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Still standing tall at the corner of Main St. East and Nelles Road North, the James Willison Grout Nelles House is slowly crumbling down. Now just a faint memory of what once was, you can still get a glimpse of its former glory in Queen Anne’s style architecture. The cherry orchard behind is now long gone and replaced with a townhouse division… and this is where it all starts.
Owners opposed inclusion in the Municipal Heritage Register and forced the Town’s hand with a demolition permit that they obtained a few months earlier.
Prior to selling to a developer, the owners applied for severance of the property for development of townhouses on the north side, and commercial offices on Main Street. The Town made an agreement with the developer that, in return for approval of the property severance, he would withdraw the demolition permit, and restore the house and keep the largest tree.
The Town approved the severance application, but the agreement could never be enforced because the selling transaction of the house had not been completed at the time.
The Planning Department allowed the development of the townhouses on the north side, and the Town renewed the demolition permit on the heritage house two days later. To void the new demolition permit, the Heritage Advisory Committee recommended designation under the OHA protection.
The developer, who, according to the designation report, had discussed development options with the Planning Department Staff for over a year, showed his building plans to the Council in May 2012. The Town minutes state that the Planning Department Staff had not seen these plans (dated September 2011), which included a four storey addition residential and commercial to the historical house.
The developer applied for a zoning amendment to “reinstate the residential uses” of the property that were inadvertently excluded through the adoption of the new official by-law. The Town approved “accessory residential use in other than the ground floor” and said that the developer would need to apply for an amendment of the Official Plan in order to do the actual development of the site for a condominium.
This whole process would be done at the cost of the developer, and not the Town. Unless…
After a discussion with the developer regarding the property redevelopment at 133 Main St East, the Director of Planning came with a proposal to conduct a study for redevelopment of Main St. East from Nelles Rd and up to the hospital. This study would cost the Town $50,000 and would result into a Secondary Plan that, among others, would “achieve density and intensification targets as identified in the Town’s Official Plan”.
The proposal was defeated at The Planning and Development committee, but somehow it found its way to the next Council meeting where it was voted by a majority of members.
New information from a Heritage Advisory Committee report in September reveals that the Town went after the developer with a property standards order in March last year. While the legal process was underway, the property was sold to another development company who was also served by the Town with an order at the end of last year. Still, the new owner did nothing comply, and so the Town hired a consultant company to assess the damage and eventually conduct the repairs.
Finally, in September, the new owner started discussions with the Town about restoring the house themselves and, at this point, the Town announced that an agreement had been reached in terms of schedule and required repairs.
Meanwhile, the so-called “Hospital Corridor Study” is underway, with the next public meeting delayed for sometime in October.
If the Secondary Plan is approved and with no need for an Official Plan Amendment Application, we may see a first condo building rising at that corner.
On January 29, 2008 the house was proposed by the Planning and Development Committee for inclusion into the Municipal Heritage Register, which constitutes the first step for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Owners opposed the inclusion arguing that the condition of the house had declined and was not appropriate to keep as a heritage home. Somehow, a demolition permit had been issued on the house in 2007 and the owners used that to leverage their position and force the Town’s hand.1
At the next Council meeting, the Town decided not to include this property in the Municipal Heritage Registry and referred it back to the Heritage Advisory Committee for consideration.2
In 2011 the property located at 133 Main St. East was sold to a developer. Prior to selling, the owners filed severance applications to split the north side with the former cherry orchard for development of a townhouse division. On Main St., the Nelles house and the land on the east side were proposed for commercial development.3
The developer appeared before the Committee of Adjustment to support the application, and stated that they wish to redevelop the property with an addition for future offices while maintaining the existing Nelles house. They would work with an architect to have the addition blend into the historical character of the site.
The applications for severance were granted with conditions on July 26, 2011.
A plan was proposed that the Town enters into an agreement with the developer for heritage conservation of the Nelles House and the largest tree, in exchange for the approval of the property severance.4
Under this agreement, the developer would withdraw the demolition permit and would restore the heritage house to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning. However, it was noted that this agreement would not prohibit, but rather facilitate guidance of further expansion and restoration.
The plan also said that the conditions of this agreement may be removed if the house and the tree were designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and the restoration of the house and certified health assessment of the old tree are accepted by the Director of Planning. Attached to this report was a by-law draft to authorize the execution of the agreement that was going to be forwarded to Council for signing.
The property entered the Municipal Heritage Registry on August 15, but since the sale to the developer wasn’t completed at that time, the heritage conservation agreement had not been registered and therefore the conditions attached to it could not be enforced.
Despite the void agreement, on April 10, 2012, the Planning Department approved a zoning amendment to allow development of townhouses on the north side.
The demolition permit on the Nelles House has been renewed two days later, and now, it could only be voided by designating the house under the OHA protection.
