Downtown heritage building given 60-day demolition reprieve
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Developer Shmuel Farhi will sit down with city staff over the next couple months and work out a plan that could save both a downtown heritage building and a proposed $50 million project.
During the Planning and Environment Committee meeting on Monday (Sept. 24) the members were discussing a proposal by Farhi who was looking to demolish a building at 199 Queens Ave. The building is a Priority 2 heritage property that is located between Clarence and Richmond streets, near the London Club.
Farhi, along with architect Tom Tillmann, explained the need to demolish the heritage building to make way for a development that would include a residential tower, commercial units and approximately 490 parking spaces — including 270 public above-ground spots.
The project would open up residential units in the downtown, but Farhi said the additional parking would also help fill space in the approximately 40 heritage buildings he owns. And many of those buildings happen to be located downtown and within blocks of the property at 199 Queens Ave.
“Within the block we are talking about we have seven heritage buildings. Those seven buildings have 180,000 sq. ft. of vacancy. It is no good for me, it is not good for the city, it is no good for anybody,” said Farhi, who said he recently had someone interested in moving into one of those spaces, but the talks were stalled because the necessary parking wasn’t available.
That is one reason, Farhi said, he is looking to include a significant amount of parking in his proposed project — to help the city, and himself.
“If we want to preserve heritage, we have to put life into heritage,” Farhi said. “Sometimes we have to sacrifice a building to save other heritage buildings. Nobody in this city, all the developers together, didn’t put five per cent of the effort, the vision and the money that I have in the past 25 years into heritage buildings.”
As the discussions were part of a public participation meeting, there were three members of the public who spoke out against demolition of the property. One of the speakers, a resident of the Woodfield Heritage Conservation District, said the group is against the demolition of any sound building. The other two speakers were also against the demolition request as the building is located within the proposed downtown heritage district.
All three speakers question the need to demolish a house, which was owned by Thomas Hiscox, himself a developer back in the late 1880s, and that could be preserved as “not just another old house.”
That opened up the discussion to how the building might be preserved — or at least part of it could be.
Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White asked if there was some way to not only preserve some of the heritage aspects of the building, but also install a plaque recognizing the historic significance of the family. Farhi said he would certainly look at these ideas.
That seemed to open up other councillors to the idea of saving at least some portion of the building.
Ward 13 Councillor Judy Bryant said she realized the interior of the existing building “is compromised” and so she was hoping the front façade and perhaps roof and chimney line could be saved. Bryant, who said she was “very sad” the committee should be looking at demolishing another piece of history, said despite London being a young city, its history needs preservation.
“Of no imagination could I tell you there is a beautiful streetscape here. But there are fragments of a stunning streetscape that were here before,” Bryant said. “We lost many historic elements . . . because we didn’t have the vision to say we could have our cake and eat it too.”
That thought motivated Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan who also asked Farhi if he would take 60 days to work with staff to find a way to include some portion of the heritage building in his proposed project. That point, Swan said, takes in mind the precedent that would be sent by tearing down another heritage building.
In asking Farhi to work with the city on finding a better plan for the Queens redevelopment, Swan said he saw it as an opportunity. “When we give up one property, where does it stop?”
Farhi said whether it was using the façade or some other elements, or even moving the existing building to another side, he would “give every opportunity” to save the building — or at the very least try and find a solution.
Swan said he was looking to staff, Farhi and Tillmann, to take a look and see if a solution is possible.
“I am prepared to accept the answer no, but I am not prepared that we didn’t try,” Swan said. “We should give it a go, give it our best effort, try every avenue to combine these elements. If it isn’t possible, then we tried.”
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