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Vacant and rundown storefronts create headaches for Princeton

Town hall staff directed to look for bylaw options to clean up problem

The municipality is pursuing a strategy to address empty buildings in downtown Princeton that are being neglected by their owners.

Mayor Spencer Coyne raised the problem during a committee of the whole meeting Wednesday, Feb. 7.

“The sad part is most of the storefronts that are empty, if not all of them, is what you could all absentee landlords,” Coyne said. “It’s not people in the community who live here and own them. They are sitting empty, and it appears some of them haven’t been repaired or looked after properly.”

A count by the Spotlight indicates there are 11 empty storefronts on Bridge Street from the Brown Bridge to Tapton Avenue, and six vacant properties on Vermilion Avenue from Bridge Street to Highway 3.

Coyne suggested a bylaw to force standards on property owners may be a solution.

In some communities, such as Penticton, the owners of empty storefronts must pay a license fee and are subject to inspection.

In West Kelowna, building owners are required to maintain unoccupied buildings, pay license fees, allow inspection every 90 days, and must keep minimum utilities as well as provide proof of liability insurance.

Gary Schatz, tourism and economic development officer, said abandoned storefronts in the town’s core are “definitely” a problem that erodes the beautification programs that have been put in place.

“There should be some penalty, in my opinion, for vacant landlords. This is an investment (for them) and they don’t care what the town looks like,” he said.

Schatz stated before the COVID pandemic, there was almost full occupancy in the downtown. “We had places that didn’t survive and that was to be expected,” he noted.

Ideally, he said owners of vacant buildings should be presented with incentives and penalties in a “stick and carrot” approach.

In some cases, he said, potential renters cannot even find contact information for owners.

Coun. Randy MacLean said he is mystified that property owners would not welcome the chance to benefit from rental income.

“Maybe the fact you are enhancing your building is go attract some potential (rental) business. (People) are not going to open a new business in a rundown, old building,” he said, noting the town offers up to $5,000 for commercial property owners to make façade improvements.

“I’m surprised there haven’t been a lot more that have taken advantage of that.”

With council’s backing, the mayor directed staff to further investigate the town’s options.

Related: Princeton gets $750k in funding to revitalize downtown core

Related: Princeton officially becomes ’Bronze Statue Capital of Canada’

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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