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Brantford Council discusses fate of former Red Cross building

City of BrantfordBrantford Council discusses fate of former Red Cross building

City of Brantford Council voted to defer their decision regarding the future of the former Red Cross building, located at 25 William St., during its Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting held on Tuesday, January 16, 2024.

Councillors spent a large portion of the meeting debating whether the building, also known as “Lawfield,” should be demolished or kept through a heritage designation. It is currently listed as a non-designated property on the City’s Heritage Register.

As stated by the staff report, the building dates back to 1880, and was originally owned by James Kerr Osborne, an industrial leader who was involved with the company later known as Massey Ferguson. Later, it became the home of the Canadian Red Cross Society from 1945 to 2022 when it was sold.

The current owners of the building purchased the property in August of 2022, and have since exhausted several efforts in making the building work as is, but with no luck. The owners are now requesting permission to demolish the building and replace it with a “purpose-built rental” with over 40 units. The new building would generate around $400,000 in annual property taxes.

The owners have also expressed their desire to incorporate as many of the existing building features in the new building as possible.

Since taking ownership of “Lawfield,” there have been several break ins that have caused extensive damage inside including flooding the basement, setting multiple fires in the effort to stay warm, and dismantling the generator.

“I think it’s pretty apparent by the delegation’s presentation that they have tried, and they’ve exhausted all avenues of trying to make this property work in its current state,” said John Sless, the building’s ward councillor. “It’s just not feasible.”

He said that while it’s a great looking building on the outside, there’s more than meets the eye inside.

“What I can’t see as I drive by it, is the smoke damage from the fires that have been lit in there to try and stay warm, people breaking in, setting off alarms and waking up the neighbourhood,” said Sless. “Police, fire trucks, everything, are pulling in all the time and it’s become a nuisance property in that neighbourhood. It’s very disruptive, and these residents are encouraging these folks to take it down and put something presentable and nice in.”

Sless said he would be supporting the owners request to demolish the building as it’s an opportunity to provide 40 new units for people to make their home.

His wardmate, Gino Caputo agreed with him.

“We have an opportunity for a seven-figure income here, we have a chance to be able to bring to a neighbourhood, a great viable proposition. We can meet the needs of housing, we can certainly address Brantford Station to help spruce it up and we have neighbourhood responses that are all in favour,” said Caputo. “I certainly respect everything from the Heritage Committee, but… if the owners of the property are not willing to do this, I find it very difficult for someone to be able to tell them that they can’t. There are a lot of residents in the city where people want to repair the heritage for their properties, and this isn’t one of them.”

Councillors Rose Sicoli and Greg Martin expressed that they were also in favour of demolishing the building, especially if it’s against the wishes of the owner to designate.

However, Councillor Dan McCreary, was first to disagree.

“I find that we see this from time to time where we personify buildings as being “evil” and we personify them as being things that they’re really not. It started on Colborne Street. Some of you may remember that we had 41 heritage buildings that went to the landfill,” said McCreary. “Out of those 41 buildings, there were three or four that really were beyond help and the rest were all salvageable, but we were told at that time that they were awful, terrible buildings and the world would be better if they were in the landfill. Some of that space that was vacated is still empty.”

He said that he’s been in the current building several times and thinks there’s potential.

“Although I’m not a structural engineer, I do have eyeballs and what it looks to me like is a good solid building with a lot of heritage character not only outside, but inside,” he said. “I think the characterization that we’ve heard tonight about the fact that it’s a blight on the landscape and not reusable, I don’t find merit in that.”

McCreary said he would be supporting the designation in the hopes it will give the owners a second thought about how they can develop the property.

“As the owner said, you can create four to six suites in there, and I’ve got to think that those are pretty darn nice living spaces,” he said.

While staff’s original recommendation was to allow the Brantford Heritage Committee to conduct further research on the building and report back to Council, Sicoli moved an amendment to deny the designation and permit the owners to demolish the building.

Speaking to the amendment, Kevin Davis, Mayor for the City of Brantford, said that while he is also not in favour of forcing a property owner to do something they don’t want to do, he would be supporting the intent to designate.

“I want there to be time to see if someone in the community will want to step forward and take on the project of saving this beautiful and historically significant building. If it doesn’t happen, if someone doesn’t come forward …then I’ll almost certainly vote not to designate,” said Davis. “So, I’m going to vote for time, 120 days, to see if there are elements in this community who value and have a passion for heritage. They might be able to come forward to save this property and perhaps they haven’t been made aware of this.”

Council then voted on the amendment, and it carried seven to four, noting that Davis, as well as Councillors McCreary, Michael Sullivan and Mandy Samwell voted against it.

McCreary then moved a further amendment to defer the demolition approval until the City of Brantford receives an application for development, as it hasn’t been submitted yet.

The vote to defer was carried on a vote of six to five, noting that councillors Sicoli, Caputo, Martin, Sless and Richard Carpenter voted against it.

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