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“Demolition by neglect:” City rescinds heritage protection on historic home

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George Mathewson

The future of a “classic” Ontario farmhouse built in the 1860s of logs and local brick is in limbo after city council quashed its heritage designation last week.

The owner, George Ayers, applied thirty years ago to have the home at 166 Brock St. designated under the Ontario Heritage Act to protect its historic and architectural value.

But Ayers asked council to repeal the designation on Sept. 14 so he can sell the home to neighbouring Vision Nursing and Rest Home, which only wants the property if it’s unencumbered.

The house hasn’t been lived in for 10 years and needs $40,000 to $50,000 in repairs, said Ayers, who collects a disability pension.

“I can’t do it. It’s just not possible anymore,” he said.

Council voted six-to-one to rescind the heritage designation, with Coun. Anne Marie Gillis the lone dissenter.

The farmhouse dates to about 1867 and was built on farmland near what was then the village boundary with the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

With a hewn-log frame and double-brick walls made from local clay, it’s a fine example of Confederation-era architecture, according to a report from Sarnia’s planning and building director.

Jane Cooper had advised council to reject Ayer’s request, warning that de-designating a building because its owner had neglected it would set an “undesirable precedent.”

The decision was a bitter pill for Sarnia’s Heritage Committee.

“It was designated, at Mr. Ayers’ request, for historical and architectural reasons. It is a classic, yellow-brick farm home that predates Confederation,” said chairperson Wayne Wager.

“This is an example of demolition by neglect, one of the only examples we’ve seen in this city of demolition by neglect.”

Wager said a committee member wanted to buy the house to save it, only to discover Sarnia’s new Code of Conduct, which came into effect July 1, placed her in a conflict of interest.

“This decision undermines the support the council has given the committee – and the whole community – to respect our built heritage and our history,” Wager said.

Ironically, the same day council rescinded the home’s protection it approved a new property standards bylaw that specifically requires the owners of heritage properties to make ongoing repairs to prevent their deterioration.

Vision will now buy Ayers’ home for future use, said CEO Heather Martin.

“We don’t have any immediate plans, but sometime in the future it could become parking or something.”

The non-profit nursing home has expanded several times, including a three-storey addition in 2001 and a two-storey wing in 2012, and is currently finishing up more renovations for its 180 residents.

Martin said the adjacent properties on Brock, including 166, are already zoned for a high-density use.

She said she understands why some might be upset, but noted the building is in poor condition.

“(Mr. Ayers) was anxious to get rid of it at this time of his life and the best way to do it was to get rid of the heritage designation. The house is not livable,” she said.

Wager said council’s decision could be appealed although no one has stepped forward.
















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