Beach house battle

Heritage home question spurs debate

What started as one family’s attempt at a better life has turned into a standoff with municipal forces over whether or not a home in the Beach should be considered for designation as a heritage property.

It began in January. Geoff Teehan, having sought the perfect lot for 18 months, purchased a house at 204 Beech Ave. with a mind to smash it down and build a more accessible home for his wife, Melissa Teehan. Struck by a rare illness in 2007, Melissa lost most functional use in her limbs, but is still able to control a motorized scooter. After she was released from hospital, the Teehans moved from an inaccessible house to a condo and began a search to find a place where they could build a home that would allow Melissa to move about more freely.

“This house was meant to give us and (Melissa) some form of independence again, no matter how small that seems,” said Teehan.

Designed with wide hallways, ample space for turns, ramps and other accessibility features, the home would sport a decidedly contemporary design on a street where some homes are nearly a century old.

But the idea didn’t sit well with some neighbours who heard about the plan and in March contacted councillor Sandra Bussin to say the home should be saved.

If you inquire about the particulars since then, what results is a he-said-she-said battle of words between Teehan and Bussin. He claims she commissioned an architectural assessment of the home only after becoming aware of the family’s circumstance and talking with him about his plans to demolish and rebuild on the property. She says she commissioned the assessment before speaking with them. Teehan says he called Heritage Preservation Services twice before the sale of the home had been finalized. Bussin says Heritage Preservation Services has no record of his call.

Whatever the case, the architectural assessment commissioned by Bussin was forwarded to Toronto and East York Community Council, which voted May 25 to have city staff assess the heritage value of the home, a move that rallied the Teehans to mount a battle they say they can’t afford to lose.

“Aside from taking care of my wife, my family and my job, it takes up all my time, not to mention my resources — this is not a cheap process to go through,” said Teehan, who has hired legal assistance in the matter. “But the house will lose so much value if it’s designated a heritage property that it will be impossible for us to sell it and we wouldn’t have any money left over to buy another property or do a renovation.”

But Bussin, who came under fire at a recent community meeting attended by Teehan supporters and online where Teehan maintains a blog, said despite the family’s tough circumstance, there are no factors at play in the situation but due diligence.

“There’s nothing personal about this,” Bussin said. “It’s a matter of whether this is a heritage property that should be recognized as such by the city.”

She suggested that even with a heritage designation, there’d be allowance to modify the home, if not tear it down completely.

“It’s a tough situation,” said Rebecca Carson, communications director for Heritage Toronto, an agency that promotes the city’s heritage. “Heritage people are not cruel and don’t want to put this woman in a bad situation, but it’s about preservation of a home we may lose forever.”

Carson said that because preservation services has such a large volume of buildings to go through, their catalogue is incomplete, resulting in a system that typically reacts to demolition requests rather than seeks out homes to be protected. In other words, if you plan to tear down a house in the Toronto, it’s not enough to simply check if the home is listed with preservation services, a step the Teehans say they took.

“Just because a home is not designated…does not preclude it ever from being designated,” said Carson, adding homeowners should contact their councillor and preservation services if they plan to modify their home. “There are too many properties of heritage significance in the city that have not been properly designated.”

She also called the idea that heritage properties lose their value a falsehood and pointed to areas such as the Annex and Cabbagetown as examples of locations where property values have gone up since receiving heritage designation.

Community council will review the completed report from preservation services June 30. If they approve heritage designation, the matter would go to a July 7 meeting of city council. The Teehans have said they will attend both meetings with their supporters. But if they receive building and demolition permits before then, they could proceed with their plans despite the heritage review.

About this article:

By: Joshua Freeman
Posted: Jun 16 2010 5:00 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto