- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Local residents filled the front few rows at last night's city council meeting as spokesperson Monika Brauer echoed their concerns about the safety of their neighbourhoods and called for action. She said that issues of drugs, crime and unsafe properties had reached a boiling point, and you could tell that the Mayor and Council were feeling the heat.
With the next municipal election barely more than a year away, and a decision on the future of the Owen Sound Police Services in only a few months, the  timing of the "Neighbours Against Drugs and Crime Action Group" for getting action could not be better.
Some of the issues raised by the group were on the minds of candidates in the 2014 election, but their focus seems to have been on the more visible commercial downtown. The "Neighbours" have forced them to look at some darker corners – literally and figuratively.
strathcona3We have already discussed vacant properties here on The Hub, but the conversation that has arisen around the new "Neighbours" initiative has raised more questions.

Councillor Grieg brought up a concern that is seldom voiced publicly.  He asked how the City could allow someone "in the development business... to buy stuff and sit on it and sit on it and sit on it" and suggested the Corporate Services Committee discuss a way to have the owner help defray the costs associated with vacant properties.

When vacant buildings are allowed to fall into disrepair, neighbours fear their property values will be reduced should they choose to sell and move.  But what if you are in the business of buying and developing property?  Wouldn't lower prices be to your advantage when you're buying?
Several of the images used in the "Neighbours" presentation were of buildings owned by Barry Kruisselbrink of Barry's Construction, including one of the former Strathcona School with a graffitied phrase blacked out for fear of offending observers.
The former Black Clawson Kennedy property on 1st Ave West is always in the conversation. Eight acres, an entire city block, sits empty. The owner, Hansa Financial & Property Management, was reported to have shown the City an appropriate environmental assessment and a proposal for a residential development for the site as long ago as 2006.BCK
VLC Global Ministries of Owen Sound owned lands and buildings valued at almost $800,000 in 2015, and received rental income of  over $71,000 that same year. No CRA report is available for 2016. Some of the VLC properties are also boarded up, or reported by former tenants as having broken windows, mold, leaks and unsafe steps and porches.
Brauer called on the City By-Law department to be pro-active in these situations, calling the current "by complaint only" by-law enforcement strategy"entirely insufficient".
The "Neighbours" spoke of inadequate lighting – a concern reportedly shared by the police – and called for possible cameras and citizen patrols. They also called for action on vagrancy and harassment downtown.
Mayor Ian Boddy acknowledged the irony of committing resources to attracting new residents and investment on the front end, while not addressing concerns of by current residents. Boddy promised a roundtable meeting "as soon as possible" with "all the agencies", and Brauer made it clear that she and her committee expect to be invited to that table.

Audio for CBC Radio  interview with Monika Brauer here - begins at minute 2:45.



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