West End residents frustrated with pile of rubble left sitting 9 months after apartment fire

Residents in Winnipeg’s West End are frustrated with how long it’s taking to clear the debris left by a fire in an apartment block earlier this year.

Now, the city councillor for the area wants to make it easier to clean up derelict properties.

Franco Perrotti lives a couple houses down from 694 Sherbrook St., where a pile of rubble is all that remains of a three-storey apartment building destroyed by fire in February.

Nine months later, he’s still waiting for someone to clean it up.

“It’s just a pity, because it stays there. It’s a long time,” Perrotti said.

A pile of debris, covered in snow, can be seen behind a fence.
A pile of rubble is all that remains of a three-storey apartment building at 694 Sherbrook St., which burned down in February 2022. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

“At least clean it up. They haven’t even cleaned it up. They let the whole summer pass by, and nobody came to clean it, nothing.”

People frequently squatted in the building before the fire, Perrotti said, and he still sees people picking through the rubble sometimes.

Perrotti worries the property poses a safety risk to people in the area and hurts the neighbourhood’s image.

A man wearing a winter jacket with the hood pulled up is standing on a porch in front of a house and smiling at the camera.
Franco Perrotti lives a couple of houses down from the property where the apartment building burned. (Cameron MacLean/CBC )

“I have two daughters. There’s people here with kids and everything, you know,” he said.

“Our kids pass by here, you know, they’re always looking at the same thing.… Everybody takes care of their houses around here, you know. We do our best. We’re not rich but we do what we can do, right?”

‘Just not fair’

The fire broke out shortly before midnight on Feb. 14. After the fire, the building was torn down and the property was fenced in.

Cindy Gilroy, the city councillor for the area, said a demolition permit has been issued for the site. Typically, that must be completed within six months, but the city can issue extensions, she said.

“It’s just not fair that these things are taking as long as they are, and we have to start dealing with the boarded-up and vacant buildings issues that we have in Winnipeg,” she said.

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said they couldn’t comment on the specific property due to privacy concerns, but added the city “has the authority to ensure the applicant of the demolition permit or property owner addresses outstanding issues related to completing the demolition process.”

Property owners are responsible for removing any debris after a building is demolished.

The apartment building was vacant at the time the fire broke out shortly before midnight on Feb. 14, 2022. (Darin Morash/CBC)

The timeline for that cleanup “would be assessed by the city on a case-by-case basis, as there are many variables involved in resolving a damaged structure or cleaning up debris on a property,” city spokesperson Kalen Qually said in an email statement.

Property records show the building is registered to a numbered company. That company is owned by two men with addresses in Grunthal, Man.

Attempts to contact the two men were unsuccessful.

Add fines to property taxes

Gilroy homes a series of motions she introduced at council before the end of the last term will make it easier for the city to clean up derelict properties.

One of Gilroy’s motions would eliminate a rule requiring property owners applying for a demolition permit to have a plan to build something new on the property. 

The change would only apply to some areas that have significant problems with derelict buildings, like the inner city and North End, and the decision would be made by the director of the property and development department, she said.

Another of Gilroy’s motions would ask the provincial government to amend the City of Winnipeg charter to allow fines associated with derelict properties to be added to the property tax bill.

Right now, property owners are able to find ways of avoiding paying fines, while still paying their taxes, Gilroy said.

“If they’re paying their taxes, the city cannot take over those buildings. So if they don’t pay their taxes, then the city would have an opportunity to take those buildings over,” she said.

Perrotti hopes someone does something with the property soon.

“If they put some apartments there, I’ll rent one too. I don’t know. Even a condo for sale, I’ll probably buy one. If they do something with it.”

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