Richmond Cottage’s demolition day: May 1, 2017

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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City council approves agreement to demolish historic property unless it’s sold first

The clock is ticking on Richmond Hill College.

Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Richmond Cottage, a once-beautiful historic property at the bottom of Shaw Street, has deteriorated greatly since Wrightland Development first proposed to make it the anchor of a townhouse development, but did not follow through. Now it looks like the wrecking ball is in its future.

St. John’s city council Monday approved — by an 8-1 vote —an agreement with the owner, the Wrightland Development Corp., that will see the historic property put up for sale. If by May 1, 2017, Richmond Cottage hasn’t been sold, city council will approve its demolition.

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Coun. Dave Lane, who introduced the agreement at the meeting, said council didn’t have much choice, given the continued deterioration of the cottage, despite Wrightland’s original plan for it to be the anchor of a townhouse development at Topsail Road and Shaw Street. The hope is that another developer will buy the property with heritage preservation being a priority.

“Given the history of this scenario, which is where council approved a subdivision under condition of heritage restoration, but wasn’t clear in the eventual direction, and then the pushback from the owner, this is probably our last best opportunity to save the property,” he said after the meeting.

Wrightland unveiled its plans more than five years ago, but by mid-2014 had not followed through, and applied to the city to demolish the property. Council rejected that request. At the time, Lane said the developer’s neglect of the property contributed to the deterioration, and said the city didn’t want to set a precedent that would let a developer let a heritage property run down so it could eventually be torn down.

The new agreement spells out how the property should be listed, and conditions of a potential sale, as well as the price: $350,000. The city will work with Wrightland on a marketing plan, with the marketing costs to be borne by the developer.

Coun. Jonathan Galgay — the lone vote against the agreement — said he’s worried about the agreement setting a similar precedent to the one it was trying to prevent a year and a half ago.

Going forward, one thing we have said is that anyone who gets an allowance to develop or subdivide, assuming that they will restore the property, now has to restore the property before they begin any other development. Coun. Dave Lane

Lane said he didn’t think the agreement with Wrightland will inspire similar ones in the future.

“This is a very unique situation, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons from it,” he said. “What we said in the (original) council directive is the owner can build something that has heritage elements, and there was a design presented. Going forward, one thing we have said is that anyone who gets an allowance to develop or subdivide, assuming that they will restore the property, now has to restore the property before they begin any other development.”

The agreement is a legal resolution to a “vague direction of council,” added Lane.

“Because both side couldn’t win, we needed something in the middle that said, let’s clarify what the language is,” he said. “What we got out of it was a chance for definitive heritage restoration as opposed to a nice building that was similar to what was there before, as well as the ability to take control of promoting that as a viable purchase.”

Organizations: Wrightland Development

Geographic location: Topsail Road, Shaw Street

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Recent comments

  • What?
    March 18, 2016 - 12:50

    A gentleman's agreement? With a developer?? Big surprise how that worked out.

  • R. Dicks
    March 17, 2016 - 17:18

    This is a good opportunity for the organizations that routinely put new homes up on draws. They could restore and upgrade this home and insure they recoup the cost, plus get a profit by ensuring enough tickets are put out to ensure there would not be a risk of a loss.

  • R. Dicks
    March 17, 2016 - 16:56

    This is a good opportunity for the organizations that routinely put new homes up on draws. They could restore and upgrade this home and insure they recoup the cost, plus get a profit by ensuring enough tickets are put out to ensure there would not be a risk of a loss.

  • J. T. Hetzel
    J. T. Hetzel
    March 16, 2016 - 12:37

    Readers interested in Richmond Cottage and other preservation efforts in the province are encouraged to attend the NL Historic Trust's Annual General Meeting, tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 pm in the Foran Room at City Hall: https://www.facebook.com/events/171019269949608/

  • YYT
    March 16, 2016 - 12:01

    I hope you put your money where your mouth is and run for council during the next election. All you've done is sook and criticize for months now and you seem to have plenty of time on your hands.

