SUNDRIDGE - Even though council decided in February not to pursue a heritage designation for the oldest building in the municipality, it will remain on the municipal heritage listing. This means the property owner, the Non-Profit Organization for Almaguin Housing (NOAH), will have to apply to the municipality for permission to demolish the building. However, there is a suggestion council may consider removing the building from the listing in the future, which would make it much easier for NOAH to tear it down. The building that's been garnering all this attention since November is the former Steirerhut Restaurant Schnitzel House known to locals as The Castle because of its castle-like appearance. The building dates back to 1881 and is easily seen by people driving through Sundridge on Highway 124. The former restaurant sits on 3.1 acres of land which also houses three smaller buildings. In December, council discussed NOAH's plan to build a 50-unit seniors complex on the land by tearing down the three smaller units and leaving the former restaurant intact. NOAH has never supported council's interest to designate the 1881 building as a heritage building, and NOAH chair Rick Zanussi says council's effort to keep the property on the listing is inappropriate and has no merit. Zanussi says NOAH bought the building years ago and at that time it was already in a state of disrepair. In a letter to council, Zanussi says “there is no ability for NOAH to repair the property.” Zanussi says the longer the building remains on the municipal heritage listing, the greater the potential its value will decrease.
That, he says, is inappropriate. He also says the listing continues to stay in place at a time when NOAH is trying to create affordable housing for Almaguin residents. In his letter, Zanussi reminded council that when the municipality surveyed residents about the heritage designation project, only 39 per cent of the respondents indicated the building had cultural value worth preserving. During council's April 13 meeting, Coun. Steve Hicks stuck by his earlier position that council should not pursue heritage designation for the building because of the state that it's now in. He again said had this suggestion come 20 years ago, there would have been a better opportunity to “treat the building like it was a heritage building.” Hicks was the only councillor who wanted the building removed from the municipal list. Councillors Fraser Wiliamson and Barbara Belrose wanted it to remain on the listing until NOAH applied to the municipality to have it torn down. Williamson added it was odd that when the discussion of a seniors complex came up, NOAH was going to put up a new building without touching The Castle. “But now in the letter their concern seems to be more of resale value,” Wiliamson said. “If they were a little more upfront with us we'd be able to make a better decision.” The debate ended with the council voting to receive the letter from Zanussi and no further action would be taken. However Deputy Mayor Shawn Jackson, who oversaw the vote, also said council can deal with a future motion to look at removing the building from the municipal heritage listing if any member of council brings such a resolution forward. Mayor Lyle Hall did not take part in the debate because of his past association with the NOAH board.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget