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City doesn’t think Somerset House owner will carry through with redevelopment

The Somerset House at the corner of Bank and Somerset Streets is photographed Wednesday July 13, 2016. (Darren Brown/Postmedia) Assignment 124283

September 13, 2018
Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

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 on 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 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 council-approved scheme.

“Of course we have plans,” Shahrasebi said in phone interview.

However, there have been no bites from the retail sector to lease space in the building, he said.

Council on May 10, 2017 approved the rehabilitation plan for the building and the issuance of a heritage permit, which has a two-year expiry. There has been little work 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.

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