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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

‘Heritage building’ or derelict eyesore?

Councillors in Low are pushing back against a regional bylaw that would prevent residents from demolishing homes older than 1940 without a special permit.

Every councillor at Low’s Aug. 7 council meeting voted against the MRC Vallée-de-la-Gatineau-wide bylaw, arguing that there are too many derelict buildings in Low that are not worth saving. The fear is that some of these so-called “heritage” buildings, as defined by the MRC, would become eyesores throughout the municipality.

“You can’t tell a farmer that he can’t tear down his woodshed because it was built before 1940 when there are old barns and old wood sheds all over the place,” said Coun. Ghyslain Robert, explaining that the MRC sent a list of properties that are older than 1940 - a list that some councillors said was inaccurate. “We have some nice heritage houses in Low. Obviously we don’t want to put a shovel in those,” he added. “But Floyd [Hickey] has an old woodshed that is on the list, and he should be able to tear his woodshed down and build a new one.”

According to the bylaw, a building is considered “heritage” if it meets one of several criteria, including if it was built before 1940, qualifies under the MRC’s Cultural Heritage Act, or has been deemed to have “heritage value.” The bylaw states that its purpose is to, among other things, “preserve the architectural and urban unity of an area.”

Residents were happy that councillors turfed the resolution, but they are aware it’s just a formality, as the MRC will impose the new bylaw on its municipalities anyway. Hickey was in the crowd and said the demolition bylaw will just detract from Low’s goal of growing and attracting new families.

“You buy a farm, and there is an old derelict house on it and [the government] can say ‘no, that’s a good house, you can’t tear it down,’” said Hickey. “So now if you want to buy a farm, you have to do two things - you have to make an application to buy it, and then you go through all that rigamarole. And then you say, ‘I’m going to put a nice new home here’ and then they come along and say, ‘oh, no, you’re not doing that.’ That’s what’s going to happen. And they want people to move into the community, well people aren’t going to move in when that’s going on. No way.”

Resident Albert Kealey had concerns over the $250,000 penalty for violators, arguing that “some houses aren’t even worth $250,000.”

He worries that farmers who lose old outbuildings - like barns or sheds - will be forced to rebuild if they are older than 1940, as per the conditions of the bylaw. “There’s nothing in here that mentions an act of god,” said Kealey.

“In a bad snowstorm, my barn caved in. If I look at this [bylaw] I would have had to rebuild the barn.”

Coun. Joanne Mayer clarified and said that he would not be immediately forced to rebuild the barn, but he would be forced to fill out a request that would be analyzed by a committee before deciding whether or not the building is deemed “heritage” or not.

“From there, if it’s old enough, the committee would sit down and look at the infrastructure - if it’s needed, if it’s a heritage structure,” she said. “All of that gets taken into consideration.”

All municipalities in Quebec were ordered to implement a demolition bylaw by April of this year and while most residents at the Aug. 7 council meeting were against it, Low Mayor Carole Robert said that nobody showed up during the public consultations to voice opposition.

She said despite Low nixing the resolution, the MRC will impose the bylaw, but she couldn’t provide a timeline.

Chelsea passed a similar bylaw earlier this spring and deemed 53 properties as “heritage,” while La Pêche has a list of 132 “heritage” buildings.

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