Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Regional Municipality makes slow progress with unsightly premises

The number of unsightly or derelict buildings in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is about 300, down from about 700 five years ago, says CBRM's building manager Paul Burt.

About 300 buildings considered unsightly or derelict, down from 700 five years ago

The ceiling in this building in downtown Glace Bay collapsed several months ago, driving out its last tenant, Harvest House. (CBC)

The number of unsightly or derelict buildings in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has been whittled down from 700 five years ago to roughly 300 today, according to the municipality's building manager.

Paul Burt shared the information at regional council's monthly general committee meeting, answering councillors' questions about buildings of concern in their districts.

He said his department has been making slow progress in bringing about the remediation or demolition of hundreds of buildings that have been allowed to fall into disrepair or, in many cases, have been totally abandoned by their owners.

CBRM has adopted a scoring system for unsightly buildings. The scores are used to place the buildings on a list for action. The higher the score, the more pressing the need for the owner to make improvements or arrange for demolition. If the owner fails to act, the municipality will have it demolished.

Always new complaints

Burt said progress has been made, but his department still receives new complaints.

"There's 55 new complaints on our list since the last time we reported here in less than two months," he told council. "There still are severe properties out there but this is a matter of trying to balance scores, plus dealing with some of these that have been sitting on the books for years."

Burt said a limited demolition budget means his department must decide whether to spend tens of thousands of dollars to tear down one large, empty commercial building, or several smaller, usually residential properties.

Commercial buildings tend to draw the most complaints, he said, because they're usually highly visible in the heart of a community. He called them a "plague" on the downtowns of Glace Bay, Sydney and Sydney Mines. 

"I think it's important that we deal with one or two of these a year," Burt said, "otherwise that's all we're going to be left with and they're very visible. You're trying to revitalize downtowns, with this big white elephant sitting in the middle of it."

Some costly demolitions

One of the biggest of those white elephants is a building on Commercial Street in Glace Bay, most recently occupied by Harvest House, a soup kitchen and food bank. It's a large, older structure surrounded by more contemporary buildings and directly across the street from the restored Savoy Theatre. 

As satisfying as it may be to tear down a building like that, Burt said, it costs between $40,000 and $50,000.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions in the days ahead."

Another special problem is the state of some company houses, built for steelworkers and coal miners nearly a hundred years ago. An early 20th century version of a duplex, many are still in very good shape. Others, however, have fallen into disrepair, or perhaps worse, but only one side has become unsightly.

Burt said his department's scoring system is crucial in making demolition decisions, but "we also have to look at the logistics. Is it a duplex on the other side with an occupant who can't afford to upgrade that (common) wall" if the derelict side were to be torn down.

Burt said in some those cases his department is working to pair up duplex occupants so that a single building would be torn down, instead of two halves.