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The Brown House located at the corner of King Street East and Carmarthen Street in Saint John. Image: Brad Perry

UPDATED: Heritage Designation Removed From ‘Brown House’

By Brad Perry Aug 23, 2022 | 5:03 AM

J.D. Irving, Ltd. (JDI) has been given the green light to tear down a dilapidated heritage building in uptown Saint John.

The controversial move comes despite efforts by one city councillor to delay the decision so staff could explore potential enforcement options.

City council voted 6-3 on Monday night to remove three properties at 111-119 King Street East from the local heritage conservation area.

Two of the properties are vacant while the third is home to the Paikowsky Residence, also known as the Brown House.

The move paves the way for JDI to demolish the 81-year-old building at the corner of King Street East and Carmarthen Street and build a playground in its place.

Coun. Joanna Killen put forward a motion to table JDI’s application so staff could explore policy options.

“I would love to see a suite of policy options that we could develop to save this property,” Killen said during Monday’s meeting.

“I really think that we need to take a beat here and look at how we facilitate the sale, the repair, or a vacant building tax to ensure the city can recoup costs on this as it does need to be monitored.”

Council, however, voted against Killen’s tabling motion and moved forward with the third and final reading of the application. Councillors Greg Norton and Paula Radwan joined Killen in voting against JDI’s application.

Public opposition to the de-designation

More than a dozen people spoke out against the proposal during a public hearing in July, with some accusing JDI of neglecting the building so it has to be demolished.

Others said JDI was only asking for the heritage designation to be removed so it can maintain control over the property.

Under the city’s heritage bylaw, there is no need for a property to be removed from a heritage conservation area in order for a building to be demolished.

However, an applicant must first list the building for sale “at a reasonable price” for at least one year and accept “reasonable offers” within 10 per cent before the Heritage Development Board will issue a demolition permit.

Chris MacDonald, vice president of government relations for JDI, told council on July 11 that they have no plans to sell the property given its close proximity to the company’s head office.

“It’s important, from our perspective, to maintain that property because then we have control over that property. Once it’s sold, you never know what’s going to happen with it,” said MacDonald.

JDI also had no interest in fixing up the property, which has been vacant since 2016 due to poor living conditions and safety concerns.

MacDonald said if the building does not come down now, it will likely sit there for several more years until it is torn down as part of the city’s Vacant and Dangerous Buildings {rogram.

“It is likely the building will continue to deteriorate,” he said. “It’s clearly beyond feasible repair, so it is going to come down one way or the other.”

An updated conceptual drawing of the children’s park that is being proposed on the site of the Brown House in Saint John. Image: submitted

What can the city do?

Questions have been raised by residents as to why the city has not taken action since the property is being monitored under the program.

Jacqueline Hamilton, commissioner of growth and community services, said the property is not a high priority because the building is not considered unsafe at this time.

If council had voted to reject the heritage designation removal, Hamilton said city staff would continue to monitor the property and take action “as appropriate.”

Only if a property is deemed a hazard to public safety can the city take action, she said, which could include ordering the owner to remedy the unsafe conditions or demolish the building.

Staff can also levy a fine against the owner through provincial court, but Hamilton said they typically do not go that route as the fines are not significant in scope.

However, as City Manager John Collin pointed out, the property may never make it high enough up the list to merit any sort of action from the city.

“It could remain just as an ugly-looking building for a very long period of time before it is addressed,” Collin said in defending staff’s recommendation to move ahead with the de-designation.

Collin said staff are in the process of reviewing the vacant and dangerous buildings program but there is “no assurance” there would be concrete recommendations that would address this particular property.

Staff also reminded council that they were making a decision not on derelict buildings, but about whether the property should be removed from the heritage designation area.

Councillor Paula Radwan, who voted against JDI’s application, said the company bought into the fact that the property in question was going to be designated as heritage.

“I really strongly believe that if there’s a vote to allow this to be de-designated, then it’s a vote for demolition by neglect, and there’s a certain precedent that’s being set for that,” said Radwan.

Councillor David Hickey voted in favour of the de-designation but reiterated his frustrations around the decision.

“Without those reconsiderations that staff is making now around both our vacant and dilapidated program as well as our heritage program, we’re left in a position that doesn’t give us much room,” said Hickey.

Hickey said the application has illustrated a “very clear gap” in the city’s bylaws and mechanisms to protect heritage properties in the community, adding it puts more onus on property owners and developers rather than the city.

Changes to JDI’s proposed public park

Several adjustments were made to JDI’s proposed public park based on feedback received at the July public hearing, according to Phil Ouellette, deputy commissioner of growth and community planning for the city.

Ouellette said updated storyboards will capture at least 10 important Saint John historical and heritage facets.

A scaled-down replica of a church steeple will pay homage to the first Saint John Irish Free Presbyterian Church.

There will be a second smaller play structure added to the site for younger children.

And officials plan to repurpose at least two elements of the existing building into the design, including some of the wartime timber (conditional on the quality of the timber) and the stairwell and handrails.

In addition, city staff and the applicant have revisited the draft contractual agreement and made changes based on feedback from council.

Final plans and drawings of the playground and historical park will be presented to city staff for review and comment.

The language surrounding the company’s ability to reduce the 20-year maintenance commitment has also been updated.

You can find more details in the staff report to council by clicking here.

An updated conceptual drawing of the children’s park that is being proposed on the site of the Brown House in Saint John. Image: submitted


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