By Jessica Lovell
A local heritage advocate wants the whole city and not just one neighbourhood to have a chance to weigh in on the fate of the Wilson farmhouse before the city decides to demolish it.
“What is stunning to me is the lack of public consultation around this,” said Susan Watson, a resident who was active in both the campaigns to save the Mitchell farmhouse and to preserve the Loretto Convent.
Watson expressed her concerns about the Wilson farmhouse, also known as the Ingram farmhouse, upon learning that city staff have recommended demolition of the house to make the land part of a north end neighbourhood park.
“The city staff seems to be taking the word of a very vocal group of neighbourhood activists” in determining that the community’s preferred resolution to the issue of the farmhouse is demolition, said Watson.
“They are completely open about the fact that they have done no community consultation,” she said.
The roughly 150-year-old house, located on Simmonds Drive, came into the city’s hands as part of the development of a subdivision off Victoria Road.
It was to have been incorporated into the design of the development’s main public square, which includes a neighbourhood park.
The city hoped to find a community use for the house, but when one couldn’t be identified it began the process to sever and sell the lot – but not before preparing to have the house designated as a heritage property.
A group of neighbourhood residents calling themselves the Northern Heights Liaison Group appealed. Though the provincial Conservation Review Board ruled in favour of the heritage designation, the house remains undesignated as the city still hasn’t decided what it will do with it.
That decision is one that Watson feels deserves community consultation.
But as a report to be discussed at Tuesday’s community and social services committee meeting points out, “there has been no broad community consultation regarding the future options of the farmhouse.”
Mike Lackowicz, who’s with the Northern Heights group, was also concerned about the lack of consultation. “We were promised a survey in 2011,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t come out.”
When the city didn’t do a survey, Lackowicz distributed one to the neighbourhood. He claims 98 per cent of the surveys were against the severance and sale of the house, but he couldn’t be sure that those surveys ever made it to the city.
“I’m not even sure where they are,” he said.
Watson is concerned the survey was not part of a neutral process and that people believed their feedback was going to the city when it’s possible it never made it there.
“The city should have done that work,” she said.
The insistence by the neighbourhood group that the house was promised to the community as part of the park is not accurate, she said. The city had been looking at the possibility of preserving the house as a heritage asset from the beginning.
The house does not belong only to the neighbourhood, but to the whole city, she said. “I personally regard heritage buildings as city assets,” she said.
Given that the property could fetch from $200,000 to $215,000 for the city if it was sold, and that the cost to demolish it could be as much as $50,000, Watson puts the cost to taxpayers at $265,000. “I can’t buy flushing $265,000 for a third of an acre,” she said.
But more than that, she wants to see the whole city given the chance to come up with a solution.
“Demolition and severance and sale are both really final options,” she said. “I’d like to see city-wide creativity tapped for what a solution might be before we decide we’re at a dead end.”
By Jessica Lovell