The owner of a derelict former school in Lowertown has turned to the courts in a bid to tear it down.
Groupe Claude Lauzon filed an application to Ontario Superior Court on Feb. 20 asking for permission to tear down the building at 287 Cumberland St., which has remained in disrepair for decades. The application states the city has known since 2005 that the building has “significant structural concerns” and did nothing. Groupe Claude Lauzon wants to tear the school down and put up condos, but the city refused the company’s demolition application in 2006 because Lauzon did not provide plans for what it planned to build on the site instead, which is a requirement of the heritage district policies that apply to the neighbourhood.
On Feb. 1, an engineering report commissioned by Lauzon revealed the building was at imminent risk of collapse.
That set off the latest chapter in the troubled relationship between Groupe Claude Lauzon and the city. The city ordered barricades be put up to keep pedestrians and traffic away from the building in case it fell down.
That led to the court application, which states “demolition is now a pressing and immediate concern and demolition should now be undertaken as soon as possible.”
In the court application, Lauzon took issue with whether the city’s building inspector could order an engineer hired by Lauzon to hand over documents related to the condition of the building. The school was unsafe for inspectors to enter, and therefore the city’s building inspectors can’t make any orders, the application states. That’s not the case, according to city officials, and inspectors were able to enter the building before the court application was even filed, said Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who was not impressed by the company taking the issue to the court.
He called the court case an “intimidation tactic.”
“They’re playing games,” Fleury said. “The premise is the issue is that someone didn’t take care of their property,” and the city has no intention of rewarding that type of behaviour by granting Lauzon what it wants, he said – a demolition permit with no commitment to rebuild something appropriate for the heritage district.
Calls of Groupe Claude Lauzon’s lawyer were not returned.
Fleury and Mayor Jim Watson’s office have been working on changes to prevent this type of demolition by neglect.
City staff is drafting a proposal that would have tighter wording, allowing the city to enforce property standards above the very minimum. Staff is looking to places like Hamilton, Kingston and Toronto for direction particularly regarding upkeep of vacant heritage buildings, which make up half the approximately 100 vacant properties in Ottawa. A proposal will come forward in the coming weeks or months, Fleury said.