Acts of vandalism aren’t new to an abandoned mobile home park in Langford and nearby residents want some action.
Last week, fire tore through a property at 697 Hoylake Ave., spreading to two vacant structures. The blaze prompted at least one householder to pack up his baby and be ready to move if it spread any further.
“We routinely see vandals stripping the trailers,” said Terry Rowsell, whose property neighbours the mobile home park on two sides. “I’ve seen people literally taking the light bulbs. The power was on and people were ripping out electrical things.”
He said cats in the area often trigger motion sensors. There is also a problem with feral cats is the area now, he added, as some former trailer park residents left their feline friends behind when they vacated.
Rowsell also routinely spots people salvaging whatever they can from the units, ripping down decks, roofs, and even kitchen cabinets, situations which have prompted several calls to the authorities. “Once my neighbour called and said someone was in my backyard.”
Now Rowsell leaves lights on to make it appear that someone is home at all times.
In yet another incident, trespassers knocked down his back fence. After he complained to the City of Langford it was propped back up, but it was destroyed a second time later.
The property has little security outside of a “no trespassing” sign, he said, which doesn’t act as much of a deterrent. “There are people over there quite a lot, usually in the middle of the night.”
Earlier this year, the property was rezoned to allow for a mix of residential and commercial development. It was purchased by the Molnar Group, a Vancouver-based developer, at the end of April.
Owner Andre Molnar said a condition of the sale was that the property be left vacant and that no one should be on the premise. He had been working with building crews last week, before the fire, to properly secure the area with a metal fence.
Rowsell said the night of the fire he smelled smoke and rushed outside to inspect his house. He saw the sky glowing but before he could get back inside, he heard the sirens from fire trucks arriving on scene.
He packed up his two-month-old baby and grabbed some treasured items, such as an old book, from around the house just in case the fire decided to take a turn.
“If there was wind blowing, I’d bet you my house would be burned down right now.” He said that piles of debris and cut-down trees, combined with tinder-dry conditions, make the area comparable to a match box.
Langford firefighter and safety inspector Paul Obersteller said on Friday, “we’re working with the lot owners to secure it now.” He said witnesses saw a group of youth fleeing the scene, who were later located by West Shore RCMP. It is believed the fire started from people playing with lighters.
“There’s a public safety issue with these trailers,” said Rowsell. He wants some measures taken even if there are no immediate plans to develop the site. “The sooner that trailer park gets ripped out the better.”
“We’re working on that,” said Molnar, who expects the mobile homes to start being dismantled in the next three to four weeks. “It’s more complicated than you think.” The disposal of hazardous materials, investigation into which began before last week’s fire, was delaying the process, he said.
Molnar said his company is in the process of obtaining permits from the City of Langford to build a 172-unit apartment building on the property. Subject to permits, he expects to break ground on the new development in mid- to late-September.
Matthew Baldwin, Langford’s director of planning, said he was working with an architect from the Molnar Group. “We’re just waiting for them to submit a development permit application.”