Updated: Former Red Balloon building must be demolished, city reconfirms

Red Balloon building owner Susan Faulkner is ordered by city council to demolish her unsafe, eyesore building at 85 Station St. by early November, council confirmed after Tuesday’s public meeting. - Peter W. Rusland
Red Balloon building owner Susan Faulkner is ordered by city council to demolish her unsafe, eyesore building at 85 Station St. by early November, council confirmed after Tuesday’s public meeting.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

City council reconfirmed its order Tuesday that downtown’s former Red Balloon building must be demolished due to safety and nuisance reasons.

Owner Susan Faulkner — who, with her lawyer, addressed council during Tuesday’s special meeting — explained Wednesday she now has 10 calendar days to apply for a city permit to level her 107-year-old building at 85 Station St.

If a permit is approved she must start demolition within five days, finish in 30 days, then sod the site within 10 days. Failure to comply will see the city do the demolition and bill Faulkner, council’s resolution says about one of Duncan’s oldest core buildings, which was damaged in 2009 when struck by a City of Duncan snowplow.

Tuesday’s public meeting heard Faulkner and her lawyer, Brian McDaniel, basically say they were ready to discuss options to save the crippled, vacant building many folks say has become an eyesore during five years of failed repairs and complex legal wrangling.

“Enter into meaningful negotiations. This is your opportunity. Susan Faulkner’s prepared to to talk with you,” McDaniel said, noting Faulkner’s retirement funds have sunk in the legal quagmire.

He calling the broken building a “bizarre” case in which council now wants the “evidence” — the building itself — destroyed.

“You could buy this building. A good settlement is always preferable to an uncertain (court) judgement,” he said of a case headed to court in February. “Let’s fix (building); you broke it.”

The building-buying option, Mayor Phil Kent said Thursday, has “legal implications, so I can’t speak to that.”

“We can’t pre-presume what will happen in the courts in February.”

Council’s razing reasoning follows an engineering report citing public-safety issues with the building. In addition to the snowplow damage, McDaniel maintains it was also affected by vibrations during the Craig Street Revitalization, and water damage by the city.

Repairs were tried but “it’s clear those have not been successful,” Kent said of the unstable structure now closed by WorkSafeBC. “We were limited as to what we could do.”

Councillors’ duty Tuesday was to hear Faulkner’s concerns about remedial action, then vote to confirm, amend or cancel the demolition resolution.

An emotional Faulkner told councillors her building, containing asbestos, is still potentially fixable.

“I am the victim. I will come back to the city (in court) for payment for my loss. It’s been a nightmare for me,” she said citing her “awful” financial losses. “I expected ... the city was not hiding behind its insurance company and would do something to make this right.”

So, apparently, did McDaniel. He noted councillors were absent from talks between lawyers and insurance adjustors.

“The city wasn’t in the game,” he said.

“It’s been in the hands of the Municipal Insurance Association of B.C., and ICBC, who represent the city,” Kent countered.

Councillors made their decision in private, corporate-services director Karen Robertson’s email explains, as stipulated under B.C.’s Community Charter.

It allows that part of a council meeting may be closed to the public if subject matter being considered relates to, or is in receipt of, advice subject to solicitor-client privilege, including necessary communications.

How each councillor voted is a legal secret too. That’s because, freedom-of-information regulations say “the governing body is not required to release the voting record on a motion” made during a closed, meeting, Robertson says.

The complex saga of the fragile building — best known as the former home of the Red Balloon toy-store — is headed to court in February.

Legal costs shouldered city taxpayers so far are about $5,000.

“From January 2009 to date the city has spent $5,406.03 through the Municipal Insurance Association, on the city’s share of costs related to the Red Balloon litigation,” Duncan’s CAO, Peter De Verteuil emailed the News Leader Pictorial.

“The city has not yet received any legal bills related to the Remedial Action Requirement.”

Faulkner told the NLP Peace Hills Insurance Company “has spent in excess of $550,000 on attempting to repair my building — the limit of my policy — and I have personally spent tens of thousands of dollars.”

Peace Hills is trying to recover that sum from city taxpayers, she said, The legal swamp has also engulfed Chew Contracting Ltd.

The site’s future is foggy. Under Duncan’s official community plan guidelines, it is suitable for private development of a higher-density, mixed commercial-residential building, Kent explained.

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