City vows to get ‘Ag­gres­sive’ over Som­er­set House

PressReader - Tke Channel - City vows to get ‘Ag­gres­sive’ over Som­er­set House
The city is tak­ing the “most ag­gres­sive ac­tion” yet on the stag­nant ren­o­va­tion to the his­toric Som­er­set House in Cen­tre­town, the city ’s her­itage boss says.Court Curry, the man­ager who over­sees the city’s her­itage pro­gram, said Thurs­day that based on a meet­ing with the prop­erty owner last week, he doesn’t be­lieve the restora­tion plan will hap­pen for the prop­erty on Som­er­set and Bank streets. Ac­cord­ing to Curry, the owner has de­cided to pur­sue “other devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties” for the prop­erty over the next two to five years, but those plans fit into the her­itage re­stric­tions only “to a de­gree.”Curry told the sub­com­mit­tee that the city is about to take “the most ag­gres­sive ac­tions the city has un­der­taken” against the prop­erty owner when it comes to prop­erty stan­dards and her­itage pro­tec­tion.Som­er­set House dates back to 1899 and is pro­tected by a her­itage des­ig­na­tion, which means any alterations must be ap­proved by city coun­cil.Curry, who pro­vided the built-her­itage sub­com­mit­tee an up­date on Som­er­set House dur­ing a meet­ing, de­clined to dis­cuss the other devel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties the prop­erty owner is pur­su­ing.Tony Shahrasebi, the prop­erty owner, said he’s still work­ing to­ward achiev­ing the coun­cilap­proved scheme.“Of course we have plans,” Shahrasebi said in a phone in­ter­view.How­ever, there have been no bites from the re­tail sec­tor to lease space in the build­ing, he said.On May 10, 2017, coun­cil ap­proved the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion plan for the build­ing and the is­suance of a her­itage per­mit, which has a twoyear ex­piry. Lit­tle work has been done since then.Shahrasebi hired a con­trac­tor to fill a pit on the prop­erty af­ter the city raised con­cerns about a po­ten­tial safety haz­ard. That’s about the ex­tent of the work over the past year.The city has been re­ceiv­ing monthly en­gi­neer­ing reports on the build­ing. Staff in­spected the build­ing this week.If the city needs to do work on the build­ing to pro­tect the pub­lic, it will un­der­take the work and bill the owner’s prop­erty taxes, Curry said.Un­til now, the city hasn’t clamped down on the pro­tec­tion of her­itage at­tributes since there was a re­de­vel­op­ment plan that took into ac­count the her­itage restora­tion. Now, the city will or­der the prop­erty owner to pro­tect the her­itage el­e­ments, Curry said.Shahrasebi said he would take the city to court if the city charged con­struc­tion ex­penses to his prop­erty taxes. He has plans to pro­tect the build­ing against the win­ter weather, in­clud­ing heating the in­side.Som­er­set Coun. Cather­ine McKen­ney con­tin­ues to call for the city to ex­pro­pri­ate the prop­erty. With no con­fi­dence that Shahrasebi will re­de­velop the build­ing, McKen­ney wants the city to buy the prop­erty and po­ten­tially use it for a pub­lic pur­pose, such as cre­at­ing a li­brary branch.“This is at one of the key in­ter­sec­tions of our down­town,” McKen­ney said. “The fact that we have es­sen­tially a dead cor­ner, and a dead cor­ner that is also a her­itage build­ing, is quite egre­gious. We have to take very se­ri­ous and strong ac­tion on this mat­ter and with this owner.”The city has only once ex­pro­pri­ated a her­itage prop­erty — when it took over 503-507 King Ed­ward Ave. in 1985.Shahrasebi de­clined to com­ment on the pos­si­bil­ity of the city ex­pro­pri­at­ing his prop­erty.Curry said the city would ex­haust all op­tions be­fore con­sid­er­ing ex­pro­pri­a­tion.The city is work­ing on a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive pro­gram to help her­itage prop­erty own­ers com­plete ren­o­va­tions.Shahrasebi said the idea of fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance has come up in dis­cus­sions with the city, but in­stead of the $500,000 in­cen­tive that was floated dur­ing those talks, he asked for $1 mil­lion.Ac­cord­ing to Curry, staff did talk about the devel­op­ment of a city­wide fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance pro­gram for her­itage re­de­vel­op­ment that would re­quire coun­cil ap­proval. How­ever, at no point did staff talk about the avail­abil­ity of or at­tempt to ne­go­ti­ate a spe­cific amount for Som­er­set House, Curry said.Som­er­set House was once home to the Duke of Som­er­set pub. A par­tial col­lapse in 2007 re­sulted in a le­gal fight be­tween Shahrasebi and city hall. Af­ter they re­solved the dis­pute, a se­ries of re­de­vel­op­ment plans gave the city hope that the ap­pear­ance of this busy down­town in­ter­sec­tion would be re­stored.As time wore on, part of the wall along Som­er­set Street be­came so de­te­ri­o­rated the city had to ap­prove a par­tial de­mo­li­tion.The build­ing has be­come a cap­i­tal eye­sore with an un­known fu­ture, even mak­ing the Na­tional Trust for Canada’s top-10 list of “en­dan­gered” her­itage land­marks. The city cre­ated an in­ter­nal task force in 2016 to mon­i­tor va­cant her­itage prop­er­ties, par­tially in re­sponse to Som­er­set House.

The con­di­tion of Som­er­set House, at Som­er­set Street West and Bank Street, cre­ates a “dead cor­ner” at “one of the key in­ter­sec­tions of our down­town,” Coun. Cather­ine McKen­ney says.

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