    • Dave Mercer
      March 16, 2016 - 12:23

      Listen up YYT, if that's really your name, it is the duty of every citizen of St. John's to stand up and be counted when elected officials who were given the honor to serve the people are clearly doing a miserable job. I applaud Mr. Hallett for doing so.

  • Taxpayer
    March 16, 2016 - 11:25

    I agree with Council on this issue. If owners' property rights are going to be restricted for whatever reason then it just stands to reason that the properties will be worth less and eventually worthless.

  • Veremundus
    March 16, 2016 - 09:35

    This is yet another glaring example of the city council's incompetence in protecting our built heritage from developers without any sensitivities for our rich heritage.

  • Bob Hallett
    March 16, 2016 - 08:12

    So, to summarize, a developer was allowed to ignore and flout the terms of their agreement, and let the property deteriorate to the point where it is very difficult and expensive to save. The lot has already been chopped into bits and sold at great profit, making it much less attractive. The developer has been able to have their cake and eat it too. Now Dave Lane wrings his hands and tells us there is not much else we can do, but hopefully Council has learned something from this debacle. The only thing we have learned is that developers can do whatever they darn well please, because a toothless Council will eventually roll over and let them get away with it.

    • John Smith
      March 16, 2016 - 10:10

      I had the same thought....why is the initial agreement being ignored? They were allowed to stick up another sub-division, make their money off it, and now when it comes to giving back to the community, and living up to their obligations....they give us the finger...This is a weak, ineffectual council...all they know how to do is raise taxes and go to cruise ship conventions...

    • Thomas
      March 16, 2016 - 11:11

      I have to agree. I am familiar with that house and have been in it many times. It is a true example of the excellence and pride in craftsmanship of the day which is now lost. If council of the time were truly concerned not one permit to build the other units on that property would have been issued until the heritage property was restored first. It will be left, torn down and replaced with a plastic cookie cutter duplex town house similar to the other eyesores in the area.

  • Jack
    March 16, 2016 - 07:21

    I guess St. John's City Council doesn't care too much about protecting heritage properties as one after another is demolished, notably the house on 25 Winter Avenue last year. After St. John's City Council made a decision to demolish Richmond Cottage, I guess they didn't learn from their mistakes of last year. To prevent what happened on Winter Avenue and Richmond Cottage from happening again, St. John's City Council and the Newfoundland and Labrador Government should implement laws banning property owners from demolishing designated heritage properties as well as force them to properly maintain them. If Halifax can impose laws to protect heritage properties, why can't a city that prides itself in history like St. John's.

  • Pat
    March 16, 2016 - 07:05

    It's going to be torn down for new homes which fits the attitude of council and the Canadian Home Builders Association. A pity.

  • Mark D
    March 16, 2016 - 06:09

    Developers know how easy it is to play a weak council. This is not the only heritage building that a developer purchases and will let rot away until the City declares it needs to be demolished. Same thing happening at the S.O Steele building on Water Street. Developer wanted it torn down for condos, City said "no" due to heritage status, and now the place is a home for rats and is falling apart. You know the next step will be the City will condemn the property and the developer will get what he wanted. Shows hoe weak and limited in thinking our city council is.

    • RHE709
      March 16, 2016 - 11:00

      My understanding is that the S.O Steele building and Richmond Hill are the property of the same developer.

    • Jayne
      March 16, 2016 - 12:27

      RHE709.....if what you say is true, that developer has learned how to manipulate a weak Council. If Council had demanded the Richmond developer to fulfill the first agreement, we wouldn't be discussing this now. The City is overrun with Building Inspectors, why weren't they following up on this property to see that Agreement conditions were met?? This Council is USELESS, we are constantly being reminded. Meanwhile our Heritage buildings are being bulldozed by zealous $$$ seekers.