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  #21  
Old Posted Oct 9, 2014, 11:47 PM
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A Somerset schism emerges
Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: October 8, 2014, Last Updated: October 9, 2014 3:07 PM EDT


A few weeks back, I wrote that one of the challenges facing voters in Somerset ward is choosing between several strong candidates.

At the Sept. 23 debate, many of them agreed on a lot of things and/or didn’t really differentiate themselves from each other. A voter could have reasonably left that night thinking, “Hey, at least half of these people could be good on council.” (Full disclosure: nine of the 11 people registered in Somerset showed up that night).

But when it comes to Somerset House — the famously dilapidated building on the corner of Bank and Somerset streets — some different views are emerging.

Here’s part of an early morning press release from Thomas McVeigh, who has been campaigning, in part, on the need to stand for businesses in the ward:

Quote:
“The City of Ottawa has chosen to bully rather than help a local businessman and attempt to rewrite history.

The city is about to revoke a deal to waive the encroachment fees for Somerset House, thus risking the owner reviving a countersuit for 5 million dollars. This makes for great electoral optics, but this is not how we build trust with developers who want to save our heritage structures.

The attempts to rewrite history are painting an Iranian immigrant who has built several successful businesses in this city, and who has a good track record for doing heritage renovations the right way as the kind of property owner who has been negligent and is letting buildings go through demolition by neglect.”
That’s striking a noticeably different tone than Jeff Morrison struck a few weeks back when he issued this statement (quoting part of it). Morrison has been making noise about the building since 2012:

Quote:
"I am asking the property owner, Mr. Shahrasebi, as well as his team of architects and engineers, to establish a firm timetable as to when work on this property will begin, and to communicate this timetable to the community. Although Somerset House may belong to Mr. Shahresebi, it is also at the heart of Centretown, and as such, the thousands of residents who live in the area have an equally personal stake in its future.”
I’ll keep you posted if I hear from other Somerset candidates about their position on the matter. You can find their responses to the Citizen’s candidate survey, which covers everything from traffic and trash to development and ward-specific issues, here.

UPDATE:

City council voted Wednesday on the finance committee’s recommendation to scrap the encroachment fee waiver for Somerset House.

I also received an email from Denis Schryburt, another Somerset candidate. He agrees Somerset House, in its current state, is an embarrassment, but takes the issue a step further by raising a good point:

Quote:
“Abandoned buildings have plagued our community in Somerset for far too long and our current by-laws simply do not have enough bite to deal with the issue … Somerset House is certain an easy political target to take on and will certainly bring those who do, some applause and support. But what about 234 O’Connor Street which has been abandoned for over a decade after a fire, the old Koffman Signs building at 146 Nepean Street and the house next door. There is an empty lot on the corner of Bank and Florence Streets since 2005 with an overgrowth of weeds and littered with trash from passersby and a four story walk-up on Lisgar Street that has been boarded up for quite some time. Unfortunately, there are plenty more across the our ward and the city that are simply not getting the same attention but also need to be dealt with quickly.”
http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-...schism-emerges
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  #22  
Old Posted Oct 10, 2014, 4:08 PM
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I agree with McVeigh; the City has been impeding any chance of the owner to actually get started. Everyone's talking trash about one another, suing each other. This needs to stop.

Schryburt raises another good point; the City chooses certain "whipping boys" like Lauzon (who admittedly has a bad track record) and Shahrasebi but never seem to raise issues regarding other people or developers who either own derelict property that isn't as visible/well known (properties mentioned by Schryburt) or large developers who can get away with anything (Cadillac Fairview with the Ogilvy and Registrar's Office). Don't seem to care about the NCC's habit of letting history rot.

