City of Penticton Council debated Tuesday whether or not a property in Penticton’s industrial district should be allowed to keep razor wire on the top of their fence.
Councillors debated the need for razor wire to protect properties from a spike in break and enter’s, and others felt the wire contributed to a bad community image.
The owner of the property in question, located on Commercial Way, made a request for a development variance permit to keep razor wire on their industrial district property. Staff recommended council deny the permit. The razor wire fencing was installed in addition to barbed wire fencing along the front of the property. Under the city’s zoning bylaws, the barbed wire is acceptable but the razor wire is not.
The property owner cited security concerns, but in addition to not complying with the current bylaw, staff cited safety concerns, and concerns regarding the perception of public safety in the community, associated with allowing razor wire seen as ‘very aggressive’ security material. Staff also said allowing it to stay may set a precedent for the community.
Across the Okanagan, razor wire is typically not allowed in most municipalities, staff explained.
In the end council voted to allow the property owner to keep the razor wire, in a close 4-3 vote.
In discussion, Coun. Katie Robinson was completely opposed. Coun. Judy Sentes agreed with Robinson, saying she was sympathetic but, “razor wire isn’t the answer.”
Coun. Frank Regehr sympathized and sided with the property owner, saying the owners are speaking from point of desperation. Coun. Julius Bloomfield agreed with Regehr.
“I know a lot of people up in the industrial area are really at their wits end as to what to do,” said Bloomfield. “A lot of businesses up there, they feel that they don’t have the support and response from enforcement agencies about complaints that they have, and the B&E’s (break and enters) that are going on in that area.
“That’s almost a little pandemic all on it’s own up there,” he continued. “From a public safety point of view, the only members of the public that are going to be affected by the safety of this razor wire are the people that are climbing over that fence.”
Coun. Campbell Watt sided with Bloomfield and also went against staff’s recommendation.
Mayor John Vassilaki also went against staff’s recommendation, furthering that the spike in break and enter’s is not just in Penticton’s industrial district.
“It’s not just the industrial area that has this problem, downtown is hit just as hard, in many cases even harder than the industrial area,” he said. “I know from personal experiences in our buildings downtown, we had to literally fortify them so that they don’t continue to break in night, after night, after night.”
Most of the time, he said it’s usually the same people doing it.
“The RCMP is called, they don’t come, it’s not a, how do you put it, a serious enough offence for them to – I know they don’t have time nor do they have the manpower. And I understand that fully,” said Vassilaki.
“I too will go against the staff recommendation on this one because people have to do something to protect their property. And this is probably the only way the can do it up there.”
The mayor later referenced a break and enter at one of his properties, which resulted in $150,000 in damages. He said the perpetrators got away with it; nothing came of it, nobody went to court.
Robinson cautioned council that “once you open this door” there will be a “deluge of applications” asking for the same thing.
“Do we really want our town to turn into something that looks like a penitentiary?” she questioned, adding she has sympathy but suggested their are other ways to achieve property safety.
“This sets such a terrible precedent in our town, I mean where does it stop? Your worship you just mentioned, you know, our downtown feels somewhat like it’s under siege too. So are we going to put up razor wire all the way around our community to protect everyone? You’ve got to really, seriously think about what this is going to look like, in a tourist town.” Robinson added.
She begged everyone to think again.
In response to this, Watt suggested that by making things ,”a little bit prettier” the city is, “putting business owners at risk.”
Coun. Jake Kimberley supported Coun. Robinson and the recommendations made by staff, adding he’s hopeful the RCMP superintendent will hear this and talk about it with his staff, and recommended increased surveillance on properties.
Bloomfield, Regehr, Watt and Vassilaki were opposed to staff’s recommendations, and Kimberley, Robinson and Sentes were in favour of removing the wire. The proposal was defeated 4-3, and the owner was allowed to keep the wire on their property.
Council stressed decisions such as the one they just made will be on a case-by-case basis, and council did not vote on Tuesday to change their fencing bylaw. It’s not clear whether council plans, in the future, to give staff direction to include razer wire as appropriate fencing.