Cambridge council rejects request to demolish former Preston Springs hotel

CAMBRIDGE — Councillors rejected a request to demolish the former Preston Springs hotel so the city can follow through with an appeal process currently before a provincial heritage tribunal.

“We started a process, I think we owe it to our citizens to allow the process to unfold… and allow the public to come up with plans and ideas to save the building,” Coun. Pam Wolf said at a virtual Cambridge council meeting Tuesday evening.

“Any building can be saved it’s just the amount of money you’re willing to put into it,” she said.

Property owner Haastown Holdings asked the city for permission to demolish the once-famed hotel that overlooks Preston. Paul de Haas told council he doesn’t have much choice but to demolish the heritage structure.

“To date, we’ve spent eight years trying to find a viable solution to redevelop this site while retaining the existing structure, and the bottom line is, we cannot,” said de Haas of Haastown Holdings.

He rebutted claims that this is an example of demolition by neglect, saying Haastown has tried its best to salvage what it can from the building that sat vacant for many years before he purchased it in 2012.

Council had to make a decision on de Haas’ demolition request before Nov. 24, when a 90-day period from the date of his request for demolition would expire and result in allowing demolition.

But because the property is a designated heritage landmark, council must remove the heritage designation before the city can issue a demolition permit.

The fate of the crumbling heritage structure has been up in the air since a local heritage advocacy group appealed a city decision to remove the building’s heritage designation and allow its demolition.

That appeal is now before the Conservation Review Board, a subsection of the Ontario Land Tribunal that hears heritage disputes.

de Haas told council he has spent $150,000 to uphold property standards at the decrepit building since he purchased it.

“We’ve exhausted our efforts to try to salvage this building,” he said.

“We know however we can make this site iconic once again, albeit in a different form.”

Built in the late 1880s, the historic building was home to a popular tourist hot spot where visitors would enjoy the sulphur springs that bubbled below the hotel.

Area residents and heritage advocates have pleaded with the city to try to save the crumbling structure since it was deemed unsafe by the city’s chief building official earlier this year.

“It’s almost always cheaper to demolish a heritage building than to save it,” said Alex Ciccone, counsel for the advocacy group Architectural Conservancy Ontario.

He told council the current owners of the once-famed hotel left it to deteriorate.

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“Just because it’s expensive to repair doesn’t mean it cannot be rehabilitated,” Ciccone said.

Michelle Goodridge lives on Fountain Street North and can see the building from her home.

“It is financially possible to save it and bring it back to its former glory,” she told council.

She said Haastown Holdings also owns two decrepit buildings near the former hotel and the entire area has become a hot spot for homeless individuals. She wants the city to condemn the derelict houses.

“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. These two homes are the immediate danger, not the Preston Springs,” she said.

Council rejected a motion from Coun. Donna Reid to allow demolition to occur.

“I have a great, great concern if we allow this building to remain and we don’t take action that we … are going to have a tragedy,” she said.

Other councillors shared her concerns, but did not want to interfere while the building’s heritage designation is before the Conservation Review Board.

“The property owner himself is certainly making sure… trying to uphold property standards,” Mayor Kathryn McGarry said.

City staff told council if it rejects the demolition proposal, the property owner can appeal council’s decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which can then dismiss the appeal or order the city to consent to demolition.

Council will wait until the heritage tribunal returns with a report before it makes a final decision.

Anam Latif

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