Somerset House, with no timeline in sight

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The April 2017 concept for Somerset House by architect Richard Chmiel. The historic building is at Somerset and Bank streets.

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The latest renovation concept for the historic Somerset House received approval from the city's heritage panel Thursday, but members walked away, again, with no indication of when the work would be done.

"Maybe our grandchildren will be here discussing this," said subcommittee member Sandy Smallwood during a built-heritage subcommittee meeting at city hall.

There's no rule forcing TKS Holdings to reconstruct the building at Somerset and Bank streets by a specific time. The company owner has said he's worried about how much the redevelopment would cost.

The city has watched the building deteriorate over the past nine years, ever since a partial collapse in October 2007. Last year, council had to approve dismantling the three easternmost bays on Somerset Street West because of the wear and tear.

The heritage subcommittee, planning committee and council have little power to make construction happen. They can only make sure the heritage attributes are respected and the building conforms to zoning.

The owner has hired a new architect, Chmiel Architects, to pick up where the last one left off.

For the most part, the subcommittee was fine with the latest drawings. The planning committee and council will also need to approve the concept.

The one hiccup was the new design doesn't replicate the demolished fourth bay on Somerset Street West, as required by council. City heritage staff forgot about that order when they supported the new design, and when they realized the mistake, they decided to forge ahead with the concept anyway.

That didn't fly with the heritage subcommittee, which asked the architect to fix it. Architect Richard Chmiel, who was hired for the project in December and didn't know about the council direction, said he would be willing to revisit the design to make sure it conforms to council's wishes.

"We all make mistakes and at this stage we really need to move forward," said Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, the chair of the subcommittee.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said she receives more calls about Somerset House than any other project in her downtown ward.

"Residents of Somerset ward and beyond are frustrated by this project," McKenney said.

McKenney repeated her idea for the city to expropriate the property, "because at some point we have to take matters into our own hands."

Heritage Ottawa president David Jeanes said he doesn't understand why the fourth-bay requirement wasn't met in the new design. He openly wondered if the heritage department is understaffed and overloaded, considering its ongoing work on the mayor's heritage task force and other projects, like the proposed Château Laurier development.

The subcommittee learned the city recently hired two additional heritage planners.

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