Hotel owner gets licence suspended for one year

Prince George city council has suspended the business licence for the Willows Inn on Victoria Street for one year.

Previously known as the Ranch Motel and the Homeland Inn, the business has been frequently visited by police over the last few years for various infractions by its residents.

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Council made its decision Thursday after a hearing to consider evidence from city bylaw officers, police and firefighters who wanted the site shut down.

City staff suggested a six-month term for the suspension. Owner Phil Danyluk appealed this. After hearing the evidence, city councillors unanimously overturned the six-month suspension. They made it a year instead.

Danyluk told The Citizen on Friday that he was reviewing the decision and would have comments about his future plans early next week.

During his testimony he stressed that he had put significant money and efforts into refurbishing the complex in recent months, to evict the problem tenants, and to replace a series of motel managers who allowed the degradation to occur without his knowledge [he said he spent only about half his time in Prince George].

He admitted that at its peak of dysfunction, he would not have peace of mind if he spent the night in his own motel.

Mayor Shari Green, the lead judge in the tribunal process (all councillors can cross-examine witnesses and have a vote as to the outcome) said Danyluk was nothing less than "deceitful" in his testimony and was fully responsible for the degradation of the motel to the point it attracted police 251 times (some of the incidents involving grievous bodily harm) since Danyluk purchased the place in 2011, plus a major fire, and breaches of bylaws and codes.

It's not the first time, although Danyluk said it was under questioning. When the city's legal counsel asked him if he owned or managed other properties in Prince George, he said yes and named them, omitting one, the London Hotel on Third Avenue.

Likewise, when he was asked if he had ever had a business license suspended in his extensive real estate holdings in Prince George, Quesnel, the Lower Mainland, and outside of B.C., he said "never" but then admitted to Green moments later that indeed he did own the London Hotel and he recently had that business license suspended for similar contraventions.

"He gave false testimony. His personal behaviour towards enforcement staff and the people of Prince George, his business behaviour, his disregard for the peace of this city was all unacceptable," Green said. "This sends a strong message to others, and if the seriousness of this situation wasn't clear enough to him Thursday morning, it certainly was by the end of the day."

The one-year suspension comes also with an order to pay a $10,000 bond refundable only when compliance is met for all structural/safety bylaws and codes, and municipal business plan disclosures. The suspension takes effect on June 1, allowing Residential Tenancy Act rules for eviction to be met. Green also said the property would be scrutinized for any attempts to sell the operation to a proxy or shell company.

"I feel such heartache for people who have, through a number of circumstances in their life, find themselves having to choose that place to lay their head at night," said Green.

She estimated the cost to the taxpayer for police attendance, fire and ambulance attendance, bylaw and inspector attention, all to add up to more than $500,000 needlessly spent on that one business.

Danyluk may appeal to the courts for a judicial review of the suspension process. He could also petition the courts for allowing him to keep the motel open while the judicial review is underway.

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