Group trying to revive old Fredericton neighbourhood asks for 'historical' designation
Residents of St. Mary's Ferry Landing want development that fits in
Many of the houses in St. Mary's Ferry Landing in Fredericton date back more than 100 years, back to when a ferry connected the north and south banks of the St. John River.
In those days, the north-side community in Devon bustled with shops, hotels, a department store and diners, and now the people living there want to bring some of that life back.
Development pressures, however, are slowly eroding what makes the area special, they say.
"It's not that we're anti-development," said Kathi Vaughan Zwicker, who grew up in the neighbourhood and is a member of the St. Mary's Ferry Landing Neighbourhood Association. "Not at all.
"But we want responsible development that fits in with our community."
The group's goal is preservation of what's left of the 19th- and early-20th-century buildings and restoration of the neighborhood's once lively character.
It sees the addition of large, boxy apartment buildings in the neighbourhood as threatening that goal. Vaughan Zwicker cites several buildings that have gone up in recent years that aren't in keeping with the surroundings.
She and her group have asked the city to consider designating the area a "neighbourhood of historical interest" and require certain features be part of a building project's design to make it fit in with its neighbours.
Architectural historian John Leroux understands why the group is taking this approach.
"I think the idea of being something that formally recognizes the character of [ the neighbourhood] and controls what can be done — and not before we lose all of it — is really important because it is a key part," Leroux said.
"When you think of so much of the commercial parts of that area have been really just destroyed or lost, and a few of the residential buildings, I think what they have left is pretty precious, and it shows a lot of the wealth and the material integrity of that part of the north side of Fredericton."
Leroux said the area would have been considered "downtown Devon" before the Westmorland Street Bridge was built.
"It was the downtown of the north side. And fortunately the homes are still there. There's just wonderful homes, especially the ones that face the river … but the sad part is the commercial buildings are almost all gone, with a few exceptions."
The most recent building to provoke controversy was a four-unit building on an empty lot on Bowlen Street, which council approved last year. It's currently under construction and is being developed by former councillor Eric Price.
"You don't have to put nondescript building after nondescript building," said Vaughan Zwicker. "These interesting and wonderful homes here in the Ferry would love to welcome new development that fits in right beside them, because you can help make this a really animated and wonderful community."
Vaughan Zwicker pointed to a restoration project on Jaffrey Street, which has become an Airbnb called Heaven Inn Devon, as a positive example.
The association also wants signs to be put up around the area pointing out its significance. It wants green spaces and trees protected and even a small amphitheatre that can be used as a speakers' corner.
Vaughan Zwicker presented the group's requests to the city's economic vitality committee, chaired by Coun. Jason LeJeune.
He said the idea for a designation has merit, although he's not aware that such a specific designation exists within the city's planning policies.
"If there is a historical context to be had in the north side, it's probably the appropriate area," LeJeune said.
He said there are questions about what a "neighbourhood of historical interest" would actually mean.
St. Anne's Heritage Preservation Area on the south side, roughly bounded by Waterloo Row, part of St. John and George streets, University Avenue and Beaverbrook Street, is the city's only heritage preservation area, though there are other houses and buildings that carry a designation.
LeJeune said this doesn't mean new policy can't be developed to create such a designation, but it's complicated.
"Especially within neighborhoods, people have very different views," he said. "So [Vaughan Zwicker] represented the view of some of the neighbours in the neighborhood. And I'm sure if there's a future engagement, we'll probably, possibly hear from other neighbours that have different views around heritage preservation."