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Irwin demolition the next step in downtown Chilliwack revitalization

City council approved a plan Tuesday to demolish the Irwin Block and the two city-owned Yale Road properties to the east as part of the downtown revitalization plan. - Stroy Photo
City council approved a plan Tuesday to demolish the Irwin Block and the two city-owned Yale Road properties to the east as part of the downtown revitalization plan.
— image credit: Stroy Photo

More buildings will be levelled in downtown Chilliwack in the next step of the city's plan to revitalize the core of the city.

Called a "bold step forward" by Coun. Ken Huttema, city council unanimously voted Tuesday for a plan to "deconstruct" the Irwin Block and the two city-owned Yale Road buildings to the east.

"Council might be voting to deconstruct," Coun. Jason Lum said, "I really think this building was long ago demolished by neglect."

Demolition is slated to begin on Feb. 24 with a temporary park or an "interim courtyard" to replace the site by April.

As part of city hall's plan to assemble a 1.5-acre chunk of land bounded by Young Road, Yale Road and Princess Avenue, the city initiated expropriation of the Irwin Block at Five Corners in late 2012. The city took ownership of the property on Dec. 27, 2012 from Xing Chen of Vancouver.

By then the city owned 10 properties in the block in question. In 2013, the city negotiated purchases of five more properties in the block meaning the municipality now owns 15 properties needed for the plan.

The plan came out of a consultant's report and recommendations from the Downtown Task Force Report to "acquire and assemble land in a key block of properties within the Downtown Core and demolish buildings and remediate property as necessary to become 'development ready.'”

"You do have the opportunity here to do something really exciting," said Michele Cloghesy of HB Lanarc, the consultant hired by city hall back in 2012.

The two narrow buildings east of the Irwin Block—where long-time residents will remember Hipwell Drugs, which closed 40 years ago—were among those purchased by the city in 2013 and will be demolished along with the dilapidated Irwin building built in the early 1900s.

At council on Tuesday, Mayor Sharon Gaetz recalled fondly eating lunch on a stool at Hipwell Drugs. But she was quick to point out that nostalgia for buildings lost can be replaced by hope for the future with good urban planning.

"Driving into the Garrison Crossing and I don't think one has that sadness anymore," she said, referring to emotions elicited when CFB Chilliwack closed, which turned to optimism at the award-winning neighbourhood that replaced the homes on the base.

The bill to demolish the buildings is approximately $140,000, considerably lower than the estimated $800,000, deputy chief administrative officer Chris Crosman told city council it would cost to get the Irwin Block back to occupancy level.

The move to demolish buildings at Five Corners to further the downtown plan, comes as construction is underway on improvements to Mill Street that will see the west sidewalk widened by 40 per cent, made possible by making the street one-way while maintaining the amount of on-street parking, something local merchants said was important.

Before the extra item added to city council's meeting Tuesday to approve the demolitions, council received an update on the Mill Street project. That work is slated to be completed by April, in time for the summer season, which includes the popular Party in the Park.

Council also heard about year four of the city's "greening and beautification program," which will see hanging baskets and curb bulges planted with trees and flowers along Main Street from Wellington Avenue to Spadina Avenue.

"This is very exciting for the City of Chilliwack, one of the the first revitalization projects in our downtown for a long time," Gaetz said at council. "This is going to be beautiful."

In 2011, council approved a 10-year program to identify key pedestrian and commercial zones downtown to aesthetically improve. The first year of the program saw greening works along Wellington from College to 5 Corners, 2012 saw greening of Yale from 5 Corners to Nowell Street, and Victoria Avenue saw work done in 2013, which will tie in with the Mill Street improvements this year.

Another element of downtown improvements approved at Tuesday's meeting was the first step towards a new vacant premises bylaw, which will see owners of buildings such as the old courthouse or the old Safeway be requred to purchase a $4,000 permit to be allowed to leave the building empty for two years.

For more on the full plans for downtown, visit www.chilliwackdowntownplan.ca.

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