City says its looking at options for Somerset House after owner backs out of renovation plan

In a report to the built-heritage subcommittee on Thursday, city staff say they aren't confident the owner of the heritage building will be following through on renovations planned in 2015. Katrina Guerin / National Trust for Canada

City staff reported to the built-heritage subcommittee on Thursday that they are “not optimistic” the owner of Somerset House intends to continue with the redevelopment of the 120-year-old heritage building.

The heritage department plans to issue “aggressive” orders to the owner to ensure the historic structure is protected from further damage or deterioration, said Court Curry, manager right of way, heritage and urban design at the city, at a meeting of the subcommittee.

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“I’m quite frustrated, I’ve been frustrated for 11 years,” said Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney. “This is one of the most important heritage buildings in our city. I’m frustrated on behalf of residents who expect that we’re doing everything we can to protect our heritage.”

Last year, city council approved an addition to Somerset House. Curry said he met with the owner and architect last week to discuss how the delayed renovations were proceeding. Based on that meeting, he said he believes the owner won’t follow through on the planned development before the permit is set to expire in early 2019.

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Curry said staff will work to secure the structure in time for winter and ensure public safety.

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The restoration of the empty building has been a long-running issue in the area. McKenney said on Thursday she’s been concerned about Somerset House for over a decade.

“I’ve never been optimistic that the owner of this building was serious about moving forward,” McKenney said. “I think we’ve seen … over the last several years, a negligence to allow this building to deteriorate where major parts of it have had to be removed.”

Asked why the owner is not proceeding with the redevelopment, Curry told reporters the owner has decided to pursue other development opportunities.

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Curry indicated that some of the other plans the owner has in mind incorporate Somerset House into the design, while others do not. He said he could not elaborate further for privacy reasons.

McKenney asked about expropriating the property to the city, a move which she is in favour of. Curry, on the other hand, says it’s too early to determine if that’s the way to go.

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City staff said they will have another update on Somerset House in October, although Curry told reporters afterward it’s likely no major changes to Somerset House will take place for the next two to five years.

Global News has attempted to reach owner Tony Kue Shahrasebi for comment, but has not yet heard back.

-With files from Beatrice Britneff

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