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Somerset House petition calls for action

Jeff Morrison says he's tired of the Village eyesore

Workers look on as Somerset House is partially demolished in Dec 2007. Credit: Bradley Turcotte

Centretown Community Health Centre’s Jeff Morrison has created an online petition urging the City of Ottawa and TKS Holdings Inc to come to an agreement regarding the derelict Somerset House.

The building is located at the intersection of Bank Street and Somerset Street West.

“I was getting tired of seeing that eyesore for over five years,” says Morrison, a downtown resident. “The two parties seem to show no concern for the views of the community.”

Morrison’s petition calls for TKS Holdings, the building’s owner, to tear down the building or redevelop it.

Former Village committee chair Glenn Crawford says that many members of the community share Morrison’s frustrations. At one point, the Village committee considered a proposal to turn the building into a mixed-use community centre.

“That was something that was very interesting, but we didn’t have the resources or capability to pursue it,” Crawford says.

Vacant for eight years, the building collapsed partially during renovations in October 2007, severely injuring a worker and forcing the closure of the intersection of Bank and Somerset streets for several weeks.

The Ministry of Labour charged TKS Holdings under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to take every reasonable precaution for the protection of a worker.

The company was fined $50,000 in January 2010, while its owner, Tony Kue Shahrasebi, was fined $5,000.

In November 2007, the city ordered that the building be partially demolished, and Shahrasebi was forced to pay $350,000 to cover the cost of policing the closed intersection.

Shahrasebi retaliated by suing the city for $5 million, claiming his building became “unnecessarily wrecked.”

“It’s been in a stalemate for far too long,” Crawford says. “It’s at the corner of a very important intersection. Ultimately, we as a city and a community are suffering and paying for the fact that we’re waiting for something to happen with this building.”

Current Village committee head Ian Capstick says the lawsuit has made it impossible for the committee to play a role in the future of the property.

“To be blunt, the city is the one who needs to show some leadership here,” Capstick says. “I think it’s a frustrating situation for everybody.”

The heritage building’s history traces back to 1897, when it housed a dry goods store. More recently it’s been the home of the Duke of Somerset pub and the Lockmaster Tavern.

Search for the petition using the phrase “renovate Somerset House” at change.org.