James Street Baptist Church: Is Taking Down Back 2/3rds a 'Demolition' or Alteration'?

James Street Baptist ChurchJames Street Baptist Church

The partial demolition of the James Street Baptist Church was not on the agenda of this week’s Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee meeting.

It had been expected to arrive at HMHC prior to going to Council in December.

Instead, the heritage application is “incomplete” and there is a question of if the plan to demolish the back 2/3rds of the building is a ‘demolition’ or an ‘alteration’.

“At this point, we have an incomplete application,” Robichaud said Tuesday after the Planning Committee in Stoney Creek, in response to a question from this reporter as to what the matter wasn’t in front of HMHC.

Steve Robichaud, the City’s Chief Planner, says the developer, Stanton Renaissance, needs to submit more information for the permit to be processed by City staff.

What’s next for the building will hinge on Robichaud’s decision as Chief Planner.

Difference between demolition and alteration

When responding to questions Tuesday, Robichaud used the terminology used by staff in October, that the partial demolition is an alteration.

If staff decide to treat it as an alteration, and not a demolition, it is possible for the permit to be approved without a public hearing under delegated authorities Council gave the position of Chief Planner in 2005.

Definitions

Your reporter could not find any Ontario Regulation or case law in CanLII which provides a clear definition of the difference between demolition and alternation.

The Ontario Heritage Act defines “alter” but does not provide a definition for “demolition”.

“alter” means to change in any manner and includes to restore, renovate, repair or disturb and “alteration” has a corresponding meaning; (“transformer”, “transformation”)

Process differences between demolition and alteration

The proposal is to stabilize and retain the front tower, while demolishing the shaded back portions of James Street Baptist ChurchThe proposal is to stabilize and retain the front tower, while demolishing the shaded back portions of James Street Baptist Church

A heritage demolition must be approved by a vote of City Council, after a public hearing at the Planning Committee.

A heritage alteration can be approved by the Chief Planner after consulting with the Municipal Heritage Permit Review Sub-committee on conditions. In 2005, City Council delegated their authority for alteration approval to staff.

Initially, the James Street Baptist Church proposal was defined as a “partial demolition” when the surprise demolition permit became public information hours before a hearing on it in late September.

The developer’s proposal is to demolish the back 2/3rds of the building, while retaining the front tower and entrance features.

A month later, in October, the terminology had changed. It was now being called an alteration.

At their October 23 meeting, the Heritage Permit Review Sub-Committee approved the partial demolition/alteration of James Street Baptist Church with conditions to ensure the new condo building blends into and respects the heritage characteristics of the front towers.

Based upon this, and the use of the term “alteration” by City staff, the removal of the back portions of the church can be approved by staff using the delegated authorities.

Interestingly, the developer continued to use the term partial demolition in their press release after the meeting.

Status of the Church Today

The James Street Baptist Church building is in bad condition, this is proven repeatedly in multiple engineering reports, summarized in a 129 page report provided to the City.

The former congregation says Stanton Renaissance is offering the best – and only – opportunity to preserve part of the structure.

Municipal Heritage Permit Review Sub-Committee agreed.

The back portion will, barring an unforeseeable charge, be demolished.

The only question is process.

Staff to Decide

Once Stanton Renaissance submits their final paperwork – a complete application in planning terms – that reflects the changes directed by the Permit Review Sub-Committee, City staff will decide if they’ll approve under delegated authority.

If they do not approve, then it will continue along the legislative process, appearing before Council in January.

I’ll continue to monitor the story.

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