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Heritage buildings may be demolished to make way for affordable housing

The Banff Heritage Corporation encourages council save two heritage buildings as part of the redevelopment plans for an affordable home-ownership housing development.
BANFF – The Town of Banff plans to demolish rare heritage buildings in order to develop an affordable housing apartment building on Banff Avenue unless someone steps up to save them soon.

Against the advice of the Banff Heritage Corporation, council voted 6-1 to move ahead with a multi-unit development as planned amid concerns that preserving the Barrie Boarding House and Hindes Cabin would lead to higher costs and fewer units needed to deal with Banff’s critical housing shortage.

Councillor Peter Poole, who is a council representative on the heritage corporation, said council should show leadership in heritage preservation as owners of the property at 338-240 Banff Ave., particularly given council just learned of the heritage significance of this property.

“As owners of that significant heritage building, I recommend that we pause on this, absorb this information and reconsider,” said Coun. Poole at the Nov. 25 council meeting.

“From an urban planning perspective the right thing to do is to protect this and enhance it and the wrong thing for us to do is to bulldoze it, as my fellow councillors seem prepared to do.”

Instead, council directed administration to integrate aspects of the heritage character where possible into the new development, which could be a plaque, or parts of the building, for example.

Council also asked administration to investigate the possibility of relocating the near 100-year-old buildings without affecting the timeline of the affordable development.

Darren Enns, the Town of Banff’s director of planning and development, said that is always a possibility, but heritage specialists typically consider “moved heritage is greatly devalued heritage.”

He said other developers faced with the same challenge in the past have offered buildings up at no cost for people to take at their cost, but with that typically comes with a building structural analysis, moving costs and the land.

“Those are the three big factors that prohibit relocating heritage,” Enns said.

But Coun. Grant Canning believed it was at least worthwhile to explore if anyone in the community was interested in the heritage buildings.

“If nothing come out of that, it would be unfortunate, but at least we tried,” he said.

In mid-November, the Banff Heritage Corporation recommended that the heritage value of the Barrie Boarding House and Hindes Cabins be recognized and protected in any redevelopment of this property.

The corporation also strongly advised council to establish a precedent in demonstrating heritage conservation leadership through preservation of these two buildings. The corporation’s recommendations are non-binding.

Michelle Lang, of the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation and a member of the Banff Heritage Corporation, encouraged council to save the buildings given heritage is part of council’s strategic priorities plan.

“I think there’s a lot that organizations like the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation can do and are doing a lot in this town,” she said at council’s meeting on Monday.

“But I also think we need to expand that and we would really like to invite the Town to provide leadership, particularly around the properties that they own.”

Built in 1921, Barrie Boarding House is a two and one-half storey, wood-frame, folk-style structure. The property includes two shingled, front-gabled cabins called the Hindes Cabins constructed in the vernacular style in 1927 and 1938, respectively.

The property is considered significant because it illustrates early cabin development in the 1920s to meet increased tourism, as well as demonstrates Banff’s history of diversity in lodgings from elite hotels to individual owners.

Built by Mary Elizabeth Hindes, the house and cabins were named after Hindes’ hometown of Barrie, Ontario.

Various owners and custodians operated the property as a boarding house, beginning with Mary and her husband, until 2013 when the Banff Housing Corporation purchased the property for $1.3 million. For now, it operates as a rental property.

In July, Banff town council gave the go-ahead to develop the property through a cost-recovery model into a multi-family, high-density apartment housing units that will be for sale to qualified buyers.

On Monday, administration told council that preserving the buildings on site would mean a significant shift in the overall design, scope, cost and intent of the multifamily residential redevelopment.

Coun. Corrie DiManno said she is happy to work through ways to recognize or commemorate these heritage buildings, whether that’s through a photograph or a plaque, but wants the project to go ahead as planned.

“We’ve got two priorities here – we’ve got heritage and we’ve got housing – and for me in this instance, it’s got to be housing,” said Coun. DiManno.

“There is a demographic we are at risk of losing in this community if they cannot get into entry-level home ownership, and for me that is paramount.”

Mayor Karen Sorensen said plans to develop this property for affordable housing have been in the works for years.

“It’s fairly clear to me that if we were trying to build a multi-unit affordable housing project for purchase on that property and keep those two buildings standing, clearly the cost would be exorbitant,” she said. “There would not be as many units and there would not be, as I would suggest, under market value housing.”

Before the vote, Coun. Poole took one last shot at trying to convince his council colleagues to consider saving the buildings, noting there is no other example of this type of commercial accommodation on Banff Avenue.

He said council’s motion goes against its own strategic priority and ignores the advice of its specialist heritage experts on the Banff Heritage Corporation, but moreover, there’s another indirect harm.

“It would weaken our planning department’s ability to negotiate with private owners of heritage buildings to ask them to try and live up to our strategic plan and live up to our goals and work with us to maintain and protect the rare heritage assets that exists in this town,” he said.

“We can go ahead and hang a plaque, but we would lose not just the building, but the sense of what people coming to this park for a century have been doing and using different types of accommodation over time.”


About the Author: Cathy Ellis

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