Richmond Cottage’s demolition day: May 1, 2017

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

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on March 15, 2016
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.

The clock is ticking on Richmond Hill College.

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.

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.”