By Michelle Collins
Spray-painting vandals have been targeting five vacant homes on Bay Street for years, graffiti that has now spread to nearby businesses, city signs and postal boxes.
The homes, located from 249 to 259 Bay Street across from Centennial Public School, have been empty for several years and people in the area say the windows and doors were boarded up more than a year ago to keep homeless people from entering the homes.
Several words and cartoons are spray-painted onto the wooden boards and walls of the old homes, as well as on the brick walls of a neighbouring convenience store. Graffiti tags also mark a nearby apartment building and a Hydro One building around the corner on Nepean Street.
Area resident Jim Bronskill says there has always been some graffiti but that it has definitely been getting worse.
“I’ve noticed that since they were boarded up, nothing’s been done,” he says, adding that he thinks this helps to attract the graffiti.
“I’m curious to know what’s going on with the site. I don’t think it’s fair for the neighbours who live here to have derelict homes in the area.”
Several calls to Richcraft Homes – a real estate and development company that owns the houses – regarding the maintenance of the properties were not returned.
Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes, however, says the city’s committee of adjustment approved a 16-storey development for the site in 2004.
“Since then, there’s been no word from Richcraft, I don’t know quite why they’re waiting,” she says. “We can’t force them to develop, but we can make sure the site is safe.”
Holmes says city inspectors regularly visit to make sure the properties are secure and not presenting any fire hazards. Other than an e-mail she recently received from a resident, Holmes says she is not aware of any formal complaints regarding the lack of upkeep.
City planner James Douglas says that Richcraft Homes unsuccessfully tried to purchase the neighbouring convenience store at the corner of Bay and Gloucester streets.
“It’s an odd-shaped property,” says Douglas. “I think they were trying to purchase the convenience store to square the property out.”
A sign for the former Bay Guest House Finest Bed & Breakfast still stands at the front of two adjoining properties, 249 and 251 Bay St. The blue and white paint on the front porches has chipped, the porch lights are broken and garbage has piled up in the planter boxes. Empty and crushed beer cans are stashed at the back of one of the homes, and a shopping cart sits abandoned at the side of the same building.
Additionally, paper posters from last fall’s municipal election are still stapled to the wooden boards and a large plastic sign from the City of Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment to notify the public of a meeting to discuss the development on Sept. 7 2005, still hangs off the front porch of 255 Bay St.
Douglas says that in such situations, people may call the city’s property standards department to assess whether minimum standards of cleanliness and maintenance are being met.
If the properties are not up to standard, city bylaw officers issue warnings to the owners to fix the problems. The city only intervenes if complaints are received or if the properties are found to be unsafe.
“If it is not addressed, the bylaw department cleans it up and the bill is assessed to the owner’s property taxes,” says Barre Campbell, communications officer with the City of Ottawa.
Campbell says ample time is given for the owners to bring the property up to standard, but this varies depending on the situation.