By Ron Giofu
The town of Amherstburg has a new historic building in its inventory.
Town council reconsidered its position from the Sept. 12 meeting and has voted to authorize administration to pursue the Belle Vue purchase. The cost of the purchase will be $1.1 million in cash and $200,000 in a donation receipt, with the cash purchase to be fulfilled through an interest-free five year mortgage.
Robert and Debra Honor discuss the historic Belle Vue house during a recent private tour. The town voted Sept. 26 to purchase the home after originally voting to not pursue the purchase Sept. 12.
Voting in favour of the purchase were Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Joan Courtney. Councillors Rick Fryer and Leo Meloche were opposed. Councillors Diane Pouget and Jason Lavigne declared a conflict of interest with Pouget stating her home measures too close to the property line of Belle Vue while Lavigne had similar concerns in relation to his parents’ home.
Meloche believed that the town will eventually have to take on debt in relation to Belle Vue, even stating it could rise 20 per cent should the property be restored even with significant grant funding. He said he ran for council to help control debt as that was a major concern of residents he spoke with. Buying Belle Vue in addition to Duffy’s was more than the town can handle, he believed.
“Belle Vue has become a victim of timing,” he said. “We’re being asked to absorb too much at once. We have to walk before we run. When we say no debt, it’s not no debt at this time. It’s no debt, period.”
CAO John Miceli said there are no capital works recommended for the property at this time with the money that will be spent being for the purchase only. He said no work will be done until senior levels of government commit grant funding and fundraising is done.
Interior trim of Belle Vue. (Photo courtesy of Phil Kasurak)
Fryer said the purchase does not include the waterfront property and that Belle Vue wouldn’t have much of a view if a two, three or four-storey building were constructed across Dalhousie St.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Fryer.
Fryer said $200,000 represents a two per cent increase in taxes and also believed it would impact the debt.
“This is going to put constraints on this council for two years and the next council coming in after us,” he said.
Fryer said residents in the former Malden Township wanted a street light for $1,500 and were told the town couldn’t afford it but the town has money for Belle Vue. He added there is work that needs to be done right away at Belle Vue and the town will have to pay for that.
Fryer also questioned why other levels of government haven’t already stepped up and why it has fallen to the municipal level.
“There’s going to be moans and groans but this purchase is something I can’t support,” he said.
DiCarlo said he also ran on the principle of reining in long-term debt, particularly debt that is unnecessary. He believed Belle Vue to be a necessary project.
The property at the rear of the Belle Vue house. (Photo courtesy of Phil Kasurak)
The mayor added he also ran on the promise of listening to the residents, adding the majority of people that he has heard from on the issue support the town purchasing the Belle Vue property as well as Duffy’s.
“An overwhelming number of them said they want us to purchase both,” said DiCarlo.
DiPasquale said he has concerns over issues as well, but suggested the town has to be bold and move forward.
“I am concerned like everyone else over certain issues,” said DiPasquale. “If we are all scared and can’t handle the pressure, get out of the kitchen.”
The deputy mayor noted the town has lost factories and industry over the years and indicated that new ways have to be utilized to build the town.
“We don’t have to gamble money but we can use it to get this place moving,” said DiPasquale.
Courtney said she had no question about her vote on the Duffy’s purchase, and reiterated she agonized over her decision Sept. 12. She added she wants to do what she can to promote culture and heritage in Amherstburg as well.
“We’ve been assured by administration we can afford both properties,” said Courtney. “I will leave it to us collectively if we feel the same way.”
Michael Prue, a member of the Belle Vue Cultural Foundation, had addressed town council earlier in the meeting and believed it would be less expensive for the purchase and renovation of the Belle Vue building itself than it would be for Duffy’s.
“A big dream is to have both developments,” he told council. “A big dream would put Amherstburg on the map.”
Prue told council that the Duffy’s purchase was “a good decision,” but so too would be a Belle Vue purchase.
“Belle Vue is an amazing property that I’ve not seen in all of my travels across Canada,” he said.
After the meeting, Prue told reporters that “I feel much better than I did the other day” and didn’t believe concerns over the debt were well founded.
“You don’t starve yourself to bring down debt to nothing and let once in a lifetime opportunities go by,” he said.
Prue believed the town was getting an excellent deal on the Belle Vue property and suggested the town could partner with the private sector for a hotel, spa or other amenities on the roughly eight-acre property. He said similar projects have been done in Kingston, Hamilton and Toronto.
A post and beam located inside the Belle Vue home. Council voted Sept. 26 to purchase the 200-year-old building.
Paul Hertel and Robert Honor, also of the Belle Vue Cultural Foundation, were similarly happy with council’s reversal on the Belle Vue issue.
“It’s sort of like Super Monday,” said Hertel, with a smile.
Hertel said Belle Vue is the “southern anchor” of Amherstburg’s waterfront and acknowledged there are some risks but believed some council members may need to be educated further.
“I have nothing but appreciation for the mayor and his comments tonight,” said Hertel. “He boiled it down to one sentence – the people want it.”
The town’s decision gives the foundation the “oomph” it needs to move forward in its work, adding their work now enters a new phase.
“It’s going to be a long process but Rome wasn’t built in a day,” said Hertel. “A new phase in the history of the building has started.”
Honor said he appreciated DiPasquale’s comments, adding that when the town’s heritage resources are managed effectively, it can be an economic driver for the town.
Both Honor and Hertel indicated the group will remain active in fundraising and supporting the refurbishment of the 200-year-old building.
“Tomorrow, the real work starts,” said Honor.
Brad Robitaille, a local lawyer who also has served on the board with the Ontario Heritage Foundation, said he has learned over the years how significant the property is.
“We have a jewel there,” he said.
The Belle Vue house features a number of
fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)
Robitaille mentioned he was once interested in purchasing Belle Vue as a residence for himself but couldn’t finalize a deal.
“If I had the deal you guys have now, I’d be in there,” he said. “To fail to act on this opportunity is something I can’t comprehend.”
Scott Weir, principle architect with ERA Architects Inc. out of Toronto, called Belle Vue “a prime piece of architecture” and that Amherstburg “carries a lot of weight in southwestern Ontario” with regards to its architecture. Having a building that dates back to 1816 is “incredibly rare,” he added.
“Our assessment of this building is that it’s built like a tank,” he said, though added there are roof, evestrough and basement moisture issues that have to be corrected.
Though on the agenda, realtor Phil Kasurak was not allowed to speak as council didn’t feel it was appropriate as he is the agent for the seller.