit for this one property, she said.

Coun. Judy Sentes also felt costs to the city were extensive and is concerned with what she termed “arrogance and indifference” by the property owners.

“I don’t think the neighbourhood should have to wait this long for action. I would like to see us be much more aggressive with the timeline,” said Sentes.

If it does get to the point of a city-ordered cleanup, it will still require some more bylaw officer time; one will have to attend to secure any potentially valuable items on the property, which will be stored for up to 30 days.

“As well, the RCMP will be asked to attend the site, based on previous concerns with the tenants and the belligerent nature at times to bylaw officers,” said Kunka.

The Churchill property is the latest to be declared a nuisance under Penticton’s “Good Neighbour” bylaw, introduced in 2012 to give the city more ability to deal with problem properties. Anthony Haddad, director of development services, said the fees and charges under the bylaw are effective in encouraging some owners to clean up their properties in a timely manner.