There are few conflicts more toxic than disputes between neighbours. Most journalists would rather chew off a limb than get sucked into writing a story about that kind of situation. I was certainly tempted to leave this particular battle alone. However, the fact that it also involves the City and Mayor Mark McKee means I shouldn’t dodge this bullet.
By David F. Rooney
A dispute between Francis Maltby and some of his neighbours that has its roots 16 years in the past is sucking in Mayor Mark McKee, City Council and municipal staff.
This conflict revolves around the way Maltby, an ardent environmentalist, has allowed his garden to go wild and even colonize the City-owned right of way along Boyle Avenue. (The portion of Boyle in question is that asphalt paving that curves around Maltby’s house from Boyle proper to join the sidewalk along Campbell Avenue.)
Maltby says some of his neighbours “have had me in their sights for years because I blocked the purchase of a piece of city property which has become a very popular public space. They wanted it, they did not get it because I intervened, and I have been their target ever since.”
The people he believes are gunning for him have, he said, complained to the City about the way his garden has been allowed to revert to a wild state and overrun the City’s right-of way. The City doesn’t particularly care about what Maltby chooses to do or not do on his own land but when people complain about the way his private jungle has colonized the municipal right-of-way that borders his house at 512 Boyle then Revelstoke’s bureaucrats hands are tied.
Maltby says he has sat down with Engineering and Development Services Director Mike Thomas, other city officials and even Mayor Mark McKee but has not received the response he wants. In fact, he claims they are bullying him. In e-mails to The Current and others, he has also insinuated that because McKee is friends with some of the residents of the Glacier condo development he may be guilty of cronyism.
He claims the mayor bullied him and alleged he has complained in writing to the Ombudsman and the Attorney General.
“Basically, what we have is simple,” McKee said in an interview. “We have a couple of neighbours who don’t get along and who complain about each other to the City.”
Property disputes are nothing new in city life. Every year or so someone may complain about what one of their neighbours may be doing with his or her property. The difference in this case is that the property some people are complaining about is municipally owned property — not private land.
“My rule is that when you’re in an argument about property what does the bylaw say? In this case it’s not about Francis’ property; the complaints are about the City’s property.
“Francis was sent a letter almost a year ago saying work would be done. He says he never got the letter. Fine. Whatever. I’ve seen a copy of the letter and it was sent to him in August or September last year. So this complaint about the mayor bullying him is just him deflecting the argument onto something else. I’m a big boy. I can take it.
“What it gets down to is: What is the City’s responsibility when it comes down to unsightly premises? There will be people who will argue it is not an unsightly premises, others will. It’s subjective.”
McKee said other residents have complained about the shaggy growth by Maltby’s house but because they don’t live in the neighbourhood “we generally don’t take that as a legitimate complaint.”
Council asked McKee to meet with Maltby and work out a compromise.
“The compromise I came up with would allow Maltby to maintain the jungle on a portion — but not all — of the City right-of-way.
“I was just trying to keep peace in the neighbourhood,” McKee said. “That wasn’t enough for Francis.”
Maltby rejected the offer.
Consequently the City is sending Maltby a letter telling him the right of way will be cleared whether he likes it or not.
From Maltby’s perspective this all dates back 16 years or more to the condos’ original development when he says he stymied an attempt to purchase a strip of land between the condos and Campbell Avenue. He also believes that some resident of the condos poisoned cottonwood trees along the Columbia.
This all sounds like a tempest in a teapot but there is an increasingly ugly tone to the situation and Maltby has threatened to sue McKee and the City.
This affair is gnawing away at Francis. He can be intensely focused, especially when talking about our natural environment but it was obvious during an interview that he is at his wit’s end. He was very angry and frustrated and actually walked away from the interview when he appeared to break down in tears.
“This is about one family fighting to restore a meadow and a city that has forgotten its own history,” he said. “That’s what it’s about.”
He then said it appears to be all right for another citizen (presumably one of the residents of Glacier condos( to mow the piece of City-owned land on the other side of Boyle, but it’s not okay for him to let the right of way beside his house to go wild. That’s probably true, but given the standards of taste most people share someone other than Maltby is unlikely to complain about a neatly mown piece of lawn.
“What the City has told us is that it is City-owned property they can do anything they want ranging from mowers to excavators,” he said. “All of our meetings with City staff and the mayor (have left us with) the perspective that we have been bullied and bullied hard.”
Because Francis is not, shall we say, cybernetically oriented his daughter Erica has set up a Facebook page and a Change.org petition, signed by 282 people, to help him out.
Francis would like this issue to be discussed in open Count il but that isn’t going to happen any time soon. So far, Council has chosen to discuss it in camera. He also wants people to believe that this is about protecting the environment and on Monday, June 22, sent an e-mail saying:
“Please be aware that the city’s proposal to mow the public portion of our Eco-Yard will be affecting the habitat of a listed species, Bufo boreus, Western Toad. The Councilor responsible for Environmental issues, Scott Duke is welcome to contact me regarding this matter. Please be aware that should the city proceed with its plans to mow it will be negatively affecting western toad rearing habitat and possibly reducing the viability of what may also be a hibernacula habitat in our yard. The city should also immediately notify its ‘Environmental Committee’ and seek their guidance in this matter. I via this email am notifying the Ministry of Environment and do expect it to provide some guidance towards the conservation objectives of valuable habitat.”
How will it end? Stay tuned…