A developer has until Thursday to explain how they will keep a 109-year-old building in Ottawa's Lowertown neighbourhood from collapsing, but at least one resident questions whether the building has been neglected intentionally.
The city has blocked traffic lanes around the former schoolhouse at 287 Cumberland St. for fear the building might fall down. An engineer's report showed it was unstable and could topple into the street.
It is one of many buildings the Claude Lauzon group owns in the area, which is dotted with heritage homes and designated heritage districts. The building has been vacant since 1970.
The owner's engineering firm has recommended the building be demolished, but it is a heritage building and the landlord would need city council's permission to demolish it under the Heritage Act.
Local resident Victor Bradley said he's been living in the area since 1983, drawn there because he’s a history buff – even finding a home with a carriage garage in the back yard.
He said he's been watching the developer for years and believes the company's goal is to neglect the buildings.
"Basically he doesn’t want to preserve any of them that have even quasi-heritage standing," he said.
"He wants to let them fall apart, and rebuild."
Bradley said Lauzon owns a row of century-old red-brick townhouses near King Edward Avenue and Murray Street and has approached him four times to buy his own townhouse.
Each time Bradley said he has rejected the offer.
"What he wants to do is get this, let it fall apart too and then have the whole corner," he said.
Lauzon’s lawyer said they've owned the Cumberland Street building for 32 years and disputes the notion that the company intentionally neglects some buildings.
"The Lauzons bought the building in 1981, prior to it becoming a heritage building," said Charles Gibson.
He also questioned the heritage status of the building.
"It's not architecturally spectacular and (we’ve) not been able to find a heritage value that can be attached to it," said Gibson.
Gibson said they will appeal an earlier decision that prevented the building's demolition.
Rideau-Vanier councillor Mathieu Fleury said the city could be doing more to deal with derelict buildings.
Fleury told Robyn Bresnahan on Ottawa Morning Wednesday there should be a city bylaw against developers who let buildings fall apart and leave them vacant.
"Those properties are resource intensive to the city, we have to send bylaw, we have to send fire and building codes...it could be for something as simple as graffiti, but we know the buildings are not only an eyesore, they are costly to the city," said Fleury.
He suggested the city could toughen property standards for derelict buildings and said other municipalities such as Hamilton have distinct requirements for derelict heritage buildings, such as the requirement that the buildings be heated.
"It requires the property owner to stay invested in the property...and it protects the heritage elements of the building, because the freeze-defreeze elements are really tough on those buildings," said Fleury.