The Baker Street amenity areas may have been created as mini public spaces to brighten the downtown core, but due to constant problems the Nelson business community is saying enough is enough.
“It’s awful, just awful,” said owner of Kootenai Moon Furniture Val Semeniuk.
Kootenai Moon faces one of the amenity areas that has become a popular hang out spot for a group that gather and loiter.
Semeniuk spoke out about her concerns about the public places at last week’s Nelson Business Association meeting at the Hume Hotel.
“Like I said in the meeting, number-one it doesn’t look good,” she told the Star after the meeting. “It scares customers there’s no question, it scares my staff, they don’t want to go outside the store.”
There was one evening where Semeniuk felt so intimidated by the group gathering outside her store that she called the Nelson Police Department as she was leaving the store because she felt unsafe.
In the meeting, her manager also shared about how she feels unsafe about her daughter walking to the store.
“I’m so glad of that meeting because I’m just not going to put up with it any longer,” said Semeniuk. “I’m going to go right to the police chief. In terms of that, the police have never been able to have the manpower to do the beat cop, they’re doing the best they can I think, but I don’t think it’s OK for us to have to wait until they have a moment to come down.”
At last week’s meeting, the city’s business owners were able to share their opinions and possible solutions for the problem facing the amenity areas.
Joyce Jackson, the former owner of Lonnie’s Lingerie — which borders one the amenity areas — said she doesn’t think taking the areas away will solve the problem of people gathering.
“I love it in the summer when you can see families gathering there. It’s beautiful,” she said.
A solution that has been set out by the city after independent consultation was that the amenity areas be opened up by removing the cement area adjacent to the sidewalk.
But Semeniuk wants to see the amenity area removed completely and replaced with parking.
“I’d like to have parking,” she said. “I just want parking and I’m also tired of customers coming in and saying they couldn’t find a parking spot. ‘We were downtown but we couldn’t find a parking spot,’ or ‘Our parking meter expired.’ I’m just not backing down, I want parking. Bottom line, just give me parking.”
Some business owners said in the meeting that the group would likely find another place to hang out, some suggested they would like to see them closer to the 600 block of Baker Street.
“There are so many things for a business owner to think about, and I’d like to be part of the solution but I can’t think of anything right now. I don’t know,” said Semeniuk. “I don’t hang out on the street and I know homelessness is a problem. Do we have a park that says ‘Homelessness.’ I don’t know how to help these people, I don’t. I used to be part for a homeless committee and it’s sad. But I look at it from my perspective and I’m done.”
Nelson City councillor Donna Macdonald said the areas have been an issue in the past, but added there was a time when they were used for positive public use.
“The use of the amenity areas has varied over the years,” said Macdonald. “Certainly in the ‘90s when there were a lot of conflicts going on in the downtown, they were a focal point for those because they were becoming hang out spaces. But at the same time you could walk downtown and see people having their lunches, people who work in the downtown having lunch in the sunshine.”
Macdonald said opening up the areas is part of the Sustainable Downtown and Waterfront Master Plan, but said time will tell whether that will solve the problem.
“I think they are important to Baker Street along with the cafes and patios, they really add a lot to the walkability and the feeling that it’s a place for people to be in the community,” she said.
The business association will meet with the city to share what was discussed at the meeting to see if a solution that meets both groups needs is possible.