New Brunswick

Fredericton council votes down motion to preserve Risteen building

The Risteen building in downtown Fredericton will not be given a heritage designation and may soon be demolished. 

Historic Risteen building doesn't receive heritage designation

The Risteen building was built in the 1820s and was the first cut stone building in New Brunswick. In the 1870s it became the Risteen Sash and Door Factory. (Provincial Archives)

The Risteen building in downtown Fredericton will not be given a heritage designation and may soon be demolished. 

City council voted down a motion to designate the building 5-4 at Monday night's council meeting. One councillor was absent and two were not involved in the initial vote.

"I'm shocked and I'm disappointed with my council colleagues," said Coun. Kate Rogers, who voted in favour of the motion. "I think it's very short-sighted." 

The Risteen building, at the corner of Queen and Smythe streets, was built in the 1820s and was the first cut stone building in New Brunswick. In the 1870s it became the Risteen Sash and Door Factory.

The fate of the historic building has been in question for months. 

Developer Gabriel El-Zayat owns the adjacent properties, which have already been demolished, and plans to build an apartment complex on the site. He applied for a demolition permit for the Risteen building in April. That's when the city issued a stop-work order to consider whether it should come under the Heritage Preservation Bylaw.

The surrounding buildings have already been demolished but a stop work order was issued for the Risteen building in April, until its heritage value could be assessed. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Several councillors said they struggled with the decision at Monday night's meeting. 

"In this matter it's important to me that we make the right decision for the city and especially the right decision for taxpayers," said Coun. Stephen Chase. "It's not an easy decision."

Chase said it was concerning to designate the property after it had been purchased by the developer. 

"I think it sends a strong negative message to anyone who owns a potential heritage property that they could be subjected to the same treatment," he said.

The historic Risteen House is at risk of being torn down to accommodate an apartment complex. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Council deferred the decision several times to give the developer time to incorporate the building into the new development. 

According to a letter sent to the city from El-Zayat, the cost to preserve the stone façade in the new development was estimated at $685,000. 

El-Zayat declined to comment but did tell reporters as he left the council chambers that "they definitely made the right decision."  

Ken Forrest, the city's director of planning and development, said the stop-work order on the demolition of the building will now be lifted. 

"The property owner owns the structure," Forrest said. "They have the right to demolish unless there is some bylaw that prevents its demolition. In this case there's nothing preventing it, so it is the right of the developer to make that application and for him to receive the permit." 

Forrest said the demolition permit can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to be granted.

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