Indecision and demolition: Timeline of Ottawa’s Somerset House non-development

After a rocky development process, a modern design has been proposed for a long-delayed restoration
Somerset House proposal
Chmiel Architect's latest designs for the derelict Somerset House at 352 Somerset St. W. Provided.

The City of Ottawa received a new design application earlier this month for the derelict Somerset House, opening the latest chapter in a decade-long saga surrounding the redevelopment of a century-old building.

The three-storey building at 352 Somerset St. W. has stood since approximately 1900, beginning as a hotel and tavern. The historic structure gained prominence in the 1990s as the Duke of Somerset, a popular English-style pub. The latest designs by Chmiel Architects seek to bring the structure into the 21st century.

Given its history, the Somerset House has received attention from heritage advocates seeking to preserve the crumbling structure. One Carleton University graduate even wrote about the building as a thesis topic.

In the mid-2000s, owner Tony Shahrasebi of TKS Holdings Inc. began a redevelopment project of the aged building, a process that began with the building’s partial collapse and has since stretched for 10 years.

Somerset House 03/17
Somerset House, March 15, 2017

Timeline of the Somerset House redevelopment:

2007: Partial collapse of the Somerset House, partial demolition follows

The building began its decline in 2007 when a partial wall collapse pinned a construction worker beneath rubble during a redevelopment project. The city then demolished much of the roof and rear portion of the Somerset House, citing safety concerns. Mr. Shahrasebi was granted an injunction to prevent the rest of the building from being demolished. The original Bank Street facade, as well as a few structural girders visible from Somerset Street, remained.

2008: TKS Holdings charged for collapse

Officials from TKS Holdings, including Mr. Shahrasebi, were charged related to the collapse. The Ontario Ministry of Labour charged the owners for failing to ensure the safety of the building’s roof and for not providing proper safety instruction to the involved worker. TKS Holdings pled guilty and paid a fine of $50,000; Mr. Shahrasebi also pled guilty and paid $5,000. The city also fined TKS $10,000 for building code offences.

2012: Legal battles resolved

The city engaged in extensive legal battles with TKS Holdings to recoup costs relating the building’s demolition and the associated two months of road closures. All litigation was settled in 2012, and TKS Holdings paid $650,000 to the city, while council said it would waive encroachment fees for the undeveloped property as a sign of goodwill.

2013: New plan

After the resolution of legal disputes, the city received a new development application in 2013 featuring a two-storey brick addition and a glass “box” design. The new design was approved by council.

2014: City applies pressure

A year after new plans were approved, development had not resumed. City council voted to stop waiving encroachment fees for the Somerset House, and Mayor Jim Watson publicly states his impatience for the lack of movement on the development.

2016: Another partial demolition

TKS Holdings applied for another partial demolition of the Somerset House in the summer of 2016, with independent engineering firms arguing the most dilapidated sections of the building could not be restored. City council granted its approval of the plan, but said it would take action to avoid similar cases of “demolition by neglect” in the future.

2017: Another new plan

Earlier this month, the city received another new application seeking a permit to redevelop the Somerset House, featuring a similar glass box as in the 2013 plans, mixed with new gray brick. Mr. Shahrasebi has said if engineering reports price the renovation too high, he may seek a full demolition of the building.