The City should implement consistent policies and laws that apply to everyone. These must be hard on people who let history fall into disrepair and reward (through reduced development charges, grants, faster approval) people who take the time and effort to properly restore their heritage buildings.
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  #23  
Old Posted Nov 12, 2015, 1:53 AM
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Article via Centretown News:

Somerset House facelift delay wears thin
Thursday, 22 October 2015

* In summary: still no progress...
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  #24  
Old Posted Nov 12, 2015, 5:24 AM
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I kind of wish the city would kill two birds with one stone. Restore the facade and overtake the parking lot behind it to construct a beautiful library that climbs up that corner and maybe even behind the other buildings along bank street. What intersection is more central for our central library?
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  #25  
Old Posted Jun 29, 2016, 1:55 AM
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Watch for the agenda for the Built Heritage Committee that should come out soon. There will be a 32 page engineers report on this that recommends partial demolition. It's a sad report to read, as it lists a lot of damage from exposure to the elements that could have been avoided.
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  #26  
Old Posted Jun 29, 2016, 2:11 AM
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Originally Posted by mykl View Post
I kind of wish the city would kill two birds with one stone. Restore the facade and overtake the parking lot behind it to construct a beautiful library that climbs up that corner and maybe even behind the other buildings along bank street. What intersection is more central for our central library?
This is actually a really good idea.
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  #27  
Old Posted Jun 29, 2016, 2:37 AM
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Originally Posted by m0nkyman View Post
Watch for the agenda for the Built Heritage Committee that should come out soon. There will be a 32 page engineers report on this that recommends partial demolition. It's a sad report to read, as it lists a lot of damage from exposure to the elements that could have been avoided.
Lauzon has a worthy competitor in town, it seems.
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  #28  
Old Posted Jun 29, 2016, 3:21 AM
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Originally Posted by kwoldtimer View Post
Lauzon has a worthy competitor in town, it seems.
I don't think Lauzon has done any decent restoration work. This owner has, most recently the old Salvation Army hall on Gladstone . Given that, and the history, I'm not going to exclusively blame the owner. There is plenty of blame to go around from the contractors, to the city, to politicians, and the owner. It's a cluster****.
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  #29  
Old Posted Jun 30, 2016, 10:49 PM
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The ugly tale of Somerset House still has a long way to run

David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: June 30, 2016 | Last Updated: June 30, 2016 6:19 PM EDT




Nine years after Somerset House started falling down it is still falling down and its owner wants to tear more of it down before it collapses on its own.

This is two-and-a-half years after city hall approved a major restoration plan for the rickety heritage building at Bank Street and Somerset Street West. It’s exactly a year since owner Tony Shahrasebi said he expected the job would be done and Somerset House ready to occupy again in, er, one year.

The oldest part of Somerset House was once a hotel and tavern; it dates to 1902. It has a slightly newer section built onto it along Somerset Street, which has been mostly demolished for years — what’s left is a facade braced with a web of girders. Under the approved restoration plan, a modern new building is supposed to be constructed behind that facade, capped with a glassed-in top storey that would match the height of the original hotel.

According to engineering plans filed with the city now, that facade’s got to be “demolished and completely removed.” Plus the demolition has to eat into the older section of Somerset House, potentially taking out as much as a quarter of the facade toward Bank. That building is constructed in four sections and the one closest to the write-off newer part might not be salvageable. The foundation of the older building also needs reinforcing, the plans say.

Supposedly Somerset House has become such a menace that this can’t wait until regular business resumes in August. The city’s schedule is to have its heritage committee deal with the application July 11, its planning committee vote July 12 and city council give final approval July 13 — right before a long summer break when committees and council don’t meet for weeks.

“This is, to me, a prime example of demolition by neglect,” said Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents Somerset ward. “Allowing a building with heritage status in a heritage conservation district to slowly deteriorate to the point where it becomes a safety risk. We start to see applications for demolition. I believe that the owner has got a responsibility to the community, to the neighbourhood, to keep that building in a state that maintains its heritage qualities and its uses.”

McKenney disapproves but hasn’t yet decided whether she can do anything to stand in the way.

Shahrasebi was away for the long weekend on Thursday and completely unreachable, said a worker at the Catherine Street carwash that’s his frequent base of operations.

