City Council just voted unanimously to designate 18-22 King Street East and protect the buildings from demolition.
By Ryan McGreal
Published December 12, 2013
Almost exactly a year after property owner Wilson-Blanchard submitted a demolition permit for the buildings at 18-28 King Street East, City Council just unanimously voted its intent to designate the buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act and protect them from being demolished.
Gore buildings with their facades removed, surrounded by fencing
The surprise motion by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr came after talks broke down between the City and Wilson-Blanchard over the fate of the buildings, which have been subject to a demolition permit since January.
There are excellent reasons to designate the buildings: 18-22, designed by the famous architect William Thomas, was built in 1840; the other two buildings were constructed in 1876 and 1875, respectively.
Until now, City Council has been reluctant to designate them pre-emptively, arguing that it is more constructive to work with the property owner, who announced a proposal to build a new $120 million development on the block bounded by King, James, Main and Hughson, a block Wilson-Blanchard has assembled over the past 20 years.
The company has yet to provide a plan or financing or any firm details for the proposal, which they first floated in October 2012. The City has offered $1.1 million in heritage grants to preserve the facades and front parts of the buildings, but Wilson-Blanchard said it would cost at least $2 million and they don't want to invest any of their own money in heritage preservation.
Several Canadian studies have concluded that heritage preservation sometimes costs more than demolition and new construction, but delivers better return on investment.
According to Section 30(1) of the Ontario Heritage Act, the demolition permits will be invalidated as soon as the notice of intent to designate is served to the property owner and published in a newspaper. According to Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel in a tweet posted this morning, the latter condition has already been met.
The motion to protect the buildings also comes right after Wilson-Blanchard demolished a three-storey building at 20 Jackson Street West and converted the site into an illegal surface parking lot.
Illegal parking lot at 20 Jackson Street West
Staff confirmed last night that this violates a bylaw against demolishing a downtown building and putting surface parking in its place. Ironically, that bylaw was put in place after the same property owner demolished the Canada Permanent building on James Street South in the late 1990s.
Council also learned that 20 Jackson Street West generated $77,667 a year in property taxes when it was an office building, but just $7,000 as a parking lot.
Wilson-Blanchard has not submitted any redevelopment plan to the City for 20 Jackson Street West.
Earlier this year, Council voted to designate the area around Gore Park as a heritage district, and staff are currently undertaking a review of the city's list of buildings of historic interest with the goal of becoming more proactive about designating and protecting heritage buildings. Council also recently voted to increase the availability of municipal grants to protect and preserve heritage.
However, a number of perverse incentives still encourage property owners to remove value from urban neighbourhoods rather than to add it, including provincially-mandated property tax discounts for vacant buildings and demolished lots.
At the municipal level, a property owner can demolish any downtown building that is not designated under the Heritage Act or zoned for residential use without having any redevelopment plan. Until now, Council has been very reluctant to designate any buildings to protect them from their owners' intent to demolish.
The quick response on 20 Jackson Street West is another shift for the City. When an illegal parking lot went up on the site of the former HMP building at Main and Bay in 2008, a year went by before the City took any action.
When Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat spoke in Hamilton last week, she advised, "In great cities, heritage preservation and restoration is recognized as adding long-term value." The audience gasped when she put up a slide of all the heritage buildings that the City has allowed to be demolished since 1954:
Downtown buildings lost since 1954
Hamilton has made its share of "classic mistakes" in city governance, but it is encouraging to see City Council begin the hard work of fixing them and changing the way decisions are made.
One closing request: please email Council and thank them for their leadership in protecting Hamilton's built heritage.
By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 07:38:33
Memo to speculators: Always have a credible bogus plan in place before applying for the permit, and ration your parking spaces between demolition sites.
By TB (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 08:16:47
Just used your "email council" link Ryan and thanked them all.
By Ms Me (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 08:31:24
I have so little trust in the Councilor involved, his lack of knowledge and honesty tells me "this ain't over yet!"
By fmurray (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 09:05:06
Great job,Councillor Farr. And to the rest of council who took a few minutes to wrap their heads around the "no notice" part and stepped up to the plate. Sometimes dealing with unexpected business is part of the job.
By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 09:28:02
I think Farr deserves a lot of credit for his ability to lead council. Issues like this used to be controversial, and now he's getting unanimous votes. I liked mayor Eisenberger, but he didn't have this kind of success at getting council on his side. That might be a cultural shift, but it also might be a personal strength.
It's probably too soon since it's still his first term and the field is crowded, but I hope he'll take a run at the mayor's seat sometime - 2018? McHattie is going to be facing a lot of resistance since he proudly and firmly wears his left-wing politics on his sleeve (politics I agree with, mind you - I'd love Mayor McHattie) while Farr comes off as more pragmatic and universal.
By realitycheck (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2013 at 17:15:05 in reply to Comment 95842
Any word on the status of the Integrity Commissioner's report on he complaint filed against Farr?
By highwater (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:03:43 in reply to Comment 95842
That might be a cultural shift, but it also might be a personal strength.
I'm going with 90% cultural shift, 10% personal strength.
By Ms Me (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 09:45:15 in reply to Comment 95842
Now that's funny!
By Ms Nobody (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:24:06 in reply to Comment 95844
We get it, you don't like Farr. This is still good news and you could try to be a bit gracious about it.
By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:47:25
Agreed, I think we all felt Councillor Farr and City Hall was doing too little to protect the Gore and was "asleep at the switch" last year when the demo permits were issued.
