Sudbury

Abandoned and boarded up — why northern Ontario eyesores are tough to get rid of

City and town councils in northeastern Ontario  are trying to find a new solution to old, derelict buildings. But these eyesores are harder to clean up then you might think. 

North Bay looking to toughen up property standards bylaw including steeper fines

After sitting empty and as an eyesore for many years on Lorne Street, the former Topolinski's garage and Pete's Lunch now has a new owner who is fixing it up. (Erik White/CBC)

Chico Vaillancourt knew the two dilapidated buildings on Main Street Chelmsford well and knew it would be a good spot for a new apartment building.

But the real estate broker and developer also suspected that it would come with a big demolition bill, likely some bureaucratic red tape and a lot of unknowns that could eat into his profits.

"I just didn't want to deal with it," he says. 

But then the city demolished the old pet shop it had seized and after issuing orders to the other building owner, he took it down as well. Vaillancourt ended up with a $75,000 lot where he is planning to build a new apartment complex to serve a hot rental market in Chelmsford.

"It all boils down to money and effort," he says. "If you spend a dollar are you only going to get a dollar back?"

Chico Vaillancourt stands in front of the empty lot in Chelmsford he bought for $75,000 after two dilapidated buildings were demolished. (Erik White/CBC )

Vaillancourt says many of a developer's dollars go to hauling away the remains of a derelict building. 

Just a few blocks down Main on Chelmsford, he owned an old house with a log frame that sat empty for a few years.

"It wasn't terrible. Not too bad of an eyesore," says Vaillancourt. 

He tore down the house and built a triplex. Hauling away the rubble to the dump in Cartier came to about $12,000 in tipping fees, but he says it would have been double the cost at a Greater Sudbury city landfill. 

"Let people tear down the old stuff and hopefully build up new," says Vaillancourt. 

"Then they're going to make more money in property taxes down the road and beautify neighbourhoods and bring in more families to certain neighbourhoods where people are hesitating."

The former Legion hall in Lively has fallen into disrepair. (Erik White/CBC )

The City of Greater Sudbury will sometimes seize a derelict building and tear it down, but usually they try to work with property owners to fix things up. 

"We try not to," says Guido Mazza, the city's chief building official. 

"Obviously, it's taxpayer dollars. We don't use those powers arbitrarily."

Mazza says when there are complaints from neighbours about a building being unsafe, city staff will board up windows and try to get the owner to make repairs themselves, but often times that takes years. 

There's a need to tackle this problem. It seems to be getting worse unfortunately.— Matthew Shoemaker, Sault Ste. Marie city councillor

"Unfortunately that's the situation in a lot of cases and we have them sprinkled all over," Mazza says. 

In North Bay, the city is now offering up to $50,000  to redevelop some of the eyesores in the downtown area.

"I hear it on social media and I see all the comments, as a councillor I also know all the legal steps that need to be done to make someone tear down their building," says Johanne Brousseau, a North Bay city councillor. 

The former Sands motel just a block from North Bay city hall is one of the properties that inspired council to pass new incentives for cleaning up derelict buildings. (Google Streetview)

Sault Ste. Marie city council also recently passed a motion to have staff study when the municipality is allowed to legally bring in a wrecking ball.

"There's a need to tackle this problem. It seems to be getting worse unfortunately," says Matthew Shoemaker, a Sault Ste. Marie city councillor . 

The Sault has also created what's called the Integrated Municipal Enforcement Team or IMET with bylaw officers, police and firefighters to deal with trouble buildings and problem tenants. 

North Bay is also looking to hire a bylaw officer focused on the property standards bylaw. Brousseau said this position will not only enforce the rules more consistently but also look at ways to toughen the penalties for letting your place fall into disrepair. 

"Because we have one person dedicated to it, it'll be a shorter process to get from A to Z," she says. 

One of the boarded-up houses on Wellington Street in Sault Ste. Marie that city councillor Matthew Shoemaker drives by regularly. (Google Streetview)

Greater Sudbury has a range of incentives for re-developing properties that city planner Melissa Riou calls "opportunities."

One of them is the Brownfield strategy, which offers incentives for cleaning up properties contaminated by old gas stations or industrial uses.

It's not good for property values, it's not good for economic development, it's not good for tourism. It's just not good.— Chris Fisher, West Nipissing town councillor

The program won an award, but after being offered to developers for almost a decade, has not been used very much to fix up derelict buildings.

"There have been a couple of applications. It's challenging for those applications to move to full build stage," says Riou, who expects some recent changes at the provincial level will make it easier to get these re-development projects off the ground. 

This old gas station on Lorne Street in Sudbury is the type of property the city's Brownfield incentives are meant to clean up. (Erik White/CBC)

Derelict buildings are far from just an urban problem. You can spot them along almost any highway in northern Ontario.

In Field, it's hard not to see the old École Sainte-Marie.

Closed in 2001 and left to the elements a few years after that, it looms from a hilltop over the village in West Nipissing.

"It's collapsing and it's full of mould and animals. It's in really bad shape," says Chris Fisher, the town councillor for the area.

He's been exploring the options to take down the old school, but it continues to haunt the community. 

"From a morale point of view, it's not a good thing. It's not good for property values, it's not good for economic development, it's not good for tourism. It's just not good."

Trees are growing where the pumps used to be at the old Husky truckstop in Lively. The city has tried to sell the property in a tax sale several times over recent years. (Erik White/CBC )

More stories from CBC Sudbury

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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