Lawyer blocks Sundridge’s attempt to designate ‘The Castle’ with heritage designation

The council building was built in 1881 and sits on Highway 124, which runs through the community

Two new developments have stalled efforts by Sundridge Council to have the municipality’s oldest building given heritage designation.

The building and land owner has hired a law firm that opposes the designation and second, the council now wants to engage the public in an online survey to see what residents think of the project.

Before deciding on the survey route, the council was considering hiring a consultant who would have completed a cultural heritage assessment report and served a notice of intent indicating that the municipality was pursuing a heritage designation at a cost not to exceed $5,000.

The council building was built in 1881 and sits on Highway 124, which runs through the community.

Over the years the building became known as the Chateau. It was last used as a restaurant and is now empty.

The Nonprofit Organization for Almaguin Housing (NOAH) owns the building and land.

It was the con. Steve Hicks who suggested slowing down the heritage designation process because he thought over the years “the building may have been neglected”.

Hicks said continuing the designation 10 or 20 years earlier might have been more appropriate, but given the possible current state of the building he said: “I’m not convinced it’s something we should institute.”

All advisers were on board to gauge public sentiment on the project with Coun. Barbara Belrose said this approach made more sense than spending $5,000 on a consultant first only to find few residents like the idea.

The online survey will include information such as the cost of pursuing heritage designation and what designation means to the building, municipality and owner.

Although not yet live, the survey will be open for responses from the public for five days once it is available.

Council’s decision to hire a consultant and assess the public interest coincides with the municipality’s receipt of a letter from Barriston Law of Huntsville, which represents NOAH and opposes the designation.

A business partner, Sarah Hahn, who represents Barriston in municipal affairs, says that while Sundridge considers the building a landmark, she adds that no details are provided to support that claim.

Hahn also says NOAH is confident the building does not meet any of the requirements to receive a heritage designation.

Requirements include that the property has a design or physical value that makes it rare or unique and that it has a high degree of craftsmanship.

Another requirement is that it has historical value with significance to the community and also has contextual value where it supports the character of an area and is historically linked to the environment.

In his letter, Hahn says the consultants told NOAH that the building is unsafe and needs a new oven, new roof, new plumbing and new electrical. and that it also needs a new sewer line.

Also, the bricks on the outside are punctuated with holes.

The Sundridge-Strong Fire Department also identified several safety issues in a report last August, including the ceiling of the bar, when it was used as a restaurant, suffered water damage that needs to be repaired to ensure adequate fire separation.

Hahn says NOAH purchased the building in a state of disrepair and does not have the capacity to bring it into compliance.

As an alternative, NOAH offered to sell the building to the municipality, but the municipality responded that they were not interested in purchasing the property.

Hahn writes that if the municipality continues to pursue a heritage designation for the building and eventually passes a bylaw to that effect, it will trigger an appeal to the Ontario Lands Tribunal. Hahn says NOAH is “confident that a hearing in the Ontario Land Tribunal will decide in their favor.”

Hahn acknowledges that the building may be nostalgic for some people, but adds that it “does not meet the criteria for designation”.

NOAH is a non-profit affordable housing organization and says it is inappropriate for the municipality to want its client to restore the building in order to meet the target, but at the same time refuse to buy the property.

One of the steps a municipality must take when seeking heritage designation is that the property must be listed on municipal and provincial registries.

In his letter, Hahn asks the municipality to remove the building from the registry.

During the council meeting where members were debating using a poll to gauge public interest, Mayor Lyle Hall indicated that if the poll results showed little support, council could still put end to effort.

A portion of the land where the building sits has also been identified by NOAH as a site for a future 50-unit seniors’ building.

In an earlier report to council, NOAH would demolish three existing buildings on the land to make way for the aged care facility and leave the 1881 building standing.

Heritage designations limit what owners can do to buildings, including preventing them from demolishing the structures.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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