A notice of intention to designate the property under OHA was presented at the Council Meeting on May 22. The report attached to it stated that the developer had “been in discussion with Town Planning Department Staff for over a year with respect to development concepts all of which incorporate the heritage house”.
The developer, who was present at the meeting, showed his plans for redevelopment of the property, which, according to the meeting minutes, had “not been reviewed by Planning staff or the Planning Committee”. His redevelopment plan included a four storey addition residential and commercial to the historical home. If you look closely, the redevelopment plans show a September 2011 date at the bottom5 - 8 months before the meeting.
On July 16, 2012 the James Willison Grout Nelles House was finally designated under Part IV of the OHA.
Meanwhile, the townhouse complex was built, but the heritage property kept decaying…
In September 2014, an open house had been held for a zoning amendment application to “reinstate the residential uses” of the property that were inadvertently excluded through the adoption of the new official by-law. The new zoning amendment approved for the site was “accessory residential use in other than the ground floor”.6
The resulting report mentions that the actual “development of the property will have to be preceded by applications for site plan and possibly condominium”. As the current zoning by-law does not permit such development, the Official Plan would have to be amended in order for this application to go through. This whole process would be done at the cost of the developer, and not the Town. Unless…
Fast forward to 2016, the developer requested a “pre-consultation” with the town with the intent to build a mixed-use development with commercial uses at the ground level and multi-residential above, while retaining the heritage house.
This seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the Planning Department to start pushing for redevelopment and intensification of the whole area.
At the Planning and Development Committee on October 25, 2016, the Director of Planning presented a proposal for conducting a study to review how residential development would fit on Main St. East in the area around the WLMH.7
Among others, this study will also:
- Consider the merits of inclusion of residential uses in the Neighbourhood Commercial Area;
- Achieve density and intensification targets as identified in the Town’s Official Plan and the Province’s Places to Grow Plan;
- Consider the application of a higher density/node concept and the appropriate balance of commercial, residential and employment development, while maintaining compatibility with the surrounding low-density residential neighbourhoods, and the traditional Main Street rural estate landscape to the east and west of the plan area;
The proposal was declined over concerns of costs, lack of development lands and most members of the Committee felt the Official Plan was sufficient to cover development in the area. However, the Planning Department pushed forward and brought up the proposal at the next Council Meeting.
According to an article published in Grimsby Lincoln News, the Director of Planning said that the application for development of the property on Main St. East is ‘something that could go to a litigative path,’ adding that the cost of a lawsuit would be ‘in the range of probably what the cost of the study is’. The budget from the Town proposed for this study was $50,000 and the Planning Department pushed with the Region to double the amount.
The proposal was passed, although it was not voted unanimously by the members of Council.8
Almost two years later, on March 19, 2018, the Council authorized an agreement with SGL Planning & Design to draft a Secondary Plan for the whole strip of Main St. East from Nelles Rd. to the hospital. This company had previously developed the Winston Neighbourhood Secondary Plan Study and Grimsby’s West End WaterfrontTrail and Community Master Plan.9
Finally, in May, the Council decided to do something about the broken promises of the developer at 133 Main St. East, and started a consultant selection for potential litigation and to enforce property standards.10 One month later, a by-law was passed to authorize a company to assess the required repairs at the Nelles House for $6,400 + HST. And that’s also your tax money.11
It seems that the issue at 133 Main St. East is getting to a litigative path anyway… but if you wonder why the decision to go after the developer was made now, and not before the Secondary Plan “idea”, you are not alone. Would this also fix the likely damage of the Main St. East if this Secondary Plan gets approved in February?
A new report presented at the Heritage Advisory Committee meeting in September revealed new details about the situation of the heritage house and proposed development.12
In March in 2017, the Town served a property standards order on the developer. While the legal process was underway, the developer sold the property to another development company (Movengo Corporation). The new owner was also served with an order in December 2017, but although they didn't appeal the order, they also did nothing to comply.
After hiring a consultant a couple of months ago in order assess the damages on the house (ERA Architects), the Town wanted to have the same company undertake the required repairs and charge the new owner for the costs through taxes. Finally, in August, the new owner contacted the Town that they hired their own company to coordinate the repair work, and that they will cover the costs of the assessment.
Some key information that surfaces from this report is that the house is expected to remain vacant for 2-3 years. Just like the former developer, the new owner indicated that they want to incorporate the heritage house into new development which would include commercial and residential uses.
In the midst of the municipal elections, on September 12, the Town announced that "an agreement" had been reached in terms of schedule and required repairs for the house.13
However, this agreement has not been approved yet by the Council. The Town chose to do this after the elections.
If the Secondary Plan is approved, and with no need for an Official Plan Amendment Application from the developer, we will likely see the first condo building rising at that corner, right next to the heritage house.
image credit: © Copyright JW Vraets - used with permission
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