The City of Windsor’s property standards committee has granted an extension for owners of a fire-ravaged downtown high rise to comply with repair orders issued in March.
Lawyers for Westcourt Place argued they are doing everything they can to follow the city’s repair orders — but those efforts have been hampered by the pandemic and difficulty finding contractors.
“Nobody’s swinging a hammer at this stage,” said Robert Reynolds, the lawyer representing Westcourt Place and its insurers.
Reynolds told the committee the owners are working as fast and as hard as time and circumstances will allow but argues the complexity of the repair job, combined with delays due to COVID-19 hampered progress.
“It’s sort of like a Russian doll, you lift off one lid and there’s something else underneath it,” Reynolds said.
It total, four orders were issued against Westcourt Place ownership. At Friday’s committee meeting, members granted an extra three months for the first three orders — to get the repair work rolling.
“They feel they should be in a position to provide city with an engineering report, have the contractor retained and they’ll be able to give some timelines in terms of construction time,” said Reynolds.
But he said the legal team took exception to the fourth-order to restore the building to its original condition within 120 days based on the city’s definition that it’s currently sitting vacant. He argued that engineers and security guards are at the building daily.
Committee chair Rino Bortolin countered that by that narrow definition, most buildings couldn’t be considered vacant because of the possibility of squatters, making the building department's orders very difficult to enforce.
Reynolds also described the 120-day timeline to complete the work as inconceivable.
“The only timelines that I have heard are more in the 24-month range than in the 12-month range,” he said.
The City of Windsor’s deputy chief building official said work is taking place despite the lack of activity on site.
“It’s not always what it appears from the outside looking in. There are a lot of complicated systems,” Dan Lunardi said. “This is a large project. Two years is a lot of time as well.”
The committee voted to provide an extension on that fourth order to March 4, 2021 — giving the building department leeway to extend that order if necessary. Coun. Bortolin said the ultimate goal is making the building safe and getting tenants back in their homes.
“This has been a huge issue in the community with a lot of residents out of their homes for a long time,” Bortolin said. “We’d like to see this rectified and moving ahead and the last thing we want is to see a building that size sit empty and vacant for quite some time.”
Lawyers representing Westcourt tenants in a class-action suit are aware of the extensions granted today.
“We’re going to continue to monitor these proceedings as they’re relevant to the class action,” said lawyer, Sharon Strosberg.
The engineer’s report and building permits are due to the building department in early December.