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Charlottetown couple set back in time by heritage rules


Matt Thomson and Melody McInnis stand outside the appartment buildling they are rennovating on Longworth Avenue in Charlottetown. The heritage committee of the city has rejected the siding the couple have already installed on the designated heritage building. Guardian photo by Nigel Armstrong

Matt Thomson is hoping for an early wedding gift from Charlottetown city council.

Thomson and his fiancé, Melody McInnis, have an application before the city to renovate the interior and exterior of an apartment building at 24 Longworth Avenue that is more than a century old.

It is also the home of the first Prince Edward Hospital.

Three-quarters of the work is done but there's a potential roadblock standing in their way and it's a big one.

The Charlottetown couple didn't realize the building was a designated heritage property until they applied for a building permit. By then, they had sunk more than $25,000 in the building.

Heritage board doesn't like the wood-fibre siding on most of the building and is recommending council reject their application. In order to preserve the historic nature of the downtown area, the city prefers its "designated heritage properties'' have a wooden exterior.

Council votes on the matter at its June public meeting on Monday.

"It's quite devastating and a little disheartening that it's come to this,'' Thomson said Friday. "We are very proud of the work that we've done so far. All we can do is hope to have council's support come Monday.''

Coun. Rob Lantz, chair of the heritage board committee, said the application came to heritage board last week.

"They were told a long time ago that any work they did without a permit was at their own risk,'' Lantz said.

The councillor said the couple's lawyer requested a zoning inquiry from city hall prior to closing on the real estate transaction.

"This is routine. The report their lawyer received clearly indicated this is a designated heritage resource. The city disclosed this information before they actually bought the property,'' Lantz said.

It is also listed on the city's website.

Thomson said they had no idea it was a designated heritage property.

"We were definitely not aware of it when we purchased it,'' Thomson said. "We actually asked (if it was a heritage property) and we were told 'no' by our real estate agent, by the selling agent and by the seller. It was a direct question.

"It wasn't on the property disclosure that the seller gave us and there had been some alterations done to the building in the past that don't really fit heritage board's (guidelines).''

Thomson said they didn't find out until they applied for a building permit. By then, thousands of dollars had already been spent.

"We had the vinyl siding purchased already and we were getting prepared to put that on. We were covering our bases with the building permit and they told us that we couldn't use the vinyl that we had purchased because it was a heritage building.''

They also had a crew hired and ready to begin.

No one from the city has told the couple the siding has to come down. In fact, no decision has been made yet.

Lantz said, technically, that is a possibility but it's unlikely. The city could also issue a fine.

Council regularly disagrees with recommendations of the planning and heritage board so the couple may allow the application as it stands.

Thomson said the couple is keeping the property commercial and is converting it into an eight-unit apartment building.

"If we can push forward we will keep developing these units and get some quality tenants, which would be a nice change for the area,'' Thomson said.

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