Residents outraged when province demolishes Sandbanks Park heritage homes against township wishes

The mayor of Prince Edward County wrote letters. Defenders of the estate hired an attorney. But it wasn’t enough to stop the demolition Thursday of two historic homes that have been abandoned for decades in Sandbanks Provincial Park.

The demolition that took residents by surprise draws comparisons to the Ontario government’s attempt to demolish the Dominion Foundry buildings in Toronto earlier this year and its plan to expropriate the site of the First Parliament where the first parliament buildings were erected. of Upper Canada.

Peter Lockyer, part of the Prince Edward County group that tried to persuade Ontario Parks to save and repurpose the homes, was quick to photograph the destruction when he heard that the demolition team had moved into the park.

“They started with the MacDonald Building, destroying it enough that it cannot be repaired. Then they moved into the Hyatt house and now it’s level, ”he wrote in an email to the Star.

The houses dating from the 1860s and 1870s were originally farmhouses that the owners converted into hotel businesses, pioneers in the tourism industry in that part of Lake Ontario, about two and a half hours east of Toronto.

“The local people are very attached to these buildings. Some of his early jobs were serving those restaurants, ”said Liz Driver, spokesperson for Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes.

“From the outside they look a bit shabby, but they are actually brick buildings on limestone foundations. They are perfectly restorable. We are perplexed that the province cannot see the potential for adaptive reuse, ”he said Wednesday, before learning of Thursday’s demolition.

The Ontario government says houses pose a health and safety risk. They had no significant heritage value with the exception of a pig shed to be preserved, Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister David Piccini wrote to Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson.

Piccini’s letter says that only five comments were posted on a website the province created to solicit public input.

“No private entity has taken a step forward with financing and a comprehensive plan and / or business case. Even if private funding were secured for the renovation of both houses, Ontario Parks would still incur annual costs. Given the findings of the studies, it would be inappropriate to use taxpayers’ money for this purpose, ”wrote the minister.

Graphics from government consultants Letourneau Heritage said that while MacDonald’s agricultural structures are important in defining the character of the area, “they are not benchmarks.”

On Thursday, the minister’s spokesman, Andrew Kennedy, said the demolition of both houses was completed as scheduled.

County residents say government consultants downplayed the homes’ equity and Ontario Parks made no effort to speak directly to them.

“I would have to be a cyber detective to have found your website,” Lockyer said.

Toronto heritage architect Philip Evans approached the ministry last year with a proposal to solicit private developers, who would renovate the properties and operate them in the park for a 50-year lease period. He said the site would have worked well as a satellite for Prince Edward County boutique hotels or Sandbanks deals, as well as yurts or other “glamping” experiences. He calculated that it would cost between $ 400,000 and $ 500,000 to renovate each of the houses.

“A 50-year lease gives the investor time to recoup their investment and make something of the effort. The models are there. We see them every day, ”Evans said.

He called the Sandbanks properties “a missed opportunity that could have been a win for everyone.”

Ferguson said he was disappointed to learn of the demolition. “The county council has joined calls to encourage the ministry to seek innovative options for preservation as an alternative to demolition,” the mayor said.

The Toronto attorney representing Save Heritage Sandbanks Homes said the government knew last Friday that a court request was being filed to stop the demolition.

In an earlier court request that was later withdrawn, the government had told an Ontario Divisional Court that no demolition would take place until Sept. 15, and yet the demolition occurred on Sept. 9, said Eric Gillespie. .

But Piccini’s spokesman said the Sept. 15 court hearing date no longer applies because the initial court request was withdrawn.

“Once the case was dropped, the date was overturned by the courts and has nothing to do with today’s demolition date,” Kennedy said.

Gillespie said it is not yet clear what the residents’ next steps will be. Whatever happens, he said, “there still seems to be a real need to address the underlying problem, which is the government’s failure to comply with its own legislation, not just in Prince Edward County, but elsewhere.

“They were questioned about the Foundry buildings here in Toronto. That was also an example of the government not following its own rules in these types of situations, ”he said.

“What the legislation says is that we do not choose and we choose once a property has patrimonial value, we try to preserve it. Once a property is a heritage property, it intrinsically has great value and the government recognized this many years ago by saying that demolition is the last resort for any heritage property, ”said Gillespie.

Driver said Prince Edward County “is overwhelmed with development applications because many people can see the potential of turning old barns and old churches into great places for people to experience. If the private sector can do these wonderful things with old buildings, let’s help the public sector. “

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