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Photo: Fences contain the debris of the Fort Hotel in downtown Fort St. John  – Christine Rumleskie/

On May 2nd, a fire swept through the old Fort Hotel, destroying the iconic downtown landmark forever.

But the story didn’t end there.

At the time, the City of Fort St. John was in the process of buying the property from the owner, with plans to demolish the old building and develop the property.

Fort St. John City Manager Dianne Hunter says when the fire hit, the transaction wasn’t complete, and to this day, the property still belongs to the original owner. That means it’s the owner’s responsibility to have the debris removed and property cleared, which has yet to be done.

So, the City has stepped in and volunteered to clear the property once a Notice of Provision is sent to the owner. The City has been facing some delays in finding the owner, who is a businessman and spends most of his time out of the country. Once the City files the notice with the registry, however, the countdown begins, and the owner has 15 days to review the notice.

In the meantime, Hunter says the City wants a contractor in place as soon as the notice expires, and will be soliciting bids in the near future. The cleanup is expected to take one week, and Hunter says the City is expecting that to be done before the winter. The costs associated with the cleanup will be added to the owner’s taxes. If the owner fails to pay his taxes, the property will be put up for tax sale.

But, as Hunter explains, it doesn’t end there.

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Hunter says the City appreciates the community’s patience during the grueling process. She says the fire may have gotten rid of the eyesore, but it will take a while before the property becomes developed.

She says if the property goes up for tax sale, the City will have the opportunity to submit a bid.

Until then, she says the City must take the rights of landowners seriously, and must go through the complete process to respect those rights.

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But, for now, the City is focusing on removing the debris from the property. Asbestos was found in the building prior to the fire. An assessment pinpointed the asbestos location, but since the fire, the City is treating the entire property as contaminated. Hunter says the amount of asbestos was relatively small, and is not a health or environment concern.

Once the land is cleared, the City plans to add gravel to the land and keep the land vacant until the property is either re-sold or developed by the current property owner.

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