It may be the start of a new year with the glimmer of a brighter tomorrow, however in St. Thomas one thing remains a constant.
A near decade-long battle to level what the city deems an unsafe structure is headed back to the courts Tuesday in Round 3 of the Sutherland Saga.
David McGee, owner of the Sutherland Press building, will pick up where he left off in November — pleading his case to halt the city’s efforts to demolish the four-storey Talbot Street edifice constructed in 1913.
McGee is appealing an unsafe building order issued Oct. 28 giving him until Dec. 15 of this year to provide a detailed work plan and schedule repairs to begin by Jan. 9, 2017 at the boxy tribute to the city’s industrial era.
The work order covers remediation of spalling or damaged bricks and securing the southwest corner of the roof which suffered a partial collapse more than a year ago.
In the past eight years, the legal tussle between the city and McGee has seen the closure and then partial closure of Talbot Street for nine months — leaving downtown merchants fuming at lost revenue — and the removal of the bus fleet and operations from the adjacent transit terminal on several occasions due to safety concerns.
This most recent turn of events is precipitated by a Sept. 27 ruling at the Elgin County Courthouse a notice issued by the city in March of this year warning of demolition of the structure for failure to comply with a work order was null and void.
Justice Kelly Gorman ruled the notice was improperly delivered to McGee and the work order lacked specificity.
City manager Wendell Graves has indicated the city will appeal Gorman’s decision.
The lack of specificity with regard to repairs mandated by the city, combined with the unreasonable time frame to complete those repairs resulted in a situation that is “just not realistic,” said McGee’s lawyer, Valerie M’Garry.
“The order to repair an unsafe building directs the recipient to (engineering reports), one is 58 pages and one is 37 pages with no specificity,” M’Garry told the Times-Journal.
“And the engineering report was prepared for the city to talk about what they needed to do to make sure there is no liability.”
Speaking to the Times-Journal in October, M’Garry affirmed “things need to be done on the building,” however McGee was having difficulty obtaining financing.
“It’s always been a Catch 22,” she said. “The building needs money in order to move it ahead. He can’t get the money if it’s going to be imminently demolished.”
In the meantime, Moore Street remains closed for one block south of Talbot Street and the sidewalk in front of the structure has also been blocked off.
In addition, the transit centre has been moved to the new community recycling centre on South Edgeware Road, with bus tickets available at city hall.
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s court date, M’Garry conceded, “we’re back in the same place we were last March.”