City staff to fix Somerset House and send property owner the bill

·2 min read
The heritage building called Somerset House on Ottawa's Bank Street remains empty 15 years after it partially collapsed. (Ryan Garland/CBC - image credit)
The heritage building called Somerset House on Ottawa's Bank Street remains empty 15 years after it partially collapsed. (Ryan Garland/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa city council has approved a motion that would get the city's general manager of planning to order some long-neglected repairs to Somerset House and send the bill to the downtown heritage building's owner.

The motion was brought forward by Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents Somerset ward, during a council meeting Wednesday. It would see city staff fix the building and the cost of that work paid by TKS Holdings Ltd., the property owner.

"As a city we have given this property owner many, many chances over the years," said McKenney. "We've engaged in meaningful dialogue to encourage him to redevelop this site, and he has never taken any meaningful action."

The heritage building partially collapsed nearly 15 years ago. Since that day in October 2007, the City of Ottawa has approved designs for redevelopment at that prominent Bank Street corner in 2013 and again in 2017, and granted a permit that eventually expired.

It had to allow an unsafe wall to come down, and has previously ordered repairs. Last year, it deferred a decision on another downtown low-rise project from the property owner.

"We really have exhausted all other tools. I've been working on this for eight years. We have very little, very few tools and this is one that I think we need to do to ensure that the work that is needed is finally undertaken," said McKenney.

Today Somerset House still stands empty, its main-floor windows boarded up, and construction fencing along one side.

"This has to be the ugliest blight on our landscape, the entire city," said Mayor Jim Watson.

McKenney said the city has already invested too much staff, money and time into the ongoing neglect of the house and it has only continued to deteriorate.

Wednesday's motion is "to ensure that we don't lose this," they said.

City staff will present an update on the status of the building to the built heritage subcommittee in June.

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