City to inspect Farhi-owned Wright Lithographic building, amid complaints
City inspectors want to ensure the building is being heated, a requirement of heritage rules
In response to complaints, City of London bylaw enforcement officers will inspect the interior of the former Wright Lithographic building at 424 Wellington St. to ensure the long-vacant property is being heated, in compliance with city rules for maintaining heritage properties.
City officials have received complaints about the building, which received heritage designation in 2013 but has been vacant since it was bought by Farhi Holdings Corporation in 2007.
Jennifer Grainger, president of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario's London chapter, said she and other heritage advocates have been frustrated at seeing the building sit empty for so long. She fears the Edwardian-style building built in 1902 is in danger of "demolition by neglect."
"The main concern is that it's a heritage-designed building, a building that has been an icon in London's core for a long time," she said. "It's a very recognizable building, one that a lot of people have some affection for."
About 20 complaints about recent alterations to the building's facade were sent to Kyle Ganyou, London's heritage planner. They relate to the recent removal of the historic clock above the building's front entrance and disappearance of lettering on the facade.
Earlier this year, the city ordered Farhi Holdings to install plywood in the building's ground-floor windows to secure it against illegal entry. A fire escape deemed a climbing hazard was also removed by the owner at the city's request and steel plating was installed over ground-floor windows on the building's north side.
Grainger says the current overall state of the building is troubling.
"It's looking more and more dilapidated," she said. "When something is boarded up, it gives the impression that it's a ruin that should be knocked down and vacant buildings have a tendency to burn down."
CBC News called Farhi Holdings Corporation for comment and was told by an employee that Shmuel Farhi was out of town and unavailable.
Orest Katyolyk, head of bylaw enforcement for the city, said staff plan to inspect the building soon to confirm it's being heated.
City rules require owners of properties left vacant for more than 60 days to cut off services including gas, electricity and water. But in heritage-designated buildings, owners are required to keep the heat on to prevent water damage and decay caused by seasonal temperature fluctuations.
Gonyou, London's heritage planner, said city staff have been working with representatives of the owner and "clarified their obligations under the Ontario Heritage Act."
He said the city is also speaking to the owner about filing a heritage alteration permit for the building, but said one has not yet been filed. In general, violations of the Ontario Heritage Act could result in penalties of up to $50,000, he said.
Grainger said the city should be doing more to ensure property owners comply with rules for heritage buildings.
She's long been concerned about another Farhi-owned heritage-designated building: the former public library at 305 Queens Ave. It's been vacant since Farhi bought it in 2005.
"Many Londoners have happy memories of the library and the longer you wait, the more expensive it's going to be to repair it," she said.
Rise in complaints
News about an imminent inspection at 424 Wellington St. comes in the same week as Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga raised concerns about the state of vacant heritage-designated buildings.
In a letter to a city committee, Kayabaga said "deterioration of these vacant properties continues to occur" despite rules in place to protect them.
Kayabaga didn't mention the Wright Lithographic building in her appearance at committee, but she did speak specifically about the former library building, which has been a source of complaints to her office by residents.
Speaking at the committee in response to Kayabaga's letter, Katolyk said the city's 2009 vacant building bylaw is due for a rewrite "through the lens of demolition by neglect."
About 140 buildings are listed on the city's vacant buildings registry. Vacant buildings require regular inspection by fire officials and Katolyk said charging property owners is one way a municipality can recover those inspection costs.
In Hamilton, for example, owners of vacant buildings pay an annual registry fee of $1,000.
"In our experience, property owners won't take action if there's no financial impact," Katolyk said.
He said complaints about vacant buildings in London are increasing. Last year there were 198 complaints; so far this year there have been 239.