McCREA PLANS DOWNTOWN HIGHRISE AT HISTORIC PROPERTIES (Nov26/2007 Allnovascotia.com)
McCREA PLANS DOWNTOWN HIGHRISE AT HISTORIC PROPERTIES
By Andrew Macdonald
Prominent developer Ben McCrea is looking at building a second Founders’ Square office complex at Historic Properties.
The proposal is mentioned in one paragraph of a five-page report from HRM’s director of community development, written last summer, which recommends against allowing for the demolition of one property on the planned redevelopment.
Paul Dunphy wrote: “Armour Group has stated that it is considering a Founders’ Square type of redevelopment of the adjacent buildings, which have been vacated by NSCAD – and this would require demolition of 1870 Upper Water Street (which Armour owns) because it is an obsolete, wood-framed building that cannot be viably incorporated into the redevelopment.” He said no formal application for a development agreement has been made.
Armour is the major landowner of most of what is considered Historic Properties.
The plans will be controversial. In the early 1970s dozens of historic properties along the waterfront were saved, after a public brouhaha over plans to build a super-highway to the South End container terminal.
McCrea’s ambitious plans would provide new downtown office highrises, which many observers have said are necessary to deal with an influx of financial firms from Bermuda.
Last summer, Armour requested the Heritage Advisory Committee not hold a public meeting over its demolition application, because it would pursue the matter in the courts.
In his report on the proposal Dunphy said that Armour’s rationale that the building at 1870 Upper Water Street does not fit with its redevelopment plans should not be sufficient to justify it being torn down, given it’s in “an important historic area like Historic Properties.”
“This building is an important part of the historical evolution of the Historic Properties waterfront area and is an asset that contributes to the historic character of the area.”
Now, Armour is asking the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to force HRM to lift the heritage designation and order HRM to provide a demolition permit.
If the as yet unscheduled Chambers hearing grants the request, it would mean a public meeting to delist would not be called.
Armour alleges that 1870 Upper Water Street, which it has owned since 1972 via a former interest with FS Industries, had been incorrectly designated a heritage property in 1981 by the old City of Halifax.
The two and a half storey building is known as the P Martin Liquors Building, and is currently home to Sweet Basil, a restaurant owned by Unni Simonsen, part of the Scanway Group.
McCrea was hunting yesterday and not available for comment.
At one point, HRM suggested the developer ask for the deregistration via a public meeting, or wait one year for a demolition application to be heard.
The issue dates to 2006, when McCrea, founder of Armour Group, wrote HRM with what he thought was a mistake in registering the 1870 Upper Water Street property.
“Our company owns a number of registered heritage properties which we treasure and maintain. We do not consider that this property falls into that category,” wrote McCrea in a July 11, 2006 letter to HRM’s municipal clerk.
“Our analysis of the building construction determined that the building, except for the basement, was of recent construction.
“We have indications that the building on the property was significantly changed some time in the early 1900s, and this confirms our opinion that it is more recent construction.”
In an affidavit, McCrea said that he was informed by Maggie Holm, an HRM planner, in the spring of 2006, that the registration of the building was in error.
But last February, Bill Paskett, another HRM planner said the 1981 registration would stand.
“Between 1981 and 1985, all of the buildings in the recommended Historic Properties conservation area were registered as heritage properties, either on their own architectural or historic merit or because they were part of a recommended heritage streetscape or conservation area” wrote Plaskett. He said a representative of the owner, lawyer Hugh Smith, who represented then-owner of the property FS Industries, assented to the heritage designation.
An HRM document from last summer says that FS Industries was aware of the heritage designation, and that it sought council’s permission with renovations it carried out on the property in 2001, including installing new windows.
Armour purchased some of the FS holdings in 2002, while NSCAD University acquired other surrounding properties.
In court documents, Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia president Phil Pacey wrote to McCrea pledging to work with the developer in maintaining the building.
George MacDonald of McInnes Cooper, is representing Armour.