Trail council exploring ways to improve Gulch properties

With downtown revitalization underway, council is pondering opportunities to improve the Rossland Avenue stretch.

As curb appeal takes centre stage along Victoria Street, a forlorn stretch of certain properties along Rossland Avenue are tarnishing the Silver City’s shiny new look.

The city has been monitoring the crumbling facades of many Rossland Avenue homes and businesses and earlier this year, council directed civic staff to investigate opportunities that may offer renovation incentives to the owners of derelict properties.

“The Gulch provides an important visual and physical entrance into the City of Trail,” said Michelle McIsaac, Trail’s corporate officer (CO) in her brief to council at the Oct. 15 governance meeting.

“The historical importance to the area has diminished over the years by urban decay,” she explained adding,“the purpose of this report is to outline existing measures for either requiring or encouraging private property upkeep and to determine if council wishes to expand on incentives offered.”

Mary Zanier, a 62-year resident of Rossland Avenue, remains hopeful that she will see the Gulch revitalize itself and once again become a centre of the Trail community.

Zanier lives in the house her family bought in 1951 after immigrating to Canada from Italy.

However,  the property is a far cry from what it used to be, starting with her windows, all of which are barred to keep out intruders.

“To me, the Gulch is inside my blood,” she said.

“People ask why I don’t move out. I say ‘no.’ I am proud of where I live but sad to see the way it has gone down hill,” she said, adding, “it will never be what it used to be but hopefully it can become a decent place to live again and everyone can feel free and happy.”

To date, one option the city has implemented is an order under the unsightly premises bylaw, which reads “no owner or occupier of a parcel shall allow any structure on that parcel to become or remain an unsightly structure.”

If the property owner does not resolve the order within 30 days of receipt of the notice, the city is authorized of the default and can carry out the work, and charge the expense to the owner.

Additionally, the city can impose a remedial action order under the community charter if council considers a building or structure “so dilapidated or unclean as to be offensive to the community.”

“Some of these businesses might best be described as marginal and if they had the monies to make the improvements we are pretty confident they would,” said the CO.

As an alternative McIsaac researched matching grant programs to assist property owners with the financial burdens of restoration projects.

“Although such programs could be administered by the city, external funding sources should be secured,” she said. “While it may not be unlawful to provide grants funded by municipal tax revenue towards a specified grouping of private business properties, it may be considered inappropriate use of taxpayers monies for the direct benefit of a limited number of commercial properties.”

McIsaac presented an example of a business facade improvement program currently underway in northern communities, that provides $20,000 in annual grant funding for municipalities to enhance economic development by encouraging private sector investment.

Further, she recommended council to approach the Southern Interior Development Initiatives Trust (SIVIT) to request implementation of a business facade improvement grant funding program.

“I am glad to see this because you know how long I have been talking about Rossland Avenue along with a lot of other people,” said Coun. Eleanor Gattafoni-Robinson. “But how long will it take and if that is rejected, where do we go from here?” she questioned.

David Perehudoff, Trail’s chief administrative officer (CAO),  said if SIVIT didn’t approve the initiative (which could take a few years) then council could consider approaching Columbia Basin Trust to create a program or funding.

In the meantime, the CAO recommended council to send a letter to owners with buildings in need of upkeep outlining the incentive program and the section of the community charter that allows remedial action.

“I’d suggest that you advise them that you are reviewing this,” he said. “And you have potential to go under the community charter and make property owners that have problems with improvement aware of what we have now. Provisions do exist if something doesn’t start occurring and council may have to revisit this and initiate these orders.”

The Gulch, originally called the “Dublin Gulch,” incurred its current moniker in the 1900’s after Italian immigrants settled into the properties and terraced the steep terrain for planting.

“No one locked their doors and everyone felt safe,” recalled Zanier. “We used to have everything we needed here and didn’t even have to go downtown. We would walk into one shop then out onto the street and back into another. The stores, all of us, took pride in where we lived and didn’t worry because everything we needed was right here.

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