After attending last Monday’s workshop organized by the municipality concerning the proposed demolition of 190 Main Street, it seemed to me that I was missing the answer to two important questions in order to form an informed opinion on the subject, namely :
– At what price could the house be spared from demolition?
– Is this price justified?
The municipality could, it seems to me, provide this information to the public while respecting the framework it has established or been imposed upon it to make a decision. This would have the merit of clearing up the debate by bringing it back to facts rather than opinions and would also legitimize the decision that the municipality will make regarding the future of 190 Main Street.
At what price could the house be spared from demolition?
The fact that the house is in very poor condition is not disputed by anyone. Since it is rented, one can assume that it is not an immediate danger to its occupants. That is all that is known at this time. Can the house be rehabilitated? Assuming that any building can be renovated if you put the resources into it, the answer would be “yes”. But at what cost? That is the question.
So it would seem to me that the first step in deciding whether or not the house should be demolished would be to have a credible assessment of the costs of renovation done by an independent firm. This would put an end to speculation on both sides and base the decision not on perceptions, but on facts. Given the passions that this issue arouses, I believe the municipality needs to take this step.
Is the price justified?
Once the costs of the renovation are assessed, it is important to decide whether they are justified. I would like to say at the outset that the reasoning that the house could be demolished if the renovation costs exceed the municipal assessment does not apply here, as this is a heritage house. In fact, the municipal assessment does not take into account this aspect, although it is central to the case. I was surprised to learn at last Monday’s workshop that the demolition committee did not involve the heritage committee before making its decision. It seems to me that this should be rectified as soon as possible.
All agree that the house is beautiful. But then, what? Does the house have special features that make it a unique testimony to our past? Maybe, maybe not, we don’t know. Before deciding to demolish it, I think it is important to answer this question.
If it is determined that the house has some heritage value and that it would be desirable to repair it, then the question of the value of the house remains. It seems to me that one way to proceed might be to compare the cost of renovating the house to what it would cost to rebuild a similar house with the same materials. Is the house so run down that it would be more expensive to renovate it than to rebuild a similar one? If so, it could be reluctantly demolished. If not, every effort should be made to preserve it.
Before concluding, I would like to say that I was touched by the testimony of the owner of the house at the workshop organized by City Council on the 190 Main Street demolition project. She said that she was very emotional about the way things were going, as she was thrust into the middle of a debate in which she felt she was being cast as the villain. I understand that it must be difficult to accept that everyone should have a say in how she wishes to use a private property in poor condition that she undoubtedly bought at a high price.
That being said, the age and beauty of 190 Main Street makes the house more than just a private property, and the question of whether to demolish it or not is very delicate: the owner’s desire to enjoy her property as she sees fit clashes with the public interest in preserving the past. This is why I think it is important here to step back and remember that this issue goes far beyond the individuals involved, because the decision to demolish the house or not will have effects that will outlive almost everyone involved in this discussion. When we are no longer here, the house that results from the decision will remain.
That is why, in my opinion, the decision to grant a demolition permit for the house should be made only after it has been determined that the costs of renovation are prohibitive in light of the heritage and real value of the house.
– Marie-Christine Richard