Vacant buildings still a thorn in the City of Cornwall's side

Vacant buildings still a thorn in the City of Cornwall's side
By Alan Hale
Cornwall Standard-Freeholder
Link to article: Vacant buildings still a thorn in the City of Cornwall's side

<p>This vacant building on First Street is one of Cornwall's hard cases when it comes to derelict buildings in the city. Fire chief Pierre Voisine said that if it catches fire, the fire department will not set foot inside to try and put it out. Photo taken on Friday February 9, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont. </p><p>
Alan S. Hale/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

Back when the City of Cornwall was putting together its vacant building bylaw in 2014, it originally wanted the ability for the city to tear down buildings that had been sitting empty more than 10 years.

This was revealed when Coun. Denis Carr asked during discussions on the bylaw enforcement department's budget if some kind of similar policy could be implemented to deal with some of Cornwall's most-difficult derelict buildings. Chief building official Chris Rogers responded the idea was shot down when it was run by the city's lawyers four years ago.

"We tried to go there," said Rogers. "We wanted the right after 10 years to force the building to be demolished. We do not enjoy that right."

Nonetheless, Rogers said the bylaw enforcement department has made significant progress in dealing with Cornwall's vacant building problem since the new bylaw came in.

"In 2014 there were 44 vacant buildings in Cornwall. Of those, something has happened to 24 of them; they've been demolished, or they have been reoccupied, which is what we wanted out of the bylaw."

Vacant buildings remain a consistent thorn in the city's side, so much so city council decided last year to get rid of the vacancy rebate program in order to make it harder for property owners to simply leave their buildings empty.

Rogers said his department has gone after all the "low-hanging fruit" when it comes vacant buildings, and now all that's left are the hard cases.

One of those hard cases, Coun. Claude McIntosh pointed out, is the large black building on First Street. Although the building is still standing empty, Rogers said the bylaw department was at least successful in getting the owner to board up the building properly.

Carr said the building on First Street remains a public hazard.

"The interior of that building is dangerous," he said. "What would you do if it caught fire?"

Fire chief Pierre Voisine said his department has put together plans of action for all of the derelict buildings in Cornwall. Provided they didn't believe anyone was trapped inside, firefighters would simply try to contain the fire from the outside.

"It would be a purely defensive fight," said Voisine. "We've contacted some of the building owners to make sure that their insurance companies know what kind of tactics the fire department is prepared to use."

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