Edmonton is expanding a program that cracks down on the owners of vacant, derelict businesses.

The community services committee of city council voted Monday in favour of continuing the project and adding a second by-law officer.

"One bad apple can rot an entire box and the same is true with one derelict building on a street," Ellie Sasseville, chair of the Business Revitalization Zone Council, told the committee. 

Her council represents the 13 BRZ's in Edmonton and represents over 5,000 businesses, all of whom support the program and want to see it continue, she said.

The pilot program, which ran from June 1 to Dec. 31 last year, identified 51 vacant business property nuisance locations across the city during the first three months.

Of the properties identified, 13 have been fixed up or demolished, another dozen need immediate attention, and 30-plus still need to be dealt with, city staff told councillors.

"The fact the city received over 700 bylaw complaints over a 10-year period certainly demonstrates that prior to this pilot project, it would appear we were unable to make a real change in these buildings," Sasseville said.

Having one person dedicated to work with Alberta Health Services, other enforcement agencies and landlords has been a great help, she said.

More penalties needed

"First impressions are critical," Joachim Holtz, executive director at the Alberta Avenue Business Association, told the committee.

The derelict Cromdale Hotel on 118th Avenue took years to deal with, and now there are others that are not necessarily derelict but vacant, he said.

"People come on to the avenue and they see this and right away we get 'Oh yeah, it's 118th Avenue, look at that," Holtz said.

"Something has to be done," he added. "There has to be some type of financial penalty against them because it's the only thing that works."

He advocated something stronger than the $250 fine for unsightly property that exists now through a bylaw.

The city can do remedial work, or demolish a building and recover all the costs through taxes, Coun. Andrew Knack said. 

But several councillors want something with more bite, such as a property tax penalty. That, however, would require the provincial government to make a change to the Municipal Government Act.

Coun. Michael Walters said with the pilot program's success, the city should consider expanding it to include vacant and derelict residential buildings.

City staff said that is coming next.