Vacant buildings: If we don't act, 'We're basically continuing to kill our downtown'

Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga says it's a property owner's duty to keep a heritage building heated, plumbed and in good standing. She's hoping city staff come up with new policies to ensure owners of vacant buildings follow the rules.

Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga wants more repercussions for property owners who leave buildings empty

Farhi Holdings Corporation owns scores of properties in London's downtown core. (CBC News)

It's London's elephant in the room.

Dozens of buildings, some with heritage designation, sitting vacant for years in the city's core. 

Heritage advocates have expressed concerns about the state of two vacant heritage buildings: The former public library on Queen's Ave and the Wright Lithographing building on Wellington Street. Both are owned by Farhi Holdings Corporation. 

Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga told London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen, it's a property owner's duty to keep a heritage building heated, plumbed and in good standing.

"I think if you buy such an important landmark in the city, you should repurpose it. So, if we're buying just to sit on it, that's not a good plan and it's not a good idea because it participates in the deterioration of downtown."

Kayabaga recently wrote a letter to a city committee about the old library building in response to complaints from constituents. Kayabaga ​​​wrote that the "deterioration of these vacant properties continues to occur" despite rules in place to protect them.

Coun. Arielle Kayabaga recently met with a representative from Farhi Holdings Corporation. ((Submitted))

"My concern is that it's been purchased around 2004 and we're in 2019 and it's still sitting there," said Kayabaga who is worried the city doesn't have the right policies to make sure Farhi Holdings is holding up their end of the bargain.

"Staff is going to be bringing forward a vacancy action plan and some type of policy to go back and make sure it's in good standing and work with the owner to do something about it," Kayabaga explained.

"And if things like that are not happening, then it's our job as a city to make sure that we're protecting these landmarks."

City staff plan to bring a report to council that lays out ideas for amending the vacant building bylaw early next year.

Arielle Kayabaga said Farhi Holdings, like all property owners, must adhere to the Ontario Heritage Act. "I think it's important as a community contributor, that you create a space where people want to keep using these buildings, whether it be for housing, whether it be for office space, whether it be for different activities."

Kayabaga recently attended a meeting with a representative from Farhi Holdings Corporation. "They've reached out in the spirit of working together but we're going to continue to do our job and make sure that we don't wait another ten years until we take action on such buildings."

She said finding a solution to the vacant building problem, is crucial to the overall well-being of London's downtown.

"If we don't do this, then we're basically continuing to kill our downtown," she said. 

You can listen to Rebecca Zandbergen's interview with Arielle Kayabaga here:

Downtown, ward 13 councillor Arielle Kayabaga joins London Morning to discuss the problems with vacant buildings downtown. Arielle says many of her constituents have voiced concerns over neglected vacant buildings in the ward. 8:28

About the Author

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 15 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.


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