Heritage advocates oppose pitch to demolish historic Halifax buildings
'Mr. Lawen is a great builder, a great developer, but we have a lot of land in Nova Scotia'
The fight to preserve historic buildings in Halifax has erupted anew, this time on Barrington Street.
A prominent developer has applied to demolish two designated heritage properties in an area the municipality intends to make a heritage district.
"This is an unfortunate application. It is unnecessary," said Andrew Murphy of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.
Murphy is a developer himself but he opposes the application from Louie Lawen of Dexel Developments to demolish the two historic buildings on Barrington Street between Bishop and Morris Streets.
"Mr. Lawen is a great builder, a great developer, but we have a lot of land in Nova Scotia," Murphy said. "We have a lot of land in Halifax. There's plenty of places to put the apartment units he wants somewhere else."
One of the buildings the developer wants to demolish is Jeffrey House at 1335 Barrington St.
Jeffrey House is a 200-year-old wooden former grand Georgian mansion built by Thomas Jeffrey, a two-time Lieutenant Governor, and his wife, Martha Uniacke.
The other property is the brick Renner-Carney House at 1351 Barrington St.
The demolition application falls inside the Old South Suburb Heritage Conservation District, an area Halifax is trying to preserve.
"It's ironic that they are proposing to demolish these historic buildings right in the middle of a district that is supposed to be created, made into a protected historic district," Murphy said.
If we want to make the city a museum, that's fine. Ultimately it's the people, not empty buildings, that are going to make the city better.- Louis Lawen
Louie Lawen said he's been negotiating with the municipality for two years on a project that would see the sides of the buildings restored. Instead he said he's stymied by a seven-storey height restriction imposed by the planning department.
People, not buildings
Lawen said he needs nine storeys to make it pay.
"We want the city to create true planning to incentivize us to build projects and restore heritage properties," Lawen said.
"Our plan would see not just the fronts of the buildings restored. On the brick building we were going to restore three sides.
"If we want to make the city a museum, that's fine. Ultimately it's the people, not empty buildings, that are going to make the city better."
Planning critic Peggy Cameron attended a public information meeting on the application at the municipality's heritage advisory committee meeting Thursday evening.
She has no sympathy for Lawen.
"These buildings were declared municipality heritage properties in the 1980s, so anyone who bought those properties would have known there were restrictions on what they could do with them in the future," Cameron said.
Cameron said the municipality has lost control over its ability to protect its own streetscapes. In 2016 alone, there have been two controversial demolitions.
In north-end Halifax, Steele Auto Group demolished multiple homes to make way for a Honda dealership parking lot.
On Young Avenue, two stately mansions were knocked down, with work beginning on one before a tenant had moved out.
"Halifax has to get control over when demolition permits are issued," Cameron said.
She said time is on the developer's side when it comes to the Barrington Street heritage properties.
Dexel's application will be decided on by Halifax's heritage advisory committee. But whatever its decision, the rules will allow the developer to demolish the municipal heritage property after three years.