Demolition Permit Denied

By Ian McCallum, Times-Journal Staff
August 22, 2006

Branding it “the right thing to do”, city council extended Alma College a lifeline Monday through its firm denial of a request for a demolition permit by the owners of the former school for girls.

The unanimous decision paves the way for a group of local community leaders and academics from across Canada to approach Alma Heritage Estates, owners of the Moore Street property since 1998, with an offer to purchase the 10-acre site in the hope of reviving Alma as a small, liberal arts university.
However, the lawyer representing the owners says the Zubick family of London, Ont., will likely appeal council’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board.

In a surprise decision, council voiced unanimous opposition to a motion extending the demolition permit application until Sept. 18 and instead slammed the door shut on the permit while instructing staff to put the mechanisms in place to ensure minimum property standards will be enforced on the historically designated four-storey main building. Alma Heritage Estates originally applied for the demolition permit in December, 2005, and agreed earlier this year to extend the deadline until yesterday. It initially appeared council would concur with the owners to extend the deadline until mid-September.

The recommendation to deny a demolition permit followed a deputation to council by Andrew Gunn representing a group interested in purchasing the property and restoring Alma to its former glory as a centre for learning. In his presentation, Gunn stressed his group is prepared “to take on several monumental tasks” which include purchase of the property, a faithful restoration of the remaining buildings and the establishment of a small university.
“And we must take every step to prevent the demolition of one of the great symbols of St. Thomas,” added Gunn, who urged council to undertake an act of “political courage” by rejecting the demolition permit request.

It is essential the existing buildings remain standing, advised Gunn. “Interest will fade away if there is the threat the buildings will come down,” he warned. To agree to another permit extension would only mean the forces of nature would replace the wrecking ball, suggested Gunn, who said his lawyer last month submitted a “formal proposal to acquire an option to purchase the property.”

In a rebuttal to council, owners Jill and George Zubick denied they have received a firm offer from Gunn’s group. The proposal received last month would not have paid the bills, Jill Zubick argued. The offer was worth about one-half the market value of the property, added George Zubick. “If I offered you one-half of what your home is worth,” he continued, “would you jump for joy?”

And in a letter received by city clerk Wendell Graves moments before yesterday’s council meeting, London, Ont., lawyer Brian Worrad indicated Alma Heritage Estates would appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board if the demolition permit request was denied by council. Graves advised council the present owners have 30 days to appeal the city’s decision to the OMB.