“It ain’t over till it’s over,” cautioned baseball legend Yogi Berra.
And truer words were never spoken in reference to the protracted Sutherland Saga.
A ruling released this week by Justice Peter Hockin confirmed two work orders issued by the city in 2015 and 2016 are valid – a decision based on evidence presented by the city’s legal counsel John Sanders and Valerie M’Garry, representing building owner David McGee, at a June 2nd hearing at the Elgin County courthouse.
Hockin was acting on the decision of a three-member court of appeal panel handed down in May in which it ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.
So, where do we go from here?
Well, McGee has 30 days to appeal Hockin’s decision and M’Garry was not available Wednesday for comment.
In the meantime, city manager Wendell Graves indicated he will be consulting with Sanders over the next few days on the next steps.
But he advised in an email, ” In the absence of any action by the owner, the city will want to make the area safe again as soon as possible.”
As in demolition of the four-storey structure that dates back to 1913 or is the city destined to expend further resources caught in a legal revolving door?
“Hopefully there are enough specifics in this decision to tighten that door a bit,” said Graves in an interview Wednesday.
The timelines in both work orders have long expired, so will the city have to reissue them with new deadlines?
“As I understand it, he (Hockin) endorsed them as being valid so those timelines have passed,” explained Graves. “So, it’s really in the city’s court to move forward with these next steps.
“So if there is no activity by the owners and following the appeal period, then we would go back to the course of action we were looking at prior to these appeals.”
Since Hockin has upheld the validity of the city’s orders, one would have to assume he is also ruling the building is unsafe, as per the city’s engineering reports and demolition may very well be in the works, barring substantial remediation efforts by McGee.
“Ultimately, if nothing else changes, on the owner’s side,” suggested Graves. “We can’t sit here and have it in an unsafe condition. But we’ll see what happens in the next 30 days.
“This does clarify things in terms of the facts. He (Hockin) analyzed all the engineering information, so I think, from the judicial point of view, it clarifies the facts. So, let’s get it done.”
“It is an abandoned building in any reasonable sense,” observed Hockin at the June hearing in St. Thomas. “If he (McGee) was going to repair it, it would have happened a long time ago. It just sits there. I gave Mr. McGee an order in 2008.”
A reference to Hockin overturning a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the green light to demolish the Sutherland Press building, with the proviso McGee undertake remedial action.