A group of residents with homes overlooking the Wigamog Inn property say they are considering hiring legal representation as they try to force owner, Aurora Group, or Dysart et al township, to take immediate action to demolish derelict buildings at the site.
Fred Nurnberger, Jerry Stokes and Mike Bernard all own property in the Silver Beach subdivision. The trio say they’ve grown frustrated by the lack of action at the Wigamog, which has been slated for demolition for almost a year.
“If any of us need to sell our property right now, we have a problem. Who would buy here not knowing what’s happening next door? I’d just like to know when this is going to be resolved,” Nurnberger said.
Stokes estimated property values in the subdivision were down 15 to 20 per cent due to the uncertainty around the Wigamog. He believes the onus now falls on the township to take action with Aurora Group delaying the demolition process in recent months.
Township says Auroras still planning demo
Bylaw officer, Rob Mascia, told council at a recent meeting that tear down of some accessory buildings began at the site March 30, but work stopped in late May when crews reported multiple minor explosions at one of the cabins. Mascia said hydro hadn’t been fully disconnected at all outer buildings. Workers were on site June 15 to disconnect, with Mascia saying Aurora Group notified him they were planning to proceed with demolition June 26.
More than one month on and that work is still yet to commence. Mascia told The Highlander he had a discussion with Aurora Group representatives last week, who told him work should start up again Aug. 9 or 10
Attempts by The Highlander to reach Aurora Group for comment have been unsuccessful.
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Aurora Group purchased the Wigamog in March 2016, announcing big plans for the site. A proposal posted to the company’s website included reopening the inn and the Moose Bar and Grill. There was also talk of a new residential development, with 180-plus units of condos, townhouses, and detached homes.
Years went by without any action. Mascia, in a previous interview with The Highlander, said he has completed multiple inspections of the property dating back to 2019. In May 2022, he issued a remedial action notice to Aurora Group outlining 47 infractions of the township’s property standards bylaw, with issues varying from downed power lines to smashed windows, damaged doors, and collapsed decks.
At a property standards committee meeting last fall, Aurora Group signalled their intent to demolish the 37 buildings that make up the Wigamog site. They then missed a deadline to submit a demolition permit, which led to the committee directing Dysart’s chief building official, Karl Korpela, to issue an RFP to have the site torn down. That was in October 2022.
Staff were still working on the RFP come March when Aurora Group started the demolition process.
Dysart mayor Murray Fearrey said he’s bringing the issue back to council Aug. 22, where he’ll be recommending the township restart the RFP process.
“We’ve diddled around with this all summer… we’re going to have no choice [but to act] ourselves,” Fearrey said. Fellow members of council Carm Sawyer, Barry Boice and Pat Casey expressed concern when the Wigamog property was last discussed in council chambers July 25. They each said they’d like to see the township issue ultimatums to Aurora Group, giving them a set deadline to complete work and fining them if they didn’t follow through.
Korpela said the township cannot impose timelines on demolition permits, and since Aurora Group had already exceeded the timelines outlined in the property standards order issued last year, there wasn’t much more the town could do, outside of issuing its own RFP. He warned there were potential drawbacks to doing that, though.
“It’s going to take a couple of months minimum to complete an RFP process and get a tender in place. There’s a lot of unknowns with how we can facilitate this quicker when the applicant is doing something to continue demolition. It might not be to a timeline of our satisfaction, but [our] process would take a lot longer,” he said. “Construction companies are busy at this time of year. It’s going to be hard to find a company to come in and start right away.”
Waiting is over
Stokes said he feels just as much frustration towards the township as he does Aurora Group. He feels council dropped the ball by electing not to follow through with an RFP earlier this year.
“The township has to take control of this situation. Right now, nobody is making any decisions. Nobody has a timeline,” Stokes said. “There’s been very little movement on this for years. The Dysart building department is responsible for following through with the actions they set in place, and they haven’t. Right now, the town is not doing its job.”
Every time Mike Bernard steps outside his front door he’s greeted with a visual of three downed cabins being left to rot. While he’s annoyed by the less-than-ideal aesthetics, he’s also worried about the risk of fire, especially given the current climate.
“That whole place has the potential to go up like a camp fire. If we get dry again, all it takes is a spark. I’m worried about how quickly that could spread, and then things like asbestos and other chemicals that are probably in there,” he said.
Nurnberger said he’s afraid to let his grandchildren play outdoors, given his home is the last in the row along William James Court, with only a few trees separating him from the Wigamog property.
“We just don’t want to see someone get hurt. There’s a lot of people here that are grandparents – all it takes is one kid going somewhere they shouldn’t for something really bad to happen. There’s all sorts of mess over there. It wouldn’t take much for someone to get hurt.”