Uptown Saint John seeks heritage building code changes

Uptown Saint John will ask common council Tuesday night to amend the building code and restore heritage grant funding to make it easier to develop historic buildings.

Organization wants to make it easier to renovate historic buildings

Uptown Saint John wants council to amend the city's building codes to make it easier to renovate historic buildings.

The problem is the application of modern building codes to heritage era structures, said Peter Asimakos, general manager of the organization.

Alternatives to the building code are allowed, but getting them approved at city hall takes time and money.

John Johnson, an engineer and consultant who works with builders in the planning stage of a renovation, says getting city hall to approve a workaround can be costly and time consuming.

"You shouldn't have to go on your hands and knees begging for something that we know is acceptable," he said.

Johnson says too often the city requires developers to cover the same ground when it comes to finding solutions to building code problems.

Once a workaround, such as a less costly or space-eating fire exit is approved for one builder, it should apply to others, he said.

"Then you've established the principle once and everybody else can use it."

Johnson believes an amendment to the building bylaw or to the minimum property standards bylaw would solve the problem.

Uptown Saint John believes the payoff would be occupied upper floors, such as the ones currently being renovated in Morgan Lannigan's Canterbury Street building.

Lannigan envisions retail space, apartments and a condominium.

"We can really turn this uptown around with even a few extra hundred people," he said.

Uptown Saint John will also ask council to restore the heritage development grant program.

The city's heritage development board funding was cut by $110,000 last year — more than half its budget — as council struggled with the pension deficit and construction development was slowing.

Mayor Mel Norton has said council is now looking for incentives to spur further development in heritage zones.

Heritage advocates have previously argued the grant program is cost-free, with the city's investment repaid in added property tax revenue.

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