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PoCo puts a notice on title against Art Knapp

A year-and-a-half after Port Coquitlam council warned a business owner to bring his buildings up to safety standards or face a penalty, newly elected officials took a hard line Tuesday.
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Wim Vander Zalm speaks to Port Coquitlam city council Tuesday night during a Section 57 hearing.

A year-and-a-half after Port Coquitlam council warned a business owner to bring his buildings up to safety standards or face a penalty, newly elected officials took a hard line Tuesday.

After a hearing with Art Knapp owner Wim Vander Zalm — delayed from the spring of 2017 — council placed a Section 57 notice on his title for failing to take out construction permits.

The notice effectively shifts liability away from the municipality and alerts parties interested in his property — such as financial agents and future purchasers — of the building deficiencies.

And while the notice allows him to continue to operate Art Knapp’s, it won’t stop city fire and bylaw officers from enforcing public safety regulations. This fall, the city shut down two major money-makers for the Dominion Avenue business: FunLand and the Christmas train attraction.

PoCo building inspector Shawn Hagan told council this week Vander Zalm has “no deadline to be compliant” and city staff will work with him to resolve the building and fire code infractions.

In his report that went before council on Dec. 11, Hagan wrote the city “has been actively engaging” with Vander Zalm for five years about unauthorized construction at Art Knapp’s.

The violations pertain to a tent, which was used as a tunnel for the train amusement ride; interior alterations for the change rooms in the fashion area; a storage building; and additions to greenhouse canopies. Permits were neither applied for nor issued, Hagan said in his report.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Hagan asked Vander Zalm point blank if he was responsible for the construction; Vander Zalm said he hired carpenters and other tradespeople to do the work.

Prior, Vander Zalm argued he didn’t need construction permits from the city as Art Knapp is located on farm land and his business is exempt under the National Farm Building Code.

Vander Zalm, who employs 65 people at Art Knapp, also contended his recently hired lawyer has suggested the municipality is incorrect to require building permits on agricultural land.

He also told council he’s done hundreds of improvements to the structures over the past year that have cost him $100,000, and a meeting with city fire officials is scheduled for Dec. 18.

“We are really happy with how far we have come over the past year,” Vander Zalm said. “There’s a lot of facets to this. It’s very complex…. We have been trying to do it ourselves.”

He also complained of the high costs to hire legal counsel to address the city’s concerns, and he challenged Hagan to produce the permit requirements for construction on farm land.

(Hagan told city council he is not aware of any exemptions for building without permits).

Coun. Darrell Penner said the issues have been “going on for a very long time” and the city has spent money on legal advice. “It’s not a farm. Public safety is absolutely paramount here.”

He added, “Putting the Section 57 is exactly what we should do. We have buildings without permits. Their lawyer isn’t here. I find that very odd on something of this magnitude.”

Coun. Laura Dupont, who has voiced concerns about safety for his staff and customers, called Hagan’s report “one of the most compelling staff reports I have seen since being on council.”

jcleugh@tricitynews.com