Shahrasebi, through his company TKS Holdings, owns several downtown properties and has successfully restored others — a house converted into offices right next to Somerset House, a downtown gas station turned into a (sadly defunct) burger joint. But Somerset House has been a gong show, beginning when a worker on an earlier renovation project knocked out a structural support with a piece of heavy equipment in fall 2007.

Fears that the whole building could collapse closed the intersection of Bank and Somerset for months. The city and Shahrasebi fought in court over whose fault that was, who would pay for it, and even whether the building had to be demolished as a public hazard (the city’s position at the time) or was sound enough that Shahrasebi could try to save it.

If the whole thing were a plot to tear Somerset House down, as McKenney alleges, Shahrasebi had a golden chance back then. He went to court to keep the city from forcing him to do it. But it has been nine years.

He and the city eventually reached a deal on the costs, which included the city’s giving up on collecting $43,000 in “encroachment fees” for the sidewalk taken up by the braces on the newer facade. Then in 2014, with no visible activity on the site, the city started demanding them again.

The city can’t make a property owner do anything with a building other than make sure it’s safe. Which is as it should be: a city government that could penalize you for inaction while also having a lot of veto power over any particular plan would be very dangerous. Nor does it pay the owners of important buildings to keep them up.

In this case, if the city approves the partial demolition and the girders come down, that probably clears the sidewalk. The encroachment fees stop mounting.

Expect this gong to keep ringing for a long while yet.

dreevely@postmedia.com
twitter.com/davidreevely

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-...ong-way-to-run
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  #30  
Old Posted Jul 1, 2016, 1:22 AM
DarthVader_1961 DarthVader_1961 is offline
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A really sad way for this to unfold. Blame to be had all around i would imag8ne
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  #31  
Old Posted Jul 12, 2016, 1:48 AM
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Somerset House reno hits a wall, councillor wants city to expropriate

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: July 11, 2016 | Last Updated: July 11, 2016 4:36 PM EDT


The city should expropriate the crumbling Somerset House since there’s no sign the downtown heritage building will ever return to its original glory under the current owner, a councillor says.

Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents the ward where the building is located, wants staff to tell council how the city could use the law to acquire 352 Somerset St., at the intersection of Bank Street.

“It’s both an eyesore and a shame, really,” McKenney said during a built heritage subcommittee meeting Monday.

The subcommittee approved demolishing three of the easternmost bays on the wall along Somerset Street. A fourth bay is in rough shape, but the city wants the owner to first try fixing it up to “retain historic fabric.” If that fails, the city wants the owner to keep the brick and other materials to use in the redevelopment.

The demolition plan is being fast-tracked through planning committee Tuesday and council Wednesday since the wall needs immediate attention.

City heritage staff approve the demolition, not that they have much choice, considering the condition of the wall. The owner’s engineer, Capacity Engineering, called it an “urgent demolition,” an observation confirmed by Ojdrovic Engineering, which was retained by the city.

TKS Holdings owns the building, which dates back to 1899. Tony Shahrasebi, the company’s owner, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hoarding has lined the length of the building on Somerset Street since the building partially collapsed in October 2007. A steel frame has been keeping part of the wall standing. Both sides of the wall have been exposed to the elements.

David Jeanes, president of Heritage Ottawa, lamented the “sorry state” of Somerset House.

“We’re extremely disappointed it has come to this,” Jeanes said.

The mood at the subcommittee meeting Monday wasn’t as cheery as the meeting in October 2013 when the city approved a redevelopment plan for the building.

There has been little work on the outside of the building, leading one subcommittee member to question how it deteriorated so much in less than three years.

“This is one of the biggest mess-ups we’ve ever seen,” said Sandy Smallwood, an Ottawa resident appointed to the subcommittee. He asked how the city didn’t monitor what was – or what wasn’t – happening with the building.

“Somebody screwed up here,” Smallwood said.

No one had a good answer. The city enforces property standards through a bylaw, but it can’t compel building owners to redevelop land.

