Council to take another look at policy
AMHERST - A discussion on a graffiti-covered building in downtown Amherst touched off a sometimes testy debate that will result in town council taking yet another look at its dangerous and unsightly premises policy.
"In light of the concerns raised here tonight, I would suggest that each councillor read the policy and suggest changes to the CAO," Mayor Robert Small said during council's October committee-of-the-whole meeting.
During the last meeting of the unsightly premises committee, deputy mayor Robert Angel brought forward several photos of the former Riddles bar on Station Street expressing concern with the amount of graffiti on the parts of the building facing the railway tracks and Station Street.
At the time, the committee passed a motion to invite the building's owner, Walter Wells, to a meeting to informally find a solution. However, upon talking to town chief administrative officer Greg Herrett, committee chair Coun. Robert Bird was told it's outside the committee's mandate to invite property owners to meetings for informal discussions.
When brought before council last week, several councillors and town staff had differing opinions on how the dangerous and unsightly premises committee should operate.
Herrett said informal discussions, such as those proposed by the committee, don't work and can often lead to a confrontational approach that would require staff involvement. He also said the town's policy on dangerous and unsightly premises is complaint driven and noted there aren't enough staff resources to handle properties identified as unsightly outside the existing complaint process.
"There are process issues in dealing with an informal process and changing the complaint process and the committee process," Herrett said. "Then there's the resource issue that goes with that. The problem doesn't get solved by hiring a full-time enforcement officer and leaving the policy the same as it is."
Bird expressed concern with the process saying it requires one neighbour to point a finger at another. He feels the reason some properties don't get addressed is because people are afraid to complain out of fear of raising the ire of their neighbours.
While Coun. Dave Marsh suggested hiring someone if the need is there, Coun. George Baker said the town would be mistaken if it thinks hiring someone would solve the problem. He questioned whether the town has the money to do so. Coun. Dale Fawthrop said this issue has already been discussed and debated around the council table.
Town planner Jason MacDonald said his staff has never had an issue fulfilling council requests, but expects to get push back if the demands on their job become too much.
He said every complaint requires a file being opened and a process followed. There is no such thing as an informal complaint.