Elgie House heritage status not set in stone
City vote on preserving historic building may not be end of neighbours’ dispute with owner who wants to develop property
City council’s Nov. 14 approval of historical designation status for Leaside’s Elgie House served as the next step in an ongoing dispute that both its owner and neighbourhood residents acknowledge has quite a few steps to go before a resolution is reached.
But for now, the designation means the city supports preserving the location and orientation of the 19th-century farmhouse on the 262 Bessborough Dr. property, potentially affecting plans by owner Renaissance Fine Homes to demolish a pair of wings added in 1971 and 1990, move the remaining building forward and divide the current 105-foot lot into three.
Matthew Garnet, Renaissance’s vice-president of development, said council’s decision will not alter his company’s plans for the property, which include building two houses on the two additional lots.
He said he favours designating Elgie House a heritage property, but does not consider its location a heritage attribute.
Commissioned by owner Thomas G. Elgie, the house was constructed in 1883.
Residents have been up in arms over the proposal since Renaissance purchased the home in February. They have written
emails to city council and encouraged Ward 26 councillor John Parker to submit the historical designation application to prevent future alterations.
Renee Jacoby, who calls the house in its current form a “beacon for the community,” said on Nov. 17 she was pleased by council’s decision, because to alter the Elgie House significantly enough that “there would only be relocated bricks” would not honour its heritage.
Preserving its landscape by not building additional homes is as essential to its heritage status as the building itself, she said.
But Garnet said he plans to appeal the Heritage Preservation Board’s definition of the house’s heritage status to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“I have my opinions and my consultants have done our research, the residents have their opinions and have done their research, and it’s up to an independent body to determine which is correct,” he told the Town Crier.
“Quite frankly, I couldn’t disagree with them more.”
Mary MacDonald, acting manager of the city’s Heritage Preservation Services, said location is a key heritage attribute because as a farmhouse Elgie House would have had a different street orientation compared to the houses that replaced it, and would have been set on a more generous lot.
She is confident, however, the city can reach an agreement with Renaissance.
“We’re hopeful that the application will preserve all of the heritage values on the site,” she said, noting that the additions were not included in the designation.
Responding to the neighbours’ dislike of Renaissance building additional houses, Garnet said the new homes reflect an economic necessity: by selling additional units he can afford to restore Elgie House to its former glory.
The new homes would be designed in a similar architectural style, he noted.
“Heritage Preservation is a funny group,” Garnet said. “They’re about preservation, not renovation, even if it means preserving
something to its ultimate demise.”
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