The City of Peterborough’s heritage committee has voted to recommend to city council that the former Montreal House building be designated as a heritage property, following an application from property developer Ashburnham Realty to demolish the building 284-282 Aylmer Street North, which is currently listed on the heritage registrar but does not have a heritage designation.
The vote followed a presentation to the Peterborough Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (PACAC) by Lett Architects Inc. design principal Michael Gallant and Ashburnham Realty owner Paul Bennett at a special virtual meeting of the committee late Thursday afternoon (June 23).
Bennett submitted the demolition request on May 26, with city council having 60 days after that date to decide whether to accept PACAC’s recommendation and signal its intention to designate the building as a heritage property, prohibiting demolition, or to delist the property from the heritage registrar and allow demolition to proceed.
During the meeting, Gallant explained to committee members why the former Montreal House building could no longer be incorporated — as was originally planned — into the design for the commercial and residential development at the corner of King and Aylmer, which is part of the City of Peterborough’s Louis Street urban park development.
“It became clear that the south end of the urban park is not a viable development site, mainly because of flood plain concerns,” Gallant said, referring to the former Shish Kabob Hut site that was part of the original location for the development. “In a significant flood event, there would need to be floodwater flow across the urban park site, which would need to flow directly through to King Street, otherwise there would be further upflow impacts to the downtown.”
This means the location of the development has been shifted further west towards Aylmer Street, encroaching on the footprint of the former Montreal House.
An additional complication, according to Gallant, came with confirmation the finished floor elevation for the development needed to be higher than the surrounding grades — in some cases by a full metre — for public safety in case of a flood event. Because existing grades cannot be modified on the east or south sides of the development, any elevation changes to meet accessibility requirements under the Ontario building code (including accessibility ramps) need to be made at the north or west side of the development.
This means the development has been set back further west from Aylmer Street, further encroaching on the footprint of the former Montreal House.
“There was full intent to maintain the (Montreal House) building, but working through the information that was provided through (the city’s) engineering (department) on the requirements for pulling the building on both ends and raising the finished floor level, it resulted in a building that was no longer able to work with the existing fabric of the Montreal House,” Gallant said.
“So, as a result of that, Ashburnham Realty have submitted an intent to demolish — which is why we’re here speaking to you tonight — which will allow this project to still move forward with the full programming complement that was submitted and is a strong candidate for funding support (from the federal government for affordable housing),” Gallant added.
To ensure the development still contains 75 below-market-rate units (40 one-bedroom, 29 two-bedroom, and six three-bedroom units), the new building will have eight storeys instead of the six envisioned in the previous design. Of the 75 units, 23 will be fully accessible.
The ground floor will contain commercial tenant spaces, as well as public washrooms and viewing areas of the urban park. The building will be a 50 per cent improvement beyond the National Energy Code of Canada, including solar panels on the roof to generate its own energy.
After the presentation, committee member Dennis Carter-Edwards questioned why the flood plain impacts were not identified earlier on during the urban park project planning process.
“There’s been some new information based on (the Otonabee River Conservation Authority’s) new flood plain, over the last three to six months, that has really changed our design to where we are now, and why we are here,” said Ashburnham Realty owner Paul Bennett, a statement that was confirmed during the meeting by Michael Papadacos, the city’s interim commission of infrastructure and planning services.
While committee member Deborah Keay recognized the value of the urban park development, including in addressing the housing crisis, and the work of Ashburnham Realty and Lett Architects, she remained concerned about losing the heritage value of Montreal House.
“I’m really struggling with this because of all the benefits but, for me, looking at our role as a committee, and looking at heritage in the community, and looking at the recommendation from staff (to designate the Montreal House as a heritage property), I can’t deny what I think is the value of the Montreal House for lots of reasons,” Keay said. “To me there’s a lot of value there, and I’m not signing on just yet to throw it away.”
Bennett agreed with Keay and said he would have preferred not to demolish the building, but the changing requirements have left him no option. He said the heritage value would be recognized by naming the new building “Montreal House” and maintaining a restaurant space.
“We wouldn’t have even gone down this road if this is where we thought we’d had to go,” Bennett said. “For a sports analogy, this is our Hail Mary for this. We would like to make it work for a couple of different reasons. The reason I got involved with this is because I wanted to add some real vibrancy to the head of the park. I didn’t think it was possible to do what a builder would need to do with the Shish Kabob Hut site, just because it was too small, so the idea of going to the site beside and purchasing that building, it allowed to put a patio in, put other uses in.”
“The original (expression of interest) — hopefully we’d still be able to do it — had the (Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area) going in there, (Electric City Culture Council) going in there — a lot of those different organizations that could add vibrancy and community to the park.”
After some discussion among committee members around the consequences of accepting the recommendation from city heritage staff that the Montreal House property receive a heritage designation, the city’s heritage resources coordinator Erik Hanson explained the process and said city council will make the final decision on heritage designation.
“What we are suggesting is that the committee gives its opinion about the heritage (value of the Montreal House),” Hanson said. “That’s its mandate and that’s the extent of its mandate. Beyond that, when it sends an opinion to council, council takes into account a much broader range of inputs around what’s good for the community. It will take into account as one of those, the value of the heritage. It doesn’t have to accept this committee’s recommendation, it only has to receive it under law.”
“The heritage staff’s opinion is that the (Montreal House) building meets the criteria under the Heritage Act for designation. We feel that’s a fact. Whether that is an overriding concern for council, when it considers whether a new building should replace it for the purpose of creating affordable housing, isn’t up to this committee to decide. It needn’t concern itself with that. It only concerns itself with whether the building is worthy of consideration or not.”
Committee members then voted on the motion to accept the heritage staff recommendation, which carried with only Simon Terry voting against it. Council representative Kemi Akapo had earlier abstained from the vote because of a pecuniary interest.