Precedent-setting proposal to move Eau Claire smokestack worries heritage group

A heritage group says a proposal to temporarily rescind the Eau Claire smokestack's municipal historic resource designation in order to move the structure could set a worrisome precedent in the city.  

The 27-metre landmark was built in 1947 as part of a Calgary Transit System garages and designated a historic resource in 2008, a legal protection that means the structure can't be altered, demolished, or relocated.

A report before a council committee Wednesday explores the future of the smokestack.

Harvard Developments, the owner of the smokestack and developer of the Eau Claire Market site, wants to move the structure because of a proposed redevelopment of the site.

The bylaw that designates the smokestack a historic resource would need to be repealed for it to be relocated, then redesignated following the move.

Josh Traptow, executive director of the Calgary Heritage Authority, told the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday his group's biggest concern is the precedent that could be set by rescinding a historical resource designation.

"There's never been a repeal of a historical designation bylaw in Alberta to move something," he said. "This is the first time that it's been done."

$300,000 compensation 

A report goes before council's planning and urban development committee Wednesday, after the developer asked in December 2015 whether the move was possible.

The report says administration has developed a solution with Harvard Developments to move the smokestack onto an adjacent city parcel of land, about 10 metres southwest of its existing location.

In exchange for the repeal of the bylaw, the developer plans to compensate the city $300,000, which the report says should go to other heritage conservation projects through an existing city grant program.  

Traptow said he's happy to see the smokestack won't move far.

"Historical buildings are much better when they're in their historical context, so people have an idea of what used to be there," he said.

'Last remnant of Eau Claire's industrial past'

Despite the short move, Traptow remains concerned that a heritage resource designation could be rescinded, even temporarily, at the behest of a developer. He worries what the move could mean for other protected places.

"The big deal is municipal designation is really the only tool that we have to save, to protect, a building," he said.

Traptow said he's heard from people who wonder why there's so much fuss about a smokestack. But aside from the smokestack and the 1886 Buffalo Cafe, Traptow said there's not a lot of Eau Claire's heritage left.

"It used to be a lumber yard back in the day, then the Calgary Transit bus barn, so the smokestack is really the last remnant of Eau Claire's industrial past. A lot of people don't realize that Eau Claire was basically an industrial heartland in Calgary's early years."

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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener