News Local

Barrie taking another approach to dealing with vacant buildings 10 

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:26:13 EDT AM

Barrie is taking a another approach to dealing with vacant building, such as the former Lake Simcoe Motel on Blake Street.MARK WANZEL PHOTO

Barrie is taking a another approach to dealing with vacant building, such as the former Lake Simcoe Motel on Blake Street. MARK WANZEL PHOTO


The wrecking ball is no greater danger to Barrie's vacant buildings.

While councillors have decided to tighten the demolition language in the city's property standards bylaw, the regulations are not substantially changing.

Gord Allison, the city's director of building and bylaw services, said there are about a dozen vacancies his department is monitoring.

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth wanted city staff to investigate tougher regulations, however.

Buildings vacant for more than 90 days would have to be registered with the city, and if they stay vacant for three years could be demolished – if there's no satisfactory restoration plan or reasonable grounds to postpone the demolition.

“There is to be no opportunity or any timeline to force the demolition of a derelict, vacant building,” Ainsworth said of the new language. “Many of these buildings are on residential streets.

“It does not seem to matter if a structure is ugly or how the look of it affects the surrounding property values or for that matter the general ambiance of the community at large," she added. "I think this is wrong!”

She said vacant buildings hurt redevelopment in the city – the downtown, for example – attract vagrants and can be unsafe.

But Allison said the Building Code Act allows the city to deal with crumbling, vacant buildings.

“We wouldn't be waiting three years,” he said.

Ainsworth's motion lost.

“I was amazed there are only 12 vacant buildings in the city of Barrie,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman. “I have been in other cities where there were that many on one block.”

Coun. John Brassard said Ainsworth's proposed changes are too broad.

“This could apply to vacant schools, the old Beamish building of 200,000 square feet of industrial space, the old (Allandale) train station, which has been restored to its former glory,” he said.

“I just think we are addressing a problem that doesn't really exist,” said Coun. Barry Ward. “I don't think 12 buildings is a problem.”

But Ainsworth said six were on residential streets, none in industrial areas.

“If they are in industrial areas, I don't have a problem,” she said. “I just think a three-year period is long enough. It's not dictatorial.

“I just don't like to not have any remedy to them sitting there. Nobody should be forced to have a boarded-up building as a neighbour year after year.”

Ainsworth asked for the review last fall.

The property standards bylaw establishes minimum levels for owners of vacant buildings. They must be protected against the risk of fire, accidents or other hazards, and unauthorized people must not be allowed to enter.

Vacant buildings must be boarded up to deny entry, and if it's vacant for 90 days all utilities must be disconnected – unless they are necessary for its safety or security.

As long as vacant buildings are maintained to comply with city standards, there is no timeline for demolition.

City staff say this is a reasonable standard, and do not recommend a demolition timeline.

Allison said later the city doesn't watch for buildings to become vacant, and at any one time there could be many vacant buildings.

“Occupants might move out of a house, which then sits vacant until new occupants move in,” he said. “The same for commercial, industrial and institutional occupants.”

Future Shop, for example, moved out of its Park Place building and it's still vacant. It has not been added to the city's list.

Allison said a vacant building may come to the attention of city bylaw staff if and when the property isn't being maintained to municipal standards.

“When we investigate by way of a complaint or a patrol observation and learn the property is also vacant, we make note of it,” he said. “When the property has been cleaned up, we try to monitor it on a regular basis to make sure the maintenance standards are being complied with.

“As long as the owners are maintaining the properties on their own, we don’t worry about it.”