It wasn’t until city staff received the engineering reports last month that they realized the dire situation with the unstable wall on Somerset Street.

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, chair of the subcommittee, said it appears the owner violated the property standards bylaw but wasn’t punished.

The facade on Bank Street is now causing concerns.

Maurice Quinn of Capacity Engineering, which only started working on the building last January, told the subcommittee he’ll be closely watching the bay windows for any movement, since he’s perplexed by how the windows are supported on the building.

Hearing that, McKenney said she’s more sure than ever the city needs to acquire the property. She also wants city staff to write a plan to restore and monitor the building.

Somerset House has become a classic case of “demolition by neglect,” McKenney said.

jwilling@postmedia.com
twitter.com/JonathanWilling

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-...to-expropriate
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  #32  
Old Posted Sep 8, 2016, 12:43 AM
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Somerset House owner: 'I'm working as fast as I can'

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: September 7, 2016 | Last Updated: September 7, 2016 6:50 PM EDT


Tony Shahrasebi squeezed past a construction fence and opened the door to reveal the wood and brick guts of the historic Somerset House, the high-profile monstrosity maligned by city hall and the community.

“This could become a funky office, huh?” Shahrasebi said after climbing a staircase to the second level where two workers were hammering away on the floor.

Shahrasebi, the building owner, gave the Citizen an exclusive tour Wednesday. While it appears little has happened since a partial collapse in 2007, Shahrasebi defended the work he has done out of the public view.

He has a vision that includes offices and small retailers sharing a beautifully upgraded heritage building at Somerset and Bank streets.

It could take years to complete.

Inside the building, Shahrasebi pointed out the new floors, staircase and repaired brickwork, some of which are held up by steel bracing. He stepped through an opening on the second floor onto a platform behind the Somerset Street bays, showing the pit below where another structure once stood. He still has a strategy to rebuild the entire complex using the architectural plans approved by council in 2013, when people hoped the building renovation would be just a couple of years away from completion.

Before adding to the building, Shahrasebi needs to tear part of it down.

City council in July approved the demolition of three easternmost bays along Somerset Street, but Shahrasebi is speculating more of the building might need to be razed. He’ll know better when contractors start removing the bricks and engineers assess what’s left. The demolition work should begin this month once the contractors acquire specialized equipment, he said.

Shahrasebi claims the city’s contractor who did the demolition work after the initial collapse installed a roof drain pipe over the windows along Somerset Street, resulting in water pouring into the wall. It’s why a big chunk of the wall needs to come down, he said.

In an emailed statement, city chief building official Frank Bidin said, “The city advised the owner of the work required with respect to the stabilization of this property, however, the owner is responsible for the maintenance and integrity of his building at all stages of this project.”

Councillors and heritage advocates have decried the demolition. The councillor for the ward has even mused about expropriating the property.

“They were all bad-mouthing me here and there, but really nobody knew why the damage was there,” Shahrasebi said as he pointed to the white-stained interior wall.

Shahrasebi has been city hall’s development nemesis. They tussled in court over encroachment fees related to the building remediation. City politicians keep calling on Shahrasebi to do something, anything, to bring back the 116-year-old building to its glory.

Politicians and residents have questioned his credibility. Shahrasebi points to his other renovation projects, like a neighbouring red-brick house that’s now an office and the old Salvation Army church on Gladstone Avenue as proof he has the chops to transform Somerset House.

Shahrasebi was in negotiations with a major drug store to occupy Somerset House, but he said the talks fell through two or three years ago and the work stalled.

He wants the community and city hall to have patience.

“I’m working as fast as I can. I’ve had a lot of obstacles in my way for the past 10 years. I try to do my best,” Shahrasebi said.

He said he’s not aiming to demolish the whole building and he doesn’t want to sell it.

Shahrasebi also owns Capital Parking and a car wash on Catherine Street – part of what he said is 300,000 square feet of downtown land under his ownership – and Somerset House is now his only redevelopment project.

