Albion balcony's heritage designation to be removed.
DOWNWARD BOUND. The main street balcony on the historical Albion Hotel has been deemed unsafe and council is moving toward removing it from the heritage designation bylaw so it can be torn down. (Photo by Neil Etienne)
GRAVENHURST - Town council is moving ahead with the process to remove the heritage designation on the Albion Hotel’s balconies.
Deemed unsafe and an unattractive selling feature for handlers of the Albion estate, the main street side balcony will likely come down just after the next month as council needs to advertise its intention to alter the heritage designation bylaw for the building for 30 days prior.
As for the future of the balconies, the town’s heritage committee is still hopeful that they will be replaced at some point with a truer historical representation of the 100-year-old-plus building’s former facings.
“Our ultimate goal would be to have that restored (the main street balcony),” said Coun. Joe Donoghue, also a representative on the municipal heritage committee. “But from a safety standpoint, we recognize it looks like we need to get it down, more so because it’s right over one of our sidewalks as a town and that’s probably what’s motivated the heritage committee to understand and proceed.”
The original request came in from Cheryl Keates, who is handling the estate on behalf of her family, and hopes to sell the hotel. She explained earlier in April to council that the estate does not have the funds to repair the main street balcony to an approved state, nor to refurbish it as a proper heritage feature.
Both balconies are specifically addressed in the bylaw designating the Albion as a heritage building and as such, they are protected from removal.
But due to their deteriorating state and safety concerns, town manager of development services Scott Lucas recommended they be removed from the designation and thus the building.
“There is quite a bit of rotting in that structure so something needs to take place,” Lucas said. Engineering reports say the front balcony needs “to be repaired, reconstructed or demolished right away,” he added.
Supports were placed on the balcony in late 2011, but only as a temporary solution and since then the town, the owner and the town’s heritage committee have been trying to find a compromise.
The designation bylaw specifically refers to both the main street balcony and an east-side balcony that has already been removed due to safety issues. Council must give public notice of its intent to alter the bylaw for a month prior to being able to accept or deny it and the alteration would only refer to those structures, leaving the building’s overall heritage designation in place and untouched.
“The (municipal heritage) committee did acknowledge the balcony doesn’t necessarily have a significant contribution to the reason the Albion Hotel is designated a heritage structure, but did express it was their preference the balcony be replaced,” Lucas said. If the balcony is removed, he added, the material should be stored, intact and preserved, until such time it can be used there again.
Coun. Donoghue did ask if there would be a way to word the bylaw alteration to ensure that the balcony would one day be reconstructed as a heritage feature regardless of the hotel’s owner, but Lucas explained there would be little the town could do other than ensure the opportunity remains.
“I don’t think there’s a way of legally requiring someone at some point in the future to reconstruct it. There’s certainly the opportunity to reconstruct it in the future should a new owner wish to do so. I think we would want to ensure through drafting of the bylaw that opportunity remains,” Lucas said.
As the town develops its Community Improvement Plan, proceeds with further façade development funding opportunities, or through potential heritage funding, the balcony could return as a heritage feature, he added.
Coun. Randy Jorgensen expressed his concern about what may be left on the hotel’s main street face, once the structure is removed.
“I think we have an obligation to ensure that (restoration of the hole) is in keeping with the nature of that building,” he said.
Lucas said prior to removal a demolition permit would have to be issued, which would provide some detail on restoration of the facing, “but there’s no specific requirement in the bylaw about what has to fill that gap.”
“What I suggest is we meet on-site with the contractor and talk about some of those alternatives with members of our heritage committee as well and advise whoever is doing the work the requirements of the heritage bylaw and ultimately what is necessary to ensure that heritage component is preserved,” Lucas said.