Today's Letters: Here's why the City of Ottawa must expropriate Somerset House

Somerset House. Photo: Julie Oliver / Postmedia

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Re: Owner of Somerset House would rather tear it down, build a replica building, Nov. 16, 2018

So the owner of Somerset House has now got his sights set on demolition. Who doubts that this was his intention all along?

For years now, this once-elegant structure, a cherished Centretown landmark, has been standing as an empty hulk after a botched attempt at so-called renovation work in 2007. The partial collapse of the building that resulted was followed by years of the owner earnestly promising the city that restoration would start soon. Deadlines came and went, and so did more of the building.

The city has been understandably reluctant to expropriate. It has demonstrated patience and an admirable respect for the rights of individual property owners. But the rest of the community has rights, too.

We have the right to have our heritage protected. There’s even an Act that exists specifically for this purpose — to protect designated properties such as this one, located in the Centretown Heritage Conservation District.

We have the right to live in communities where demolition by neglect is not business as usual. We have the right to live in communities that don’t look like bomb sites. We have the right not to fear that neglected buildings might one day cause serious personal injury. (The partial collapse of the Magee House could have been a lot worse.)

We have the right to expect that the city will defend our built heritage by respecting and applying the very heritage bylaws it creates and passes at council.

At last week’s built heritage subcommittee, committee members bemoaned the fact that Somerset House has degraded even more during their watch. A Mayor’s Task Force on Heritage has made not a whit of difference.

Why are certain property owners allowed to thumb their noses at those who are trying to protect our city? Before demolition by neglect becomes even more normalized, it is time for the city to demonstrate that its laws cannot be ignored.

It’s time to expropriate. Now.

David Jeanes, President, Heritage Ottawa