Monday’s Built Heritage Sub-Committee (BHSC) was supposed to end on a high note, after the committee approved the creation of a new financial incentive program to encourage restoration and redevelopment for major heritage buildings in Ottawa. The City already has a long-standing grant program where building owners can get up to $25,000 for smaller repairs, but that doesn’t go very far with major projects. This new program would provide a tax rebate of up to $500,000, spread out over several years.
Unfortunately the good news ended there. The last item on the agenda was a report recommending designation of Scissons House at 910 March Road, an old stone farmhouse constructed in the last decade of the 19th century in the old March Township, just north of present-day Kanata. (Here’s a copy of the heritage survey that was going to be considered by the committee: Heritage Survey – 910 March Road).
But the house was demolished on Sunday, the day before the report came to committee. Instead of staff presenting a report recommending heritage designation, they could only give a verbal update to confirm that the building was gone. If you listen to the audio recording from the committee, you can hear the shock and surprise in the voices of the members.
What happened? The property owner applied for a demolition permit on September 13. The Ontario Building Code says that the City has 10 business days to either issue or refuse a demolition permit. There’s no legal authority for the City’s Chief Building Official to withhold a permit as long as the owner complies with the Building Code Act.
The house did not yet have heritage designation, so when City staff found out the owner had applied for a demolition permit, they tried to intervene to convince the owner to put the demolition on hold to find an alternative solution to demolition. When the owner refused to withdraw the permit, we initiated a process to get a last-minute designation report onto Monday’s BHSC agenda. The hope was to get Council to officially designate the building on Wednesday to prevent demolition. (The City’s Official Plan says that “The City will give immediate consideration to the designation of any cultural heritage resources under the Ontario Heritage Act if that resource is threatened with demolition.”)
The demolition permit was issued last Thursday, construction fencing went up on Friday, and then the house was torn down on Sunday, before our committee could even consider it.
Could we have done more? The demolition was done legally. This building was actually supposed to be added to the City’s heritage register last spring, but was delayed until this fall due to flooding in West Carleton. Had it been added to the register, it would have at least extended waiting time for a demolition permit to 60 days, to allow more time for Council to consider a formal heritage designation.
By-and-large, most property owners are willing to work with the City to find a solution before resorting to demolition. (The last time something like this happened was in 2013 with Boyd House in Stittsville – and that building was successfully saved.) This time we were in a race against time against an unwilling owner, and we lost.
It is an absolute shame that this beautiful stone building has been lost to the wrecking ball. I’ve worked to save several rural and suburban heritage properties because I know how important they are to our community. I will be doing absolutely everything I can to ensure we don’t end up in this situation again.