City orders bridge company to repair 120 buildings

The Windsor Star

By Doug Schmidt

The city has given the Ambassador Bridge company one month to fix 120 homes and buildings it owns on Windsor’s west side.

The barrage of building repair orders follows a two-day inspection blitz launched by the city last week after it was alerted by citizens that work crews had begun dismantling vacant bridge-owned homes along Indian Road.

“The recent activity brought additional attention … it spurred us to look at this more closely,” said Lee Anne Doyle, Windsor’s chief building official. The repair orders went out by registered mail on Tuesday, with an Oct. 24 deadline date to bring the buildings — mostly boarded-up single-family homes — into compliance with the city’s property standards bylaw.

The repair orders cover most if not all residential properties the bridge company has bought up, emptied out and boarded up in Olde Sandwich over more than a decade. Building department manager of inspections Rob Vani said “about a dozen” additional homes in the area that are not owned by the bridge company have also been issued repair orders.

Vani said the orders cover building exteriors only and encompass everything from broken stairs and leaning porches to storm-damaged rooftops, collapsed chimneys, broken windows, doors and eavestroughs.

A few of the targeted bridge properties require “major” restoration work to bring them up to city bylaw standards, said Vani.

Four building inspectors spent nearly three days combing through the Old Sandwich CIP area to document property standards bylaw violations. It took two clerks another two days to write up the orders.

“We’ve been very busy,” said Doyle.

“If it seems like a lot, it’s because there a lot of deficiencies,” said Mayor Eddie Francis.

He said there was “extensive consultation” among city hall officials and municipal lawyers before launching the crackdown, with assurances provided that any repair orders could withstand a court challenge.

Bridge company president Dan Stamper could not be reached for comment Friday.

Doyle said owners sent orders Tuesday have until Oct. 13 to file appeals with the city’s property standards committee. Under the Ontario Building Code, the four-member citizen-led committee can rescind, confirm or amend the city orders, including extending the deadline date for compliance.

Within 14 days of any decision by that committee, Doyle said either party can then make a further appeal to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Doyle acknowledges there have been previous complaints about the bridge-owned properties, which had been the subject of monthly “drive-by” inspections by municipal enforcement officers. But she said the focus until now had been to “just make sure the buildings were secured.”

The problem now, she said, is that mitigation is required to ensure the abandoned buildings don’t deteriorate further after being left vacant and untended for so long.

“We realized that nothing was being done,” said Doyle.

Vani said the city issues almost 1,000 such property repair orders each year, with the majority in Wards 3, 4 and 5.

The Ambassador Bridge company has made no secret of its desire to twin its bridge span to the west of its current location as well as to expand its Windsor customs plaza to permit on-site secondary truck inspections. The mayor and city council are strongly opposed, and the two sides have faced each other in court actions.

“I don’t know what to expect from the bridge company — what you can expect from us is continued enforcement of the property standards bylaw,” said Francis.

The mayor said one of the reasons the city hadn’t been able to crack down in recent years on the neighbourhood blight being created was because of the court challenge to Windsor’s interim control bylaw led by the bridge company, an expensive legal action that ended with a judge slamming its owners and ordering the bridge company to pay all the city’s legal costs.