Demolition permit supported for Queens Avenue building
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
It might one day be part of a $50 million development, or it could be a parking lot, but a downtown building with heritage implications appears to be soon facing the wrecking ball.
During the Planning and Environment Committee meeting on Monday (Oct. 15), members voted to support the recommendations of its own heritage advisory committee, as well as city staff, in going ahead with the demolition of the building at 199 Queens Ave. It did not, however, feel the need to request demolition wait until solid development plan for the property was in place.
The support for demolition came after staff met with developer Shmuel Farhi who had agreed last month to work with the city in an attempt to find a way to incorporate the existing building into his development plans. In a meeting last month, Farhi presented plans that called for removal of the building to make way for a proposed $50 million residential development.
John Fleming, city planner, said that after presenting staff with an option Farhi found “prohibitively expensive,” the developer said he would rather move forward with demolition.
“The proposal he is showing isn’t, at this time, a viable proposal. This is not a firm proposal at all; it is something quite opposite to that,” Fleming said. “But he has shown, with the assistance of his architect, there is a possibility to include the building. I believe we have reviewed this opportunity, but next steps, I believe it would be worth going back to our original recommendation.”
As the London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH) and staff support the demolition, it was decided that would be the recommendation to make. However, Fleming said both LACH and staff would prefer to see a viable development plan be presented prior to demolition.
During discussions, the committee agreed that with no intention of designating the building under the Ontario Heritage Act (although it sits in a proposed downtown heritage district), removal of the building was the most viable solution.
Mayor Joe Fontana did not, however, want the committee to stand in the way of a more immediate demolition.
“That is conundrum so to speak. I don’t want us to be left in the position where we say yes you can demolish, but you can’t until such time as you have a plan,” Fontana said. “If that plan is one or two years, then we are asking it to be safeguarded. I think that could lead to something unsightly, especially in one of the most important corners of our city.”
Fleming said the Farhi proposal would include development on land currently owned by the city and so he wanted to remind the committee to separate the two. One issue is the demolition while the other is what Fleming called an “unsolicited proposal” to purchase city-owned land.
“It is important to convey there are two very different processes that need to be separated,” Fleming said. “It is a process that opens up the opportunity for a variety of different people to make proposals around this city-owned piece of land. So it is important to separate this.”
The report prepared for committee does reiterate Farhi’s offer to provide $25,000 to assist in the cost of removal of the structure to another location or to help facilitate preservation of heritage elements from both inside and outside of the building.
Planning committee chair and Ward 1 Councillor Bud Polhill supported demolition, but said it must be noted Farhi must return to make a request around using the property as surface parking.
Ward 13 Councillor Judy Bryant voted against the demolition, stating her belief that even if the building was boarded up for a time there would still be “potential” for its eventual re-use. However, a parking lot, Bryant said, “is not fine for me. It is a flat no.”
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