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City sets Aug. 2 deadline for Magee House stabilization work

An image of the closed sidewalk and road in front of Magee House at 1119 Wellington St. W.
An image of the closed sidewalk and road in front of Magee House at 1119 Wellington St. W. Hintonburg Community Association

Nearly a year after Magee House in Hintonburg partially collapsed, the City of Ottawa say it’s setting a hard deadline for the owner of the historic stone home to finish stabilization work that would allow the city to reopen the sidewalk and road directly in front of the property.

That date is August 2, according to a statement from city staff, which acknowledged that “a portion” of the stabilization work has already been completed.

The municipality is exploring its options in the event the stabilization work isn’t completed that Friday in August, but it’s considering hiring its own contractor to finish the job and then billing the owner, according to Frank Bidin, the city’s chief building official.

READ MORE: Stabilization work on Ottawa’s Magee House to begin ‘in days’ — but no precise schedule yet

The owner of Magee House, Ovidio Sbrissa, said he believes he can get the work done by then but suggested he would not relinquish control over the project should he go past deadline.

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“I will do my own stabilization work and I will do my own [restoration] of the building,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

The western wall of the heritage building at 1119 Wellington St. W. partially collapsed on July 24, 2018. The rest of Magee House was set to be demolished by mid-November but Sbrissa then decided he wanted to save it.

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Stabilization work ordered by the city began this spring ⁠— work that staff had hoped would take weeks once it kicked off.

Sbrissa said “things got held up” recently because issues arose that need to be resolved, which he argued is common in construction work.

The city’s right-of-way manager Court Curry said his department is setting a deadline “to spur a timely completion of the remaining work” and will stop granting construction-related encroachment permits after the cutoff date.

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The city maintains it can’t free up the sidewalk and parking spaces in front of Magee House until that stabilization work is completed. Fencing has been installed out front since July 25, 2018.

A rendering of the stabilization plans for the historic Magee House at 1119 Wellington Street W. in Ottawa. The western wall of the heritage building partially collapsed on July 24, 2018. City of Ottawa

That lack of access over the past year has been a major point of contention for the community. Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West Business Improvement Area, described the ongoing sidewalk and road closures as “a disaster” for neighbouring businesses.

“Any work to remedy any part of the situation cannot happen soon enough as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

“The businesses in that immediate area have absolutely been suffering and have very clear evidence of a poor year on the books.”

For the Hintonburg Community Association, safety is the top concern. Larry Hudon, the association’s president, said the closed sidewalk is “quite a ways” between two crossings and “poses an incredible danger” to pedestrians, especially those with mobility issues.

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The community association is holding a rally next Wednesday morning to “express frustration” with what it claims has been a “glacial resolution” of the situation.

“Everyone who lives, works or plays in Hintonburg has been patient with the sidewalk closure in front of Magee House on Wellington and Rosemount. But enough is enough, the sidewalk will have been blocked for an entire year on July 24th,” the notice for the event says.

Hudon said the association shares the common concern about preserving the heritage assets of Magee House but also wants to press the city to prevent similar delays in the future.

For his part, Obrissa insists the front wall of the house is stable as is, and the city could remove the fencing and restore sidewalk and road access today.

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READ MORE: Absence of mortar caused Magee House’s partial collapse, engineer says

Sbrissa has also been at odds with the city over what caused the wall’s collapse; he maintains that vibrations from nearby construction are to blame.

He also argued that part of the demolition the city ordered after the collapse wasn’t necessary and he wants the city to contribute to the rising costs of the work.

Despite this disagreement, Sbrissa said he doesn’t blame the city for doing what it can to resolve the situation and the two sides are “working in tandem” to reach that goal.

Sbrissa was not in the house when the wall collapsed last summer and no one was injured in the incident.

Sbrissa, who lived and worked out of Magee House, said he’s since been living in a temporary apartment.

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