Little Hope For Non-Designated Buildings

By Chris Erskine
Published October 24, 2013

So, this is what heritage protection looks like? Last night, the Heritage Permit Sub-Committee agreed to allow the developer to demolish most of the James Street Baptist Church.

James Street Baptist Church (RTH file photo)
James Street Baptist Church (RTH file photo)

While conditions were placed on the developer, the fact remains that most of a heritage designated building will be torn down.

The heritage permit review subcommittee began its discussions around 6:15 PM and did not finish until around 8:00 PM. At times, the committee members appeared to be under pressure to justify their concerns.

The loosely chaired meeting ranged over a number of concerns, including the possibility of immediate collapse, the need for an independent structural assessment, and how future designs could save more of the church.

For some time, it appeared that the subcommittee would recommend hiring a structural expert with heritage experience. Despite much discussion, the suggestion suddenly lost support when members were canvassed for a vote.

While the committee did recommend a number of conditions, the permit remains to tear down everything but the East Towers of the Church. The East Towers are the portion of the Church that faces James Street South.

The developer indicated during the meeting that he would move quickly with work once approval was given.

To be frank, I don't particularly like this building. It looks like a big pile of stones with little grace or poetry, particularly when compared to other historical churches in the City.

However, I find the proposal to combine the East Towers to a new structure, like what was achieved in Toronto at 88-90 Carlton Street, a very exciting possibility. If they do it right, they could create a new modern-historic classic.

But no matter how great the plans or aspirations of the developer, a heritage designated building deserves more consideration and protection than the average building.

Doesn't over a hundred years of history on one of the most important streets in Hamilton deserve it?

An independent assessment of the buildings with an eye to what could or could not be saved from a structural perspective is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, only one person wanted any kind of assessment.

So if this is the kind of protection a heritage designated building gets, what hope is there for non-designated buildings like the ones along Gore Park?

Part of this piece was first published on Chris's website.

Chris Erskine is a labour and community activist. He is also a print artist, exploring historic landscapes and building themes using lino-cut and woodblock printing methods. You can visit his website.


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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 08:52:48

To me that church was never a WOW facter anyways

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 09:01:01

It'll make a hell of a foyer.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 25, 2013 at 03:56:12 in reply to Comment 93632

Or mud room.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:50:18 in reply to Comment 93632

Yes it would , but its been negleted for soo many years its going to take alot to bring back , i would not want to put in the money in it

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By Jordan (registered) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:52:57

This is silly to me. Why should we dictate what others do with their property to such a degree? The church is preserving the look of the front that faces James st. Isn't that "mission accomplished" for preserving the heritage of the street? Same with the gore park buildings. They have agreed to rebuild the facade with new materials. In other words, the heritage of the park will be preserved. It will cost the developer way less to do it this way, and as a non-designated building, isn't this a best case scenario? If people feel so strongly that the buildings should remain unchanged, then get a group together and buy them.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 13:24:05 in reply to Comment 93645

Well said Jordan , thats all what some pls in do here is talk talk and talk but they can`t talk to walk

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2013 at 17:03:50 in reply to Comment 93654

That's rich "conrad"

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2013 at 13:22:55 in reply to Comment 93645

I'm actually pretty much on the developer's side with James Street Baptist Church, I just wish they'd been required to provide more concrete plans and commit to them - the parishioners and minister of the church agreed with the new company about the state of the building and their plan.

That said, the point is that this is and was a heritage property. That means the buyer went in knowing that there was an obligation to preserve the building to an impractical extreme. That's what heritage designation means: that you have a responsibility to the entire building to do as much as possible to keep its heritage features. In this case, that included the roof and the walls and things like that.

You know what the term is for "a building with historical features that you should try and preserve if it's convenient and profitable for you, but we're not really going to get worked up if you don't"? That's called a building.

If you don't want to deal with the obligations related to buying a heritage property, don't buy one. Caveat emptor.

The Gore Park buildings, for me, are far more about the total lack of a plan WRT reconstruction and Blanchard's history as a real-estate speculator. If Blanchard follows through quickly with his statements about rebuilding? I'll happily eat my words. But on the other hand, he's currently free to leave his property as a vacant eyesore for a decade or more while he courts buyers and tries to amass a larger plot.

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2013 at 12:33:54 in reply to Comment 93653

That's his plan.

