Whether the City is aware of a building's condition but chooses not to enforce the property standard by-laws is a moot point after the building becomes a heap of rubble.
By Trey Shaughnessy
Published February 07, 2010
A sunny, cold day was the scene of a gathering of citizens in front of the remains of the 1913 Lyric/Century Theatre for the first By-Law Crawl. Organized by Matt Jelly, the group of concerned citizens shared one thing in common: a desire to stop the neglect of Hamilton's architecturally rich history.
Matt Jelly addresses the crowd
The people in attendance came from a variety of backgrounds, some new Hamiltonians, some born-and-raised in the Hammer and some even from out-of-town. The crowd participating in the first By-Law Crawl grew to approximately 75 people before Matt Jelly spoke to the crowd and explained the purpose of the By-Law Crawl.
He then handed out booklets outlining the City's by-laws as they relate to vacant buildings. Included were forms to be filled in with violations and later to be presented to the City to enforce.
Jelly suggested that the crowd be divided into smaller groups and disperse out; and so had begun the process of protecting our architecturally rich heritage. With pens and forms in hand, the citizen groups marched around for hours with vigilant, empowered eyes searching for buildings that had obvious infractions.
It didn't take long to spot them. There are the obvious and well-known problem buildings like the former Federal Building at King St W. and Hess St., The Royal Connaught, and even some buildings that were torn down are in still in violation for being used as a parking lot - like the former HMP building.
Matt Jelly and Cal DiFalco
"Demolition by neglect" is a term used in reference in reference to historical buildings that have been allowed to deteriorate to the point that the building is deemed unsafe and the owners are ordered by the City to demolish it.
The City of Hamilton (staff and Council) only become concerned about the Lyric/Century building after decades of such neglect. Whether the City is aware of a building's condition but chooses not to enforce the property standard by-laws is a moot point after the building becomes a heap of rubble.
Willful neglect by building owners - for whatever motive - became the fate of the Lyric Theatre last month, a scene that is becoming all too common in Hamilton. Matt Jelly chose the location in front of the Lyric Theatre's remains as a symbol to illustrate the purpose of the monthly event called the By-Law Crawl.
The strange thing is the Lyric is now better protected from squatters than when it was standing. A chain link fence surrounds the enormous plot of empty land strewn with bricks.
The city seems to care more about securing an empty lot than it cared about securing the Lyric
The shocking size of the lot would impress on anyone that something had to be done.
Looking at the Lyric's rubble, one will notice that some of the bricks are embossed with the word "HAMILTON", locally made at Hamilton Brickworks Factory from escarpment clay.
The Lyric's remains
The purpose of this event includes finding even the smaller infractions, because if there are any more voids left like the Lyric, no matter how big or small, they all impact the health of the core and the city at large. It creates a domino effect of blight.
In the the same way that gentrification occurs, the situation either improves or deteriorates one building at a time.
Frustration from a concerned citizen
A few hours later, the participants people met back at the Sky Dragon Centre and handed in their forms to Matt. The energy filled the room with a sense of pride and satisfaction of what had just been accomplished. We felt empowered.
The truth is we always did have the power. The City claims that by-laws are enforced on a 'complaint basis', a convenient loophole that gets the City, for the most part, off the hook for not legally enforcing their own by-laws - by-laws the city seems to ignore after passing. Idling, mobile signs and pesticide use are other examples of ignored by-laws.
It seems the only by-law that the city pro-actively enforces is illegal parking.
It will be interesting to see what the City does with the hundred or so property standard violations that were properly reported by citizens. If the City needed complaints before they acted - well, they have them now.
Visit bylawcrawl.ca for more information.
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