Fruit Valley residents see resolution near for nuisance property

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
photoClick to enlarge

One of Vancouver’s longest-running nuisance properties may be coming down.

Paul Johnston, who owns the deteriorated two-story house on the edge of the Fruit Valley neighborhood, was given an order from the city last month: Bring the property up to code or tear it down.

The house at 4416 N.W. Fruit Valley Road has plywood covering the doors and windows. Prior to recent mowing, the grass in the lawn stood more than a foot tall. A metal fence that borders the property displays a No Trespassing sign, but that hasn’t stopped graffiti artists from using the house as a canvas.

The ultimatum has been a long time coming.

The address is the subject of a string of code violations that date back to 1992.

“There’s been many, many complaints over the years,” said Randy Scrivner, code compliance officer for the city of Vancouver. “It’s not being maintained. It’s clearly an eyesore.”

He said that over the years, the property has drained public resources. The house has been visited by police for trespassing and graffiti, firefighters responding to blazes set at the property and code enforcement officers investigating complaints.

In 2006, officials searched the property and reported finding an illegal auto repair and wrecking business, solid waste stored throughout the property and unapproved water, plumbing and septic systems. The search resulted in 41 violations and $10,000 in fines. Johnston said he ultimately paid the city $7,500.

But most of the city’s battles over the property are with the property’s former owner, Ted Pyle.

Pyle signed the property over to Johnston, his longtime friend, in 2007. Johnston said he took on the property in hopes of selling it. He added that Frito-Lay, the house’s neighbor to the north, was at one point interested.

“It was an investment,” Johnston said. “It’s a commercial property. It’s got value.”

But, he admits, bringing it up to code would be costly.

“It would be easier to demolish it, probably less expensive by far,” Johnston said. “I’ll tear down the building. That would be the last investment I’d make.”

To the neighborhood, the house has been a longtime headache.

Lee McCallister, who served as president for the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association for more than 20 years, said that the problem house likely spans three decades.

After working with the city to address the nuisance house throughout his tenure as president, McCallister said he was excited that it may be close to a resolution.

“Hooray,” he said. “I’m glad to see that it’s getting done finally.”

Graffiti on the house depicts a man holding a sign with the words, “Welcome to Fruit Valley,” a sentiment the neighborhood doesn’t appreciate.

“That makes me sad,” said Eric LaBrant, the neighborhood association’s current president. “It is the first thing that people see. It’s the first impression.”

Members of the neighborhood volunteer their time to remove graffiti in parks, on businesses and even on private property.

“Even vigilante do-gooders wouldn’t be able to do anything about it,” LaBrant said. “They can clean up graffiti everywhere else, but not there.”

The graffiti, Scrivner said, is just the most visible problem. He said the lack of maintenance on the house attracts unlawful acts — which is the reasoning behind the city’s codes.

“If it can’t be livable, something needs to be done one way or another,” Scrivner said. He said that if Johnston doesn’t apply for demolition permits, the city will demolish the structure and then go after Johnston to recuperate the money.

For the city, the order appears to be the beginning of the end. At a hearing on the matter last week, Scrivner presented his case for the violations and order, to which Johnston didn’t argue. The building official affirmed the order, though Johnston does have the option to appeal the decision.

Johnston said he plans to try to sell the property to anyone willing to buy the house and land as is, which would include the city’s order to make upgrades or demolish.

If he doesn’t find an interested buyer within the 60-day deadline, Johnston said he’d have no other option but to demolish the house.

“I feel they put me in the corner of demolition only,” he said. “I’m not going to put any money into the building, that’s for sure.”

But, he said, someone else may see otherwise.

“It may have historic value to someone,” Johnston said.