Council reconsiders motion, allows St. Joseph rectory demolition to proceed

 

The St. Joseph Church rectory is at the centre of a controversy as town council has refused to allow a demolition permit to be issued that would allow the building to come down.

The St. Joseph Church rectory is being demolished after all as council voted to approve the demolition last Monday night. The town had originally voted not to approve the demolition permit at its Feb. 18 meeting.

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has reversed its position from its Feb. 18 meeting and will allow the rectory at St. Joseph Church to be demolished, much to the approval of parishioners that packed the council chambers.

Council voted by a pair of 4-3 votes to rescind last meeting’s motion to not approve the demolition and to approve a new motion to allow demolition of the rectory to proceed. Councillor Carolyn Davies proved to be the swing vote, as she voted alongside Mayor Wayne Hurst and councillors Bob Pillon and John Sutton in allowing demolition of the rectory to move forward.

Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland and councillors Diane Pouget and Bart DiPasquale remained opposed to the demolition permit being issued.

The 4-3 vote to reconsider the previous motion was questioned due to such motions needing a two-thirds majority, but town solicitor Ed Posliff believed that vote was fine if council had used that practise in previous reconsideration votes, as had been suggested by administration.

“If that’s prior practise to have four of seven constitute reconsideration, that’s acceptable,” he said. “If that’s past practise, it’s valid.”

Four speakers pleaded for council to reconsider the Feb. 18 decision. Ron Burns, chair of the St. Joseph Church finance committee, said there was a petition of 495 signatures calling for no money to be spent on the rectory other than to demolish it.

“The Diocese of London also supports this decision,” he told council.

Burns said estimates obtained two years ago projected costs as high as $267,000 to restore the rectory but the church’s recent engagement of a heritage architecture firm this year saw costs soar to $682,595 before HST.

“We do not want this building to sit vacant, deteriorating further and detracting from the beauty of our church,” said Burns.

Erin King, who spoke at the Feb. 18 meeting calling for the demolition permit to be allowed, told council the church has never shied away from large capital projects. She pointed out $40,000 worth of work in the late-1950s to make the church more accessible, another $220,000 in the 1990s for window and stair upgrades, brick and masonry repairs which totalled nearly $1 million and the removal of the belfries in 2009 at a cost of $262,000. King also said the church has also spent $316,000 on HVAC upgrades and that the church has also battled flooding problems in recent years.

“Our parish office receives calls from as far as Toronto asking when the belfries are going to be replaced,” she noted, pointed out estimates are upwards of $900,000 just to complete that project.

Margaret Corio of the fundraising committee said the parish community has supported fundraising efforts “time and time again” but feared their support would be lost if forced to support a project the church community doesn’t want. She said the parish fully supports a smaller rectory with similar architectural features as the current one to better suit the needs of the church and its pastor, though Burns noted plans are “preliminary” at this stage.

“They don’t support (maintaining the current rectory),” said Corio.

The church, which unlike the rectory has historical designation, is undergoing a restoration project pegged at over $3 million with Corio saying previous projects have been paid off with the church having no debt.

Parishioner Domenico Aversa appealed to council to “return to our mission of our Roman Catholic faith” adding the rectory “plays no role in our parish community.” He believed denying the demolition permit “sets us backward” and said there are other ways they can honour their past.

“We as a parish community do not have the financial ability to do everything,” he said. “The landmark is the church and not the rectory.”

Pillon said he toured the rectory last Sunday with Burns and said he could understand the concerns of the parish.

“I couldn’t afford to run a house like that,” he said. “There’s a lot to be done in there.”
Pillon said times have changed and that needs of the church have also changed.

“What was good 100 years ago, we can’t do today,” he said. “Everyone downsizes.”

Sutton stated he understood the concerns of the town’s heritage committee, which opposes demolition of the rectory, but noted the heritage and culture is “imbedded in the church proper.

“That’s why I supported you from Day 1,” Sutton told the delegation.

To impose a financial burden on the parish by allowing the rectory to remain “would be onerous to say the least.” He said that situation could lead to “demolition by neglect.”

Sutherland wondered about the style of a potential new rectory and questioned if the church should sit down with the heritage committee to reach some sort of consensus. Pouget said she voted with the understanding there would be an option that would see the rectory restored “to the nines.” She noted the town sells itself on heritage and culture.

“That presentation should have made at the time we voted (to not approve the demolition permit),” Pouget said. “We voted in good faith.”

DiPasquale said he voted against it “due to a lot of issues” and admitted before Monday night’s votes he was having a hard time making up his mind.

“I’m kind of stuck right now,” he said. “I’m caught in the middle.”

Mayor Wayne Hurst said the heritage committee was advisory, adding that the River Canard church was looking to downsize the rectory and provide a healthier environment for the priest. He also said the heritage designation was for the church only.

“I was at the presentation. It was the church that was designated, not the rectory.”

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