Brick barn battle the latest twist in long fight between city and landowner
Last May, a landowner allowed a contractor to begin to dismantle one of three barns
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."
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.
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.
"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.
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."
"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.
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."