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Graffiti complaint grinds Bank Street shopkeeper's gears
« on: July 21, 2018, 04:12:09 AM »
Graffiti complaint grinds Bank Street shopkeeper's gears

You have to crane your neck skyward to spot the graffiti Ottawa’s bylaw department wants a longtime Bank Street shopkeeper to clean up. It’s near the top right corner of The Watch Clinic’s two-storey façade, which is only accessible from the building’s roof. “Who is that bothering?,” asked a bewildered Vivian Schenker as she pointed to […]

You have to crane your neck skyward to spot the graffiti Ottawa’s bylaw department wants a longtime Bank Street shopkeeper to clean up.


It’s near the top right corner of The Watch Clinic’s two-storey façade, which is only accessible from the building’s roof.


“Who is that bothering?,” asked a bewildered Vivian Schenker as she pointed to the white graffiti tag. “That’s being anal.”


Last month, Schenker, whose father opened the clock, watch and jewelry sales and service business in 1960, received a registered letter from the City of Ottawa ordering her to remove two graffiti tags within two weeks. The city’s graffiti management bylaw requires properties to be kept free of graffiti.


An employee has already removed a tag spray-painted on some bricks at eye level adjacent to the shop’s entrance, but the remaining graffiti, which she figures has been there for at least three or four years, poses more of a challenge. It’s high up and a power washer won’t remove spray paint from the baked aluminum surface.


Schenker hoped her efforts thus far would have been satisfactory, but the bylaw officer on the case is insistent the second tag must also go.


Schenker says she’s been told it could cost $670 to remove the graffiti.


And if she doesn’t get the job done, the city will do it for her and recover its costs by adding them to her next property-tax bill.


It’s an infuriating example of a victim being forced to pay for someone else’s crime, Schenker said.


“People are defacing our building and then we’re held responsible.”


Bylaw department spokeswoman Christine Hartig confirmed a pair of seasonal employees has been conducting proactive enforcement, as well as responding to hundreds of complaints from the public regarding graffiti on private property in two downtown wards.


Bank Street business owner Vivian Schenker of The Watch Clinic is frustrated with the city after she was ordered to remove some graffiti from a hard-to-reach part of her building.


It makes no difference if the graffiti is at eye level or up high, Hartig said.


“We don’t look at these as minor or major. A violation is a violation.”


The only distinction made pertains to hate graffiti, which Hartig said must be removed within 24 hours.


Graffiti is a constant — and costly — challenge for business improvement areas.


With funding help from the city, the Bank Street BIA spends about $30,000 per year on graffiti cleanup and mural projects, “and it’s not enough,” said executive director Christine Leadman. “We tend to get hit the worst.”


The BIA removes graffiti at eye level, but can’t cover the cost of removing the higher-up and harder-to-reach tags, she said.


Leadman attributed a recent rise in graffiti cleanup orders to an “energetic bylaw person taking the smallest things and sending businesses fines.”


The city’s focus should be on removing big, significant examples of graffiti that could send visitors the wrong signal about the area, as opposed to small, inoffensive tags, Leadman said.


While the bylaw department regularly orders businesses to clean up graffiti, both Schenker and Leadman noted pay-and-display parking stations along Bank Street are often emblazoned with tags and no one seems to be in a hurry to clean those up. “If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander, right?” Schenker said.


The city says an outside contractor is responsible for maintaining the machines “based on service requests.”


Graffiti on city-owned assets is handled by the public works department, which last year spent more than $730,000 on graffiti removal. The bylaw department handles graffiti complaints on private property.


Further south on Bank Street, graffiti is an ongoing problem but the Glebe BIA is quick to clean it up, even if it’s on a second storey or higher, said executive director Andrew Peck.


“We want to keep the area attractive, so it’s in everyone’s interest that we address it as quick as we can,” he said.


The Glebe BIA spends about $20,000 per year on graffiti cleanup and mural projects, Peck said. He recalled an occasion when a single vandal left between 20 and 30 tags along the street in a single night.


Schenker, who pays roughly $20,000 annually in property taxes, says the city should have a special fund to protect taxpayers, and not chew up so much of its own time and resources writing up “unimportant” fines.


It should also hire more police officers to bust vandals, especially on main streets.


“This is our Yonge Street, it’s the main artery of our city,” she said.


mpearson@postmedia.com


twitter.com/mpearson78


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