Vacant block that poses fire hazard approved for quick demolition

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A former apartment building is set for an early demolition after repeated break-ins sparked fears it could be set on fire or vandalized.

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A former apartment building is set for an early demolition after repeated break-ins sparked fears it could be set on fire or vandalized.

The three-storey, 25-unit apartment building at 51 Roslyn Rd. became vacant last June.

While it was boarded up soon after, people began breaking in to stay inside the structure less than a month later, said Helio Rodrigues, an architect who is working to redevelop the land.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The three-storey, 25-unit Saigon apartment building at 51 Roslyn Rd. became vacant last June.

“As soon as the fence went up and the windows and doors got boarded, it was almost like an invitation for people to move in… it seems (the barriers) had the opposite effect (of what was intended),” said Rodrigues, a principal architect with h5 architecture, in an interview with the Free Press.

On Thursday, council’s city centre community committee granted a request to demolish the building before a new building permit is issued, something city rules typically require before a building is torn down.

The city has approved rezoning and variance applications for a six-storey, 66-unit apartment building at the site, though final drawings are still being completed.

Rodrigues said it will take months to complete that work. While the land’s owner hired private security to help monitor the site, a later demolition date would leave it at risk, he said.

“We want to avoid the potential for bigger issues, like the building going up in flames, or, eventually, other security (issues for) the neighbourhood … our fear is that as people (continue) to move in there, obviously with cold weather, they need to stay warm. The next thing you know, they could be starting fires in there to keep warm,” he said.

Concerns about vacant buildings being set on fire have increased over recent years. A recent city report notes Winnipeg fire crews responded to 39 fires at vacant buildings they monitor in each of 2019 and 2020, followed by 40 such blazes in 2021.

The city is currently monitoring 665 vacant properties, including 157 commercial and 508 residential ones, under its vacant building bylaw.

To reduce fire and safety risks, Coun. Cindy Gilroy has called for a report on the issue of granting Winnipeg’s property and development director the power to approve demolition permits for residential buildings without a public hearing, which is currently required. (The report has not yet been released.)

Gilroy said the property at 51 Roslyn Rd. would be a prime example of where that type of expedited demolition makes sense.

“We know something’s going to be built on that site. We’re confident it’s not going to sit empty and we can just allow (a demolition) to happen, without it having to go through a committee. So that’s something I’d like to see, especially within the inner city, where we see a lot of vacant, boarded-up buildings and… we need to get them demolished right away so we don’t get fires set in them,” said Gilroy.

The councillor said the safety concerns at the Roslyn property are not unique.

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To reduce fire and safety risks, Coun. Cindy Gilroy has called for a report on the issue of granting Winnipeg’s property and development director the power to approve demolition permits for residential buildings without a public hearing, which is currently required.

“That’s what we’re seeing across the board. When we start to see as many fires that we are having in vacant buildings, we do have to take this matter seriously,” she said.

Gilroy joined councillors Sherri Rollins and John Orlikow to approve the 51 Roslyn Rd. demolition at Thursday’s city centre committee meeting, which is a final decision.

Orlikow, the committee’s chairman, said the requirement that a building permit be issued prior to a demolition can help ensure developers don’t leave properties vacant for extended periods. He said decisions to let a property be torn down sooner must be based on the circumstances of each project.

“We don’t (allow owners) just to demolish and then a property (just sits) empty for a while. But we also don’t want a property that’s sitting there waiting for a demolition permit to be used for alternative purposes that are not conducive to the neighbourhood,” said Orlikow.

Rodrigues said plans for the demolition should be able to move forward soon, as long as the decision isn’t appealed. Construction on the new apartment block is expected to begin in June.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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