The old brick building behind city hall will stand for another year, as council delayed its destruction to give time to a group intent on saving it Monday. The vote was a close 4-3, with some of council still wanting to see the building taken down as planned a number of months ago. Others, though, hinted that maybe this issue had begun to take on a deeper meaning on interactions between the municipal governments and residents.
“I’ve come to respect how we do business as a council and the way we do that is by consulting with people who are knowledgeable in the area that we’re dealing with,” Mayor Wayne Stetski said, citing the sign and building bylaws as some of the recent cases where council engaged the knowledge of those in the community.
“One of the things that I’ve learned over the past few months is that the people that know something about history in Cranbrook… are telling us that this has historical importance to the city,” he said. “There’s been true community passion directed towards this particular issue and directed towards council, including petitions, lots of phone calls, emails. I haven’t received one letter from any citizen saying, ‘Get rid of the building.'”
He said there is some concern that if council allows the structure to remain, sometime in the future they may want the area for something else. He noted that in Vancouver, developers are rewarded for including historical buildings in developments.
“For instance, if you save a historical structure, the developer will be able to increase the density of their units because they respected heritage,” he said. “I also thought about St. Eugene, where they turned a very unfortunate part of their history into a very positive thing and incorporated a whole school into a new resort.”
The mayor said he believes leadership is all about listening, learning and adjusting your opinion.
“Originally we had a lot less information about this building,” he said. “We had no input from the public when we first passed our motion. I’m very much in favour of supporting this resolution to give the community a year to make sure that they can come up with some funding, to come up with some designs to make this building a reality into the future.”
Coun. Bob Whetham said that one of his concerns was technical, wanting to make sure that the engineering report was consistent with what the group was also looking at. Whetham also introduced a motion to look at the future plans for the lot that hosts the RCMP detachment, city hall and the old fire hall.
“I’m in favour of a motion to defer,” he said. “This is one of the rare occasions where we have members of youth, not just ‘grey beards’ and ‘no-hairs’, coming forward.”
Whetham was working in local government just prior to Nelson’s downtown revitalization.
He said the business community of the time wanted to cover the old brick buildings, something Nelson is now known for, with aluminum siding. Then the plan for the revitalization came forward.
“Nelson realized they had a jewel they didn’t know about,” Whetham said.
Coun. Sharon Cross said that the passion for the brick building, built around 1936, comes at a time when municipalities all over Canada are trying to reach out for engagement from residents.
“We’ve had the gift of people coming forward to do just that and to take ownership and stewardship of our cultural and historical centrepieces and to put the time in to do that,” Cross said.
Coun. Angus Davis disagreed, saying the decision had been made and the building should come down.
“To me I think that the building has outlived its usefulness,” he said.
He gave the civic group credit for wanting to save the building, but said he thought it would be in the better interest of the city if the building was taken down.
Coun. Diana Scott said that she applauds the community engagement part, but doesn’t think the building should be standing, quoting from the engineering report.
“It’s unsafe, first of all, so with a regard to urgency, there is a bit of an urgency, because it is totally unsafe and our building inspector said that something needs to be done ASAP; we need to demolish it or fix it up,” she said.
“Do we want to save old buildings? Absolutely. But are they usable? I’m not sure this structure is usable. It’s very small and to upgrade it to make it usable would be a lot of money.”
Coun. Gerry Warner said that a restored brick building could be a dynamic part of any future plan for the whole lot.
“Our downtown isn’t very large,” Warner said.
“It won’t take too many more projects like this and we can really have a downtown that we can be proud of again. I just can’t see how we could say no to this group. Young people, they are coming with their hand out, but not with a hand out seeking money from the city, a hand out to help the city to a very worthwhile project. How could we ever say no to them?”
The motion to defer effectively gives the group a year to find supporters, such as Heritage B.C. With the pending demolition order now pushed back, the building is more likely to be eligible for heritage grants and designations.