A battle brews for the future of a New Brunswick heritage building

Plans to demolish a downtown Saint John heritage building owned by JD Irving Ltd. are met with cheers and mockery ahead of city council’s final vote.

The three properties, located at 111-119 King Street East, are within the city’s Heritage Conservation Area and are adjacent to JD Irving’s corporate headquarters.

JD Irving is asking the city to change the heritage designation of the property, allowing the demolition of an 81-year-old building at the corner of King Street East and Camarthen.

The company says it plans to build a playground on the property and maintain it for 20 years.

No one from JD Irving was made available for an interview on Tuesday. In a written statement, the company says it plans to release a revised version of its proposal by the end of this week.

Resident Sara Stashick says a change in the property’s heritage designation “could set a pretty disturbing precedent, demolition through willful neglect.”

“If this is successful, then this is something that could reduce the protections we have on our city’s heritage properties.”

In a statement, JD Irving Ltd. says repairing the building “is not feasible” due to the “presence of mold and other toxins”.

Stashick is the organizer of a protest planned outside the barricaded building on Tuesday evening. Stashick says JD Irving’s commitment to build a playground comes with a clause allowing him to change his plans if vandalism becomes an issue.

Stashick calls it an “easy way out” for the company.

“The problem is, what they’re asking for is that the heritage designation be removed completely,” Stashick says. “This means that anything built there in the future is not required to meet the standards set out in the Heritage Regulations.

Bob McVicar, a long-time realtor in Saint John, supports JD Irving’s proposal.

“They didn’t break any rules, they don’t intend to break any rules, but they also don’t intend to fix the building and there’s no rule requiring them to do so,” says McVicar. “So we can make a decision and move forward and have a nice investment around the corner and improve the neighborhood, and support a major presence in our neighborhood which is a huge employer. Or we can tell him no and let him lie there, the horror that he is, for as many years as it takes for him to fall, burn or someone get hurt.

A discussion at last month’s council meeting produced a close 5-4 vote, allowing the proposal to proceed to a third and final reading. JD Irving’s request to have the three properties removed from the heritage conservation area has already been denied by the city’s Heritage Preservation Board.

“We’re not going to please everyone,” Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said at the July 11 council meeting. “I’m a huge heritage supporter, I’ve spent a lot of money there over the past 37 years in the city centre. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the other side of the coin either, moving the neighborhood forward.

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