That said, I guess Farr and the rest of the city was just trying to be "reasonable" seek a middle ground, work with stakeholders, etc. rather than "dropping the hammer" on "poor" W-B, an independent businessman who has "contributed much to this city" in terms of "heritage preservation".
But in the end, I think Ryan is right, W-B's "bad" actions in opening an illegal parking lot, and trying to extort ever-increasing amounts of money out of the city pissed them off, with the result being the heritage designation we see here.
Thankfully W-B wasn't smart enough to start demolishing Gore BEFORE opening up his illegal parking lot, otherwise we might have two illegal parking lots on our hands.
My lingering concern is about any elements that may have already been removed from the facades of these buildings. I mean, they're obviously open to the weather, but in the pre-demolition process did he remove any elements that might have had heritage value?
By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:22:44 in reply to Comment 95852
I see the heritage value in the configuration, usage and scale of those buildings as much is - if not more than - the individual blocks forming the front 24 inches. It's sad that the original stones are not all there, but even as they sit with missing storefronts they can be brought back to their former glory as contributing members of the gore building stock.
More important I think to stress the importance of the buildings as a whole - as part of the streetwall - than the individual elements of the facades.
By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:53:19
Hopefully it doesn't take the advent of silly season or the bumbling of hubristic "developers" to spur Council to take action on the thousands of unprotected buildings of interest across the city.
By Spearin (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:06:57
While this marks a significant step in the preservation our historic downtown core, that block now remains a crumbling hollow and who knows how long it will take WB to actually do something about it. Winter is here and the open condition of the building certainly will make it worse before it gets any better.
I think Council were willing to give a certain amount of slack to WB and hear them out. I'm glad they decided to reign them in. My fingers are still crossed for that block to be saved, though.
By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:19:24 in reply to Comment 95857
I believe designation triggers stricter rules on minimum property standards and sealing the buildings to the elements - but I have not researched the particulars so I could be wrong.
I think that the best outcome for citizens would be for WB to sell those buildings to people who will actually restore them. WB can then court a developer to build a complimentary project on the remainder of the block, with facings on main and james as well as an entrance to the gore via the narrow strip created when blanchard tore that other building down.
WB bought those buildings and had them tenanted to cover carrying costs. They invested minimal capital into maintenance. If they sell them at original cost plus a modest % ROI they will still be ahead of the game, and when the next owner restores and fills the buildings with tenants, all of the surrounding WB land will be worth even more.
My biggest fear is that they will remove facades, store them, and glue them onto a glass box.
The gore deserves an intact streetwall, and modern taller buildings can be built on existing vacant lots. There is absolutely no reason to destroy the character of gore park by demolition or facadism.
By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:08:31 in reply to Comment 95868
Blanchard can fix them or sell them to someone who will. The city does not have to come up with any money.
If your concern is the taxpayer dollar, then it might interest you to know that his recent demolition on Jackson Street cost the taxpayers dearly - an order of magnitude reduction in tax assessment overnight. From the article above:
Staff also reported that 20 Jackson Street West generated $77,667 a year in property taxes when it was an office building, but just $7,000 as a parking lot.
If you think that demolitions benefit the city in any way, you are incorrect.
By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:42:31 in reply to Comment 95873
Or he could have left 20 Jackson standing and vacant for 40% less taxes. So the new game will be vacant buildings. Cue WB lawsuit and we watch these buildings fall apart under appeal.
By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 14:12:21 in reply to Comment 95877
Speculators misusing the vacancy rebate is a problem. So what's your solution? To allow them to demolish instead?
Are you trying to make an actual point here? I don't see one...
By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 15:45:32 in reply to Comment 95887
I made a statement. Pretty clear: the game may change from surface lots to vacant buildings. I offer no solutions. Just a statement pal, sorry you missed it.
By downtownhamilton (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:47:34 in reply to Comment 95877
Thank you. The building was vacant, what do you expect him to do, keep losing his own money?? You guys really don't understand capitalism. I probably shouldn't mention that word on this site, sorry.
By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted December 13, 2013 at 10:17:51 in reply to Comment 95879
You guys really don't understand capitalism.
This is really, really funny.
By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 14:10:48 in reply to Comment 95879
Capitalism allows him to sell these buildings if he can't make them profitable.
Capitalism does not guarantee profit.
By RobF (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:56:29
Thank you, Councilor Farr, and the rest of council ... it's easy to tear things down, but the long-term benefits of heritage preservation are worth the effort. Hopefully, this means we won't have a parking lot across from the Gore.
By g. (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 14:29:11
if surface parking lots were taxed at the same rate as the median building rate for the area it would immediately create conditions favourable to the redevelopment of these lands. as it currently stands there is just so much money to be made in surface parking which from a city building perspective should be avoided in the core with few exceptions. as it stands it is extremely difficult for someone who actually wants to build a building on a parking lot to purchase one. it is by far easier to buy a building and knock it down. this is extremely perverse and must be dealt with at the provincial level before we will see any real changes in the core.
By Why Don't We... (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 22:37:00
Why don't we raise the tax on surface parking lots by, say, 10X? Ideally, this could be applied retroactively to lots created since the by-law was passed where buildings were removed to enable the lot.
P.S. Can anyone provide a list of municipal campaign contributions made by Wilson-Blanchard associates over last couple of election cycles?
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