City council tells staff to stabilize Somerset House and bill the owner

Somerset House at 352 Somerset St. W. partially collapsed in 2007, launching years of legal and regulatory sparring between the owner and city hall.

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Ottawa city council has ordered city staff to stabilize the historic Somerset House in Centretown and bill the property owner for any work necessary to save the building.

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Unanimous endorsement of a motion tabled by Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney on Wednesday means staff will update the built-heritage subcommittee on the state of the red-brick building at Somerset and Bank Streets.

The motion also directed the general manager of planning to work with the chief building official and bylaw chief to “stabilize and secure the retention and conservation of the Somerset House structure,” with costs of any work forwarded to the owner.

Somerset House at 352 Somerset St. W. partially collapsed in 2007, launching years of legal and regulatory sparring between the owner and city hall.

The building, which dates back to 1899 and is the former home of the Duke of Somerset pub, is at a high-profile intersection and has become an eyesore over the past 15 years, especially its chewed-up east-facing side.

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The city can’t force a property owner to redevelop a building but it can enforce property standards and heritage conservation.

Once again, Mayor Jim Watson had strong words for the Somerset House property owner.

“This has to be the ugliest blight on our landscape in the entire city,” Watson said, claiming that the property owner “has to be among the top one terrible building owners in all of Ottawa.”

Watson said he hopes the property owner “comes back to city hall and acts as a responsible citizen, and fix his damn building once and for all.”

There has been a years-long war of words between Watson and the property owner, Tony Shahrasebi, with the mayor pushing Shahrasebi to redevelop the property and Shahrasebi defending the work he’s been doing to repair the building.

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On Wednesday, Shahrasebi said his workers have repaired mortar and replaced bricks on all three floors. A meeting with Shahrasebi’s engineers was scheduled for Thursday morning to discuss underpinning the building along Somerset Street, he said.

Shahrasebi, whose architect for the Somerset House project is Richard Chmiel, provided a copy of a cultural impact assessment done by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management dated April 3, 2022.

The document includes three options for restoring the building and the heritage elements. The main differences between the options — mostly, a choice between using glass versus more red brick — are concentrated on the Somerset Street side of the three-storey building.

Shahrasebi said he’s pursuing the design option that has more glass.

According to the document, the Somerset and Bank street facades of the building are repairable.

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