The owner of the historic Somerset House at Somerset and Bank streets will pay the city $650,000 in a legal settlement, ending years of litigation over the property.
The money represents the city’s costs for fire, police and legal services related to unauthorized restoration work on the 100-year-old building.
“This is the owner paying us the amount of money the court settled on, so our costs are now covered,” said Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes. “We’ve come to an amicable agreement that he is not going to take us to court for the $2 million and we are not going to follow up with any other court proceedings.”
Plans for the property remain unclear. Calls to the building’s owner, Tony Shahrasebi of TKS Holdings Inc., were not returned before this newspaper’s deadline.
A motion to city council reads: “the parties have expressed a joint desire to have the proposed development at Somerset House proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible,” and the city will waive its encroachment fees “as a sign of goodwill and to further motivate TKS Holdings Inc. to act as quickly as possible in developing this site.”
A shell of the Somerset House has stood at 352 Somerset St. W. on the Centretown corner since the fall of 2007, when TKS Holdings was working on the underpinnings of the building’s foundation without a permit.
On Oct. 19, 2007, the building partially collapsed, closing off parts of Bank and Somerset streets until Dec. 19, 2007.
That road closure wasn’t cheap and the city’s costs mounted as the chief building official issued a demolition order because she worried the building could collapse at any moment.
Shahrasebi obtained a court order to have the demolition done in stages to save part of the building, as long as it was in a safe condition, but much of the structure save for the façade and a side wall were torn down.
The once-vibrant building has remained that way – covered with graffiti and open to the elements – for four years because the city and Shahrasebi were locked in a court battle.
In a legal decision in January of 2012, TKS Holdings was ordered to pay the city 75 per cent of what the municipal government said it cost to carry out the demolition, road closures and other work as a result of the emergency work order. Shahrasebi appealed the order and filed a separate $5-million lawsuit against the city, according to city documents.
The $650,000 settlement resolves all litigation between the city and TKS Holdings.
The January decision prompted surrounding business owners to hope restoration work would begin quickly.
“It’s an eyesore,” Eli Hanna, manager of Gabriel’s Pizza, said last January. His restaurant faces the building from the north side of Somerset Street.
He said customers frequently ask him what is happening with the decrepit building across the street, but Hanna has no answers.
“I don’t know what to tell them,” he said. “I don’t even know who owns it.”
Hanna said the heritage style of the building is attractive and it would be nice to restore it, but even if it’s torn down and something else is built in its place, Hanna would be happy.
“Just do something,” he said.