Plans to tear down a historic mansion in east Saint John to construct a new 68-unit apartment building will not proceed as scheduled, according to the Ontario developers who purchased it — but the future of the property is still unclear.
Craigie Lea has stood on a hill overlooking Westmorland Road near Kane's Corner for more than 150 years. The red brick home, with its front verandah and arched windows, was built for prominent Scottish grocer and importer Alexander Jardine in the 1850s.
The Jardine residence was "the first home in Saint John to have a full bathroom with running water, and the original bathtub is still in the house," according to a neighbourhood profile published on the city's website.
In addition to the unusual wooden plumbing features, the home features a carriage house, stained glass windows, and signed 1850s trompe l'oeil paintings.
"It is one of only a handful of homes with the 3D painting techniques on plaster still present," said Chris Osborne, who sits on the board of the group Heritage Saint John.
The building, which has been converted into six apartments, does not have an official heritage designation.
Ontario real estate investors and developers Adriana Ostapenko and Ali Nazarian of EcoLux Developments purchased the building sight unseen in November 2021 for $670,000. The building was assessed in 2022 at $280,000.
On June 15, 2022, they went live on Instagram to document their first visit to the site, in a suburban neighbourhood of winding streets near the city's prime shopping district. .
"We are checking on the building for the first time, live and in-person, and we are actually currently applying for a rezoning permit to build a purpose-built apartment building here," Ostapenko said in the video.
"We're looking forward to keeping some of the local feel to it. We're very excited,"
"First time in New Brunswick," added Nazarian.
Swift public feedback
A flier with a concept design for the site, dated June 23, outlined plans for a 68-unit building called the One Ten that included landscaped buffers and underground parking. Before construction was scheduled to start in spring 2023, the developers requested public feedback.
The feedback came swiftly from people like architectural designer John Haddon, a heritage buff who owns a historic church in Saint Stephen.
When Haddon saw the plan to demolish the home, he posted publicly about his concerns.
When it came to 110 Westmorland, "I was absolutely blown away by the interior," Haddon said. "It's extremely rare. Very, very rare. There are a few left in Saint John. To have this intact after all these years is absolutely mind-blowing.
Once it's gone, it'll be gone forever."
To them, I think this is just an old building that needs to come down. In Saint John, it's a rarity."
A petition to save the building, stated by Shawn Polistac, gained more than 800 signatures in two weeks.
In response to the feedback, the developers sent a letter thanking residents.
"We have heard you [loud] and clear, and we are going back to the drawing board!" the letter said.
"It has been our intention from the beginning to work with the city and the community to find a win-win solution and bring a desirable development to this beautiful city and neighbourhood.
"That is why we reached out to the community to collect feedback on our proposal before submitting the application. We carefully considered the feedbacks we received and decided to not proceed with submitting our original proposal."
Ostapenko and Nazarian did not respond to CBC's request for comment.
"I am pleased a rethink of the proposal is being undertaken by the developers who bought the site," said Osborne.
"I'm in hopes that they got the message," said Haddon. "They said they did, but they said they're going back to the drawing board. So I feel that the petition and our outcry has been heard."
Tenants served eviction notices
While the decision to revise the plan comes as a relief to some — people currently in the building aren't so happy.
Tenants were served with an eviction notice on Friday, July 29.
While the demolition plans are on hold, what will ultimately happen to 110 Westmorland is still unknown.
"We are currently evaluating other options and will be back with a new proposal that takes into consideration the feedback from the community," the developers wrote in the letter to those who offered feedback on the project.
"We envision a development that adds value to the city and helps the local economy while preserving Saint John's history.
Stay tuned for more updates on the project's website."