St. Joseph Church rectory has demolition obstacle removed despite procedural concerns

 

StJoes rectoryBy Ron Giofu

 

Town council has passed a motion ruling that any notification it had to designate the rectory at St. Joseph Church be withdrawn although opponents of the move questions council’s procedures in the matter.

Despite differing legal opinions, by town council passing the motion, it looks to have cleared a major hurdle for the River Canard parish to get a demolition permit. However, both Councillor Diane Pouget and heritage advocate Marc Pillon both believed the town had previously agreed to designate the roughly 100-year-old house next to St. Joseph Church and stated they had obtained their own legal opinion confirming that.

Both Pouget and Marc Pillon also challenged the 4-3 vote which was allowed to overturn a previous motion to block a demolition request, saying it was not the two-third majority needed procedurally. Town solicitor Ed Posliff, who said last meeting a 4-3 vote was allowed if it had occurred in the past, added his opinion that no designation of the rectory had previously occurred as it was a notice of the intent to designate that was circulated.

“There was no designation of the rectory,” said Posliff. “(Council) has not designated the building as heritage.”

The legal opinion by the firm cited by Pouget and Marc Pillon was disputed by Posliff.

“The opinion that showed up today is, in my respectful opinion, in error,” said Posliff.

Marilyn Laframboise from St. Joseph Church pleaded with town council to let the demolition proceed, reinforcing points made at a previous meeting that the church respects its history, is undergoing $3 million in repairs to the church itself and simply can’t afford to spend an additional $682,000 plus tax to restore the rectory. She said the parish “formally objects” to the town amending Bylaw 2003-89 to designate the rectory as historic.

“Being respectful of our history does not lock us permanently in the past,” said Laframboise.

Laframboise added the majority of parishioners want to see the rectory demolished and replaced with a cost effective home with similar architecture. She told council there was a petition with 108 signatures opposing the amendment of Bylaw 2003-89.

“The landmark in River Canard is the church, not the rectory,” she said. “The true visual legacy in River Canard is the church.”

Urging council to let them focus on the church itself, Laframboise said the restoration work of the church will let it last another 100 years.

“As a parish, we don’t want to see the rectory fall into decay as we focus our money and efforts on the church,” she said.

Councillor John Sutton hoped for a “common sense solution,” stating the church is protecting the building with “true architectural value.” Sutton stated he toured the rectory and it was a “disaster waiting to happen,” adding he did not want to see any hardship brought to the church.

“The rectory has outlived its usefulness,” he said.

Councillor Carolyn Davies, a member of the heritage committee, added that while there were some that wanted to save the rectory, no plan has come forward to do so. Councillor Bob Pillon added his opinion hasn’t changed and the “clincher” for him was the Diocese of London’s support of demolition.

“I wouldn’t force anything on an owner,” Councillor Pillon stated.

Pouget wanted the vote on the withdrawal of the notice of intention delayed until Marc Pillon could speak but Mayor Wayne Hurst allowed the vote to continue. Pouget believed the town had voted to designate in February and that the town now has to follow rules of the Ontario Heritage Act. She added the town violated its procedural bylaw by allowing a reconsideration on the motion where council agreed to let demolition occur as five votes are needed for a two-thirds majority.

Marc Pillon said the vote to reconsider the Feb. 18 motion did not occur properly.

“The procedural bylaw is very clear. A two-thirds majority is required,” he said.

Noting that Hurst, Pillon and Sutton have over 40 years of municipal experience, he believed they should have known that.

“If you are not aware of the procedural bylaw, why not look it up?” he questioned.

Marc Pillon and Pouget both stated they requested prior evidence of a 4-3 decision being allowed in a reconsideration vote but town administration didn’t produce any. Marc Pillon said residents should be “outraged” that such procedure be allowed, adding he has interviewed current and past municipal councillors including some from other municipalities.

“I feel that council is sliding down a very slippery slope when the chair chooses which procedures he follows and which ones he’s not,” he said.

Marc Pillon added the town should abide by the Ontario Heritage Act if they want to remove designation from the rectory, something he believed they were bound by due to the Feb. 18 vote on the matter.

“It was quite obvious Mr. Pillon was not treated fairly tonight,” said Pouget.

Pouget said the heritage advocate’s view were relevant to the discussion and his delegation could have impacted council’s decision.

“It may have impacted the vote, I don’t know,” said Pouget. “The residents should be outraged we’re not following proper procedures.”

Hurst said Posliff is retained to provide his legal opinions to the town and that was done. Councillor Pillon said he recalled 4-3 votes in the past.

“They likely weren’t recorded. That’s the problem,” the councillor said.

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