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By Jordan (registered) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 20:24:43

All the stuff you've written genuinely supports my point. With all of those safeguards in place, the plan is moving forward for that church to improve its facility while keeping the frontage facing James in keeping with the aesthetic of the street.

Same goes for the gore park buildings. By law, the developer is under no obligation to keep those buildings standing. It sucks, you wish the heritage comittee had been on top of it back in the day, but such is the situation. The developer is given some heritage dollars in order to get him to rebuild the facade. A bit of a twist on the meaning of "heritage dollars", I know, but it saves the look of gore park and the developer gets to use the space to make his millions(or lose them, whatever). People like you need to realize that this is a best case scenario, and that the developer has no obligation to oblige. AND you need to realize that even though it took a lot of pressure, his giving in to this solution means he cares about the city and what's important us(even if it's cause he wants to make a buck off us).

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By gored (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 20:30:38

"you wish the heritage comittee had been on top of it back in the day, but such is the situation"

Um, the heritage committee -was- on top of the situation but Council elected not to confirm their recommendation to designate the Gore. When council doesn't care about heritage developers get the message they don't have to care about it either.

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By Jordan (registered) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 21:06:29 in reply to Comment 93679

To Gored: You can't just take one error I made in my comment and then not respond to the ideas I'm suggesting. Please, give me a satisfactory answer to this question; Why is it so important for the Gore buildings to remain the same? Why are we so unsatisfied with the solution to rebuild the facade with new material? And please don't tell me that it's because the street will be gap-toothed for a few years, because that really isn't a measure of the long-term value/loss of tearing down the buildings.

I just get really frustrated because I think there is value in preserving old buildings, but there's also value in progress. It seems to me that sometimes EVERY old building on the slate gets people riled up. So this or that building used to be a school, or studio, or factory that was once important to the city. Now what? should we turn Hamilton into a museum of rotting old buildings?

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By can you read (anonymous) | Posted October 25, 2013 at 09:51:02 in reply to Comment 93683

Creating a gap is not progress

Demolition should be halted specifically BECAUSE THERE IS NO ACTUAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN

He is taking them down in order to try to make that block more desirable to an unknown future buyer, who may not come along for years or even decades. This is progress?

summary of what you said: "tell me why the buildings shouldn't come down, but don't use the reason that I don't really comprehend cause it's hard fur me to think good"

"People like you" need to do a hell of a lot more research on how cities work before spouting off your misinformed opinions.

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By Jordan (registered) | Posted October 25, 2013 at 18:01:44 in reply to Comment 93720

That's a fair response. I don't see why it isn't possible to tie these permissions with a time-limit on new construction. Although I suppose it's always possible to find loopholes in Blanchard's case. Either way, if he follows through (as it seems he's required to), rebuilding the facade is a fine solution in my opinion. I guess it's just too bad that he's racked up such a terrible track record of "following through".

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2013 at 12:54:31 in reply to Comment 93750

And too bad he won't commit to doing anything differently this time.
He's getting $1m+ OF OUR MONEY to remove a few facade elements and no doubt they'll be lost in storage somewhere before he ever rebuilds.

At a time of growing buzz when Hamilton is attracting interest, we're going to create a huge ugly vacant hole next to our best downtown asset - Gore Park.

I sure hope Jason Farr and Council are scrambling to find a solution and save these critical buildings, or at least prevent Blanchard from leaving a vacant hole for a decade ... but I don't think City Council 'gets' it yet as they're still mired in the 80's.

I really hope some of the new wave of downtown entrepreneurs will seriously consider running for Council next year.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 26, 2013 at 10:02:01 in reply to Comment 93750

The problem is he's not "required" to do anything. Once the demolition permit is issued, he can create an empty lot and sit on it forever. Why don't we have laws in place to restrict demolition and neglect and force redevelopment timelines? Good question - ask your councillor!

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By Boyhowdy (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 20:44:36

I think that if the building is structurally unsound and it is going to be replaced with something that will make the city better, then tear the sucker down. We can put up a memorial plaque for those who wish to hang onto the past. Time for Hamilton to start moving forward!

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By childhood's end (anonymous) | Posted October 25, 2013 at 09:53:45 in reply to Comment 93680

Well Boyhowdy, I guess we can't really fault a child for thinking that tearing down = moving forward. You'll grow up someday!

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