Magee House decision drawing near, city says

The partially collapsed Magee House was to be demolished by the owner by Nov. 15 but he changed his mind. Photo: Reno Patry / CBC

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Councillor Expresses Frustration Over Delay

CBC NEWS, By Joanne Chianello

The city should make a definitive decision on whether it will demolish a privately owned heritage building in Hintonburg by next week, the built heritage subcommittee heard Thursday morning.

The western wall of the 170-year-old Magee House crumbled in the summer. Owner Ovidio Sbrissa, who lived and worked in the building, previously applied for a demolition permit, a request city council granted on Oct. 10. The demolition was to have taken place by Nov. 15, before winter set in.

But a couple weeks ago Sbrissa changed his mind. Late last month, he told CBC News he was undecided when he applied for the permit, and intended to hire masons to restore the building.

According to the city, Sbrissa submitted a plan to brace the building. That plan is currently being reviewed by structural engineer John Cooke.

Cooke, who was contracted by the city to evaluate the historic home back in July, likened the building to "a house of cards," and warned heavy snow and freeze-thaw cycles could increase the risk of further collapse. 

That warning doesn't appear to be enough for the city to demolish the building on its own, however. Officials have asked Cooke for a more up-to-date assessment of the risk the building poses to public safety now that winter has arrived.

If the report, which is expected in a couple days, says the building must come down, the city will move to demolish it and try to recoup the costs from the owner. Sbrissa could challenge such a move in court.

On Thursday, city officials assured committee members that the building is inspected on a daily basis and poses no imminent danger to the public.

'It's just wrong'

For nearly four months, the sidewalk on the busy Wellington Avenue W block has been fenced off. Behind the orange barricade, the building's contents are piled at its western end.

Coun. Scott Moffatt appeared frustrated during Thursday's meeting, asking why Sbrissa was getting the benefit of the doubt. "He doesn't deserve any," he said.

"It's a public safety issue," Moffatt said after the meeting. "You have a sidewalk closed. You have businesses impacted. You have residents impacted. It's wrong. The building should be down by now. The owner is standing in the way of that, and the city should be able to do what we have to do to remedy the situation."

Coun. Jeff Leiper, who represents the area where Magee House is located, said he's heard complaints from residents and businesspeople concerned about safety and walkability near the damaged building.

"I think that it is obvious to residents that the weather is not going to do that building any favours. We're in for a big dump of snow this evening," Leiper said.

"It's not a light matter for a government to go in and demolish somebody's private property," he said. City officials are following formal steps, "and my sincere hope is that those steps are leading to a demolition sooner rather than later."