He estimates he has sunk between $12 million and $14 million into the property, when the purchase price, renovations, legal fees and loss of revenue are factored into the tally. Plus, the annual property tax bill is well into the six figures, he said.

It doesn’t matter much to Shahrasebi, who pointed out it’s just one of many properties he owns. He seems to relish the toil at this particular one.

“Money doesn’t mean a thing,” he said. “It’s a challenge.”

jwilling@postmedia.com
twitter.com/JonathanWilling

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-...-fast-as-i-can
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  #33  
Old Posted Sep 8, 2016, 2:41 PM
passwordisnt123 passwordisnt123 is offline
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I had a 5-10 minute conversation with Tony Shahrasebi back when Bacon Factory had just opened up and he was treating it as his latest pet project.

Even before I figured out who he was, I remember thinking he was a real sweet talker and a con artist. I remember him complaining about the city and how they won't get off his back and how much hassle they were causing him as a "small business owner".

I get the serious impression this guy can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. I can't quite figure out what this guy's angle is or why he's so recalcitrant and willing to cut off his nose to spite his face but I think the city should just begin expropriation proceedings and just get this whole Somerset House episode over with. At a minimum, I think they should start bringing the full hammer of the law down on this guy for what I see as endangering public safety and making repeated misleading statements.
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  #34  
Old Posted Sep 8, 2016, 5:22 PM
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Originally Posted by passwordisnt123 View Post
I had a 5-10 minute conversation with Tony Shahrasebi back when Bacon Factory had just opened up and he was treating it as his latest pet project.

Even before I figured out who he was, I remember thinking he was a real sweet talker and a con artist. I remember him complaining about the city and how they won't get off his back and how much hassle they were causing him as a "small business owner".

I get the serious impression this guy can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. I can't quite figure out what this guy's angle is or why he's so recalcitrant and willing to cut off his nose to spite his face but I think the city should just begin expropriation proceedings and just get this whole Somerset House episode over with. At a minimum, I think they should start bringing the full hammer of the law down on this guy for what I see as endangering public safety and making repeated misleading statements.
Maybe he's Claude Lauzon's long lost brother?
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  #35  
Old Posted Sep 27, 2016, 1:44 PM
passwordisnt123 passwordisnt123 is offline
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Not sure if my eyes deceived me but I went past Somerset house last night and there were shipping containers stacked along one side and backhoes and other equipment amassed out back. Looks like maybe something might actually finally be happening here.
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  #36  
Old Posted Dec 4, 2016, 10:17 PM
DarthVader_1961 DarthVader_1961 is offline
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Not sure if my eyes deceived me but I went past Somerset house last night and there were shipping containers stacked along one side and backhoes and other equipment amassed out back. Looks like maybe something might actually finally be happening here.

I was just by there today.... all that temp support stuff is gone big hole dug were the collapsed portion was... maybe some progress?
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  #37  
Old Posted Dec 5, 2016, 5:00 PM
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Or maybe the hole was dug to dump what remains.
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  #38  
Old Posted Dec 6, 2016, 1:01 AM
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Originally Posted by DarthVader_1961 View Post
I was just by there today.... all that temp support stuff is gone big hole dug were the collapsed portion was... maybe some progress?
this is just the result of them tearing down more of the building, and now you can see into the pit easier. nothing is happening there.

the shipping containers are just to stabilize what is left.
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  #39  
Old Posted Dec 6, 2016, 2:53 PM
passwordisnt123 passwordisnt123 is offline
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this is just the result of them tearing down more of the building, and now you can see into the pit easier. nothing is happening there.

the shipping containers are just to stabilize what is left.
I should have known it was foolish of me to get optimistic about this site.

Based on everything I've read about this guy and my own personal interaction with him, I have to say he seems to me like a real slimeball. I say bring on the expropriation proceedings.
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  #40  
Old Posted Dec 7, 2016, 3:24 AM
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I say bring on the expropriation proceedings.
Yes please!
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