The owner of a 19th century stone farmhouse on Huntmar Drive says he doesn’t know what else he can do to stop vandalism on his property.
Robert Karam has owned the property for nearly ten years. The house, which dates back to 1887, has been listed on the City of Ottawa’s heritage register since the fall of 2013. (You read more about the history of the home here.)
Although just a few hundred meters from a police station, the house is set back from the road, hidden behind a thick wall of trees and bush. It’s on property that Karam intends to develop into a series of townhomes, low-rise apartments and commercial/office buildings. The stone house is included in the development plans, and would be re-purposed for commercial or office use.
Karam says since the home went on the city’s heritage register, he’s had to deal repeatedly with trespassers and vandals. At some point this summer, someone broke through the boarded up windows and caused extensive damage inside, as well as smashing some remaining exterior windows and spraypainting the walls.
“The vandalism became worse after each break in,” wrote Karam in an email to StittsvilleCentral.ca. “Smashing of glass of the doors, windows and littering of beer bottles is evidence of the visible damage. In addition, there’s damage to the fixtures inside the residence.”
“We have boarded the entire premises several times. I have met with Councillor Qadri and the police. With the help from Councillor Qadri, the police are now aware of the vandalism and are increasing patrolling of the area. We have re-enforced the boarding from inside and posted appropriate signs in and around the property.”
Ottawa Police Constable Lori Fahey says she became aware of the damage on August 4, and filed a break and enter report. She says she believes that most of the damage had occurred days or weeks earlier.
“The owner of the property has made efforts to secure the premise and prevent further damage. He has also placed signage on the property clearly identifying it as ‘Private Property’ and prohibiting trespass,” says Fahey.
“Neighbours are also aware of the concern and have been calling police to let us know when suspicious activity or vehicles are observed on the property.”
Fahey said that so far the measures taken appear to have helped decrease the vandalism. She recently shared a photo of a rollerblade that may be linked to one of the instances of vandalism.
Leslie Maitland is the past president of Heritage Ottawa. She says vandalism of heritage buildings has been a problem across the city. She says that for years Heritage Ottawa has been campaigning for the city to do something about what she calls “demolition by neglect” with respect to heritage buildings.
“Vandalism, or inappropriate actions or trespass are a problem in rural areas because properties are isolated, and behind a stand of trees, people can get in, and you just don’t know what’s going on. It’s very hard to invigilate a property that is unoccupied,” said Maitland.
The property is not officially designated as a heritage building, but it is listed on the City of Ottawa’s heritage register, a sort of “watch list” for significant buildings.
If a building is on the heritage register, the owner can make alterations and faces a longer-than-usual 60-day waiting period to get a demolition permit, Full heritage designation provides much stronger protection.
Sally Coutts is the co-ordinator of Heritage Services with the City of Ottawa. She explained that if the property was designated as a heritage building, “it would be subject to the requirements of the Property Standards By-law as it applies to vacant heritage buildings.”
That by-law gives the city the power to move in and do repairs themselves if they feel a building is being neglected, and then send a bill to the owner. This property hasn’t reached that point yet.
“The city has been working with the property owner for more than a year to incorporate the building into their development plans,” wrote Coutts. “Plan of Subdivision and Zoning By-law amendment applications have been submitted for the site which include the retention of the building and its incorporation into the future development of the site.”
What does Karam have planned for the building? We asked him if he thought the building should be preserved, and his answer via email was: “I have a ‘no comment’ policy on this particular property.”
As for how the house might get incorporated into the overall development: “We have sought zoning commensurate and with the overall proposed development. We will, at the right time, conduct market research to ascertain the needs and determine the appropriate usage,” he wrote.