© Mike Carson/Journal Pioneer
Roger Wells stands inside the former P.E.I. Bag Company building that he purchased over a year ago. Wells says the city is treating him unfairly over his attempts to develop the property. He now faces thousands of dollars in fines, legal fees and the loss of the property.
SUMMERSIDE – A local businessman is facing thousands of dollars in fines over what he perceives as a needless dispute with the city.
Roger Wells purchased the former P.E.I. Bag Company on Water street just over a year ago and had plans to convert the historic property into a winter parking garage for cars and motorcycles, and possibly turn part of it into an antique car museum.
But those plans came crashing down when city inspectors told Wells some of the work he was doing was prohibited by municipal bylaws unless he acquired a compliance permit from the city.
“Whenever I bought this building I called the city to tell them what I was planning on doing … and to make sure I got the right permits, which we did and started construction,” Wells said. “We were trying to open up all of the walls so as cars came in throughout the building we could move them around a lot easier. The biggest part was doing the windows, which we got the building permit for.”
Wells said when work was underway on the ground floor there was a difference of opinion between him and the city over what could and could not be done.
“What I think happened was downstairs we moved a few posts that they thought were load bearing, but they weren’t actually touching the ceiling,” he said. “So when the first city inspector came in he gave me quite a bit of grief, saying I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. But it wasn’t load bearing and I was told I could do anything as long as it isn’t load bearing.”
Wells said after about three months the building did open to cars and motorcycles for storage.
“There is a really big need for car storage in Summerside,” he said. “There are a lot of places that park cars, but you can’t actually go see the car until the spring. What I was trying to do was create an environment so that when people park their hot rods or motorcycles for the winter they could actually come in, but no mechanical work or service work of any kind, but at least visit the bike or the car throughout the season as most car lovers understand.”
Wells said in that first year about 40 cars and 40 bikes used the facility.
“The next step I wanted to try and do, but was quickly shut down, was to open a museum so we could also invite people in throughout the winter and create a place for young kids and car lovers to go and come in and see the building,” he said. “It’s a beautiful building with a lot of history.”
Wells staged an open house successfully.
“I phoned my insurance company and made sure that we could do it, we had lots of literature out we didn’t charge anybody,” he said. “We had donation only and I wanted to give all the money away to four different charities in Summerside. We raised almost $1,000.”
“After that was done, that’s when I really got the slap on the wrist, basically (the city) saying you can’t do what you’re doing,” Wells said. “You’re changing the zoning and you can’t do that without getting a compliance order done. They wanted drawings for the building, electrical, mechanical, sprinkler systems and I didn’t agree with anything they were asking me to do.”
Wells said he was told he could have no more than 12 people on the second floor at one time.
“Saying something like that is pretty ridiculous when you’re looking at almost 5,000 square feet and the floor is three layers thick. After that I was served by the Summerside police with a compliance order and if I didn’t (comply) it could be considered a Criminal Code violation.
Wells said the issue has now developed into 16 charges, because he continues to refuse to abide by a compliance permit, involving thousands of dollars of fines.
“All I tried to do was create a place for kids and families to come out, check out the cars,” he said. “Everything is perfectly safe. We’ve never done anything wrong. I’m truly being treated like a criminal when I’m trying to do something good. I never planned on profiting from the building. As long as it paid the bill I was happy. We had the opportunity to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars over the winter by having an open house every week and give that money back to Summerside.”
Wells has a court date on Nov. 20.
“At that point, I’m going to be fined,” he said. “We don’t know how much the amount is, but the last city request was they want me to pay all of their lawyers bills and they want make example of not following city bylaws and they want to make me that example. It could $1,000 or 16 fines of up to $10,000 a fine which could be $160,000 plus their bills.”