Brick barn battle the latest twist in long fight between city and landowner

A land owner with a long history of battling with city officals over a proposed subdivision on Sunningdale Road is appealing the city's move to designate two brick barns on his property as heritage buildings.

Last May, a landowner allowed a contractor to begin to dismantle one of three barns

This is one of two barns built with red clay tile that are still standing on the property at 660 Sunningdale East. A third barn, the largest of the three, was demolished last year. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Peter Sergautis admits he's not the kind of developer city planners typically see backing a large subdivision like the one he's planned for decades in the city's north east. 

His piece of rolling farmland fills a 41-hectare (101 acre) parcel northwest of the intersection of Sunningdale Road East and Adelaide Street North. 

Sergautis, a property manager with a history of much smaller projects, bought the land back in 1980 with a vision to develop it into "walkable community" with a mix of commercial and residential property. Along the way, he's had scrapes with city planners in a now decades-long drama he said has been both arduous and expensive.

"It's been a long ordeal really, trying to get something approved through city hall and through staff," he said. "But hopefully we're at the point where we are ready to start on actually making the dream into reality."

For years, Peter Sergautis has been trying to get city approval for his plans to build a large subdivision on his property at 660 Sunningdale Road East. He says the city's move to put heritage designation on the property's brick barns could hinder his plans. (Andrew Lupton/CBc)

Now, a new battle is brewing, this time over two decades-old barns on the property. ​

The red barn rumble

Built using a hollow, red clay tile and visible from their perch at the property's high point, the barns have long been a "landmark" in the area, according to Mike Bloxam, president of the London Branch of Ontario's Architectural Conservancy. 

"They were something that people could look to and have nostalgia for the time when the whole area was farms and not subdivisions," he said.

A planning report suggests the barns were reportedly used as a machine shop to manufacture items needed for World War II. Later, they were used to stable horses.

Peter Sergautis shows his development plans. He's been approached multiple times by big developers looking to buy his land and take over the project. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The barns have been on city's inventory of heritage resources since 1997, meaning they are deemed to have "potential cultural heritage value or interest."

But that falls short of the full protections that come with a heritage designation. 

Barn battle begins

In May of last year, Sergautis allowed a contractor to begin to dismantle the largest of the three barns. 

That's when area councillor Maureen Cassidy's phone began to ring with complaints from neighbours. 

A city letter citing the Heritage Act was sent to Sergautis. He stopped the demolition but by then, a portion of the largest barn's roof had been stripped away. 

Cassidy said city staff gave Sergautis the OK to dismantle the barn, because a demolition permit isn't needed to take down an architectural building.

The barns are built with a hollow clay tile that heritage advocates say make them unique and worth preserving. Owner Peter Sergautis says he doesn't want his development plans to be limited by the heritage designation. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"He stopped the demolition right away," said Cassidy. "But he should have known these buildings were on the heritage listing."

At the same time, she says staff could have been clearer about the rules. 

Bloxam said it's a shame the big barn is gone, saying it was the most architecturally significant of the three. 

Heritage designation 

The city has now applied heritage designation for the remaining two barns, but Sergautis is appealing that designation. While he's willing to look at ways to incorporate the barns into the subdivision's final design, he said they are unsafe and will be expensive to fix.

"They're basically two horse barns that are in poor shape right now," he said. "It would take a lot of imagination to come up with something that is attractive."

This is the largest of the property's three red clay barns before it was demolished last spring. The city ordered the demolition to be stopped, but landowner Peter Sergautis was able to successfully argue that it was too far gone to be saved. The city has applied heritage designation to two smaller barns on the property, which Sergautis is appealing. (City of London)

"I think there could be a meeting of minds and we can come up with something that is functional and practical but it will take all parties to work together to come up with something we can all be proud of."

And so Sergautis faces another battle, this time with the Ontario Conservation Review Board, which has scheduled a pre-hearing conference on April 12.

But regardless of the board's ruling, final say lies with council. Cassidy believes the majority want the two remaining brick barns to remain heritage properties.

This image from Google Earth shows the three brick barns. The largest has since been demolished, something Mike Bloxam of the London branch of Architectural Conservancy Ontario says should never have happened. (Google Earth)

Sergautis remains confident he can clear this latest hurdle.

"Right now I'm at the point where ... I'm almost a type of infill project now," he jokes. "I'm just looking forward to getting on with the proposal. I think it will be good for the community and it's time to move forward."

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