City threatened to demolish heritage building J.D. Irving wanted to tear down anyway
Company previously applied to demolish building on its own but was denied by heritage board
Almost two years after the Saint John Heritage Development Board turned down a J.D. Irving Ltd. application to demolish a six-unit apartment house, a city department threatened to take the building down and charge the costs to the company.
The 80-year-old house still sits in the King Street East heritage district at Carmarthen Street — vacant, boarded up and was disconnected from the electrical grid several years ago.
The confusing series of events, according to Mary Keith, JDI's vice-president for communications, began in August 2016, when company representatives appeared before the heritage board to request permission to demolish the wood frame building.
Irving bought the property about 25 years ago and for a while operated it "as flats," Keith said.
JDI sees misfit with heritage area
The company argued the building was no longer fit to live in and required a new roof, electrical upgrades and other repairs. JDI also claimed the building was incompatible with the architecture of the other, much older buildings in the heritage zone.
The company's proposal was to build a small memorial park on part of the empty lot and use some of the other space for employee parking.
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But the board rejected the application, finding that the building is unique and that all the homes in the King Street East district are important.
The building then sat vacant for almost two years until May 2018, when the company received a notice from the city's bylaw enforcement branch stating the structure was unsafe to the public, Keith said.
"The hazardous conditions must be remedied in the manner specified by the Local Governance Act and by the standards officer," said the letter, signed by Catherine Lowe of technical services. "This is either by repairing the building to an acceptable state so that it can be occupied or by demolishing the building."
The letter went on to say "failure to comply" could lead to a fine ranging from $240 a day to $10,200 a day, as well as demolition and cleanup of the building at JDI's expense.
The company was prepared to comply and, three weeks later applied — again — for a permit to demolish the building, this time to the same department that sent the "Notice" letter.
But the July 30, 2018, reply came from the city's heritage department, saying a heritage demolition permit is required before the building can be demolished.
Keith said it is the company's position the province's Local Governance Act takes precedence over the city's heritage bylaw when it comes to dilapidated buildings.
Heritage or safety
It is a belief shared by heritage board chair Robert Boyce, who said Friday he was unaware a "Notice" letter had been sent to the company about the building.
"We've recognized or accepted that the heritage bylaw can't trump public safety and that the process for the removal of unsafe properties is outside the control of the heritage board," said Boyce.
Boyce said the issue, in the end, may have to be resolved by city council.
The situation leaves the fate of the building in limbo. Keith reiterated the company has no immediate plans for it and said she couldn't say whether the proposal for a small park is still on the table.
'Right now we wait'
She said selling the building is "not an option" because the company does not want other property owners adjacent to its headquarters and parking garage.
"I guess right now we wait," Keith said. "We have no immediate plans to do anything with the site at this time and hope there will be some clarity in the future."
City of Saint John spokesperson Lisa Caissie confirmed the building is on the municipality's vacant properties list and is being monitored on a periodic basis.
She added that because of its condition, it "ranks low" on the priority list of vacant buildings and doesn't pose an immediate danger to the public.