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Letter on proposed demolition of manse at Princess Street United Church

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, Kingston City Council voted to defer a recommendation that the manse (Vatcher Hall, pictured on the right, facing Princess Street) be demolished. Council asked for further information regarding the potential for moving the manse, and will discuss the matter further on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Photo via Google Maps.

The following is a letter to the editor. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Kingstonist.

At its 3 November meeting, Council deferred the application to approve the Youth Services Hub development at the corner of Princess and Albert Streets to the 17 November meeting. The deferral stemmed from reluctance to demolish the manse, a designated building, and the hope that it could be saved by moving it to another site. This seems unlikely, and Council faces a difficult decision.

Heritage Kingston (HK) has no opportunity to provide further advice to Council, but two of us wish to give some input that may be helpful. The first point is that moving the manse removes its contextual relationship with the church, which is mentioned in the designation bylaw, and also its contribution to the streetscape as one of very few residential-scale buildings along that section of Princess Street.

The loss of a designated building is regrettable, and much more so when it is unnecessary. Compelling arguments are needed before approval of such a demolition, but neither the applicants nor city staff have provided important information to the HK or Council. The applicants have stated that the manse has little heritage value, and this has been echoed by staff, but the reasons for designation were judged sufficient by experienced professionals, by HK, and by Council, and this designation under heritage legislation only took place in 2017.

The City has clear guidelines and a solid history of requiring an independent heritage impact statement (HIS) for an application to demolish a heritage building, and this was requested at the April HK meeting. No HIS was provided to HK or Council, although some limited documentation was provided in August by the applicant’s consultant that simply repeated the applicant’s claims. It failed to address the issue of the impact of replacing the designated manse with an incompatible modern glass-walled structure.

The applicants have claimed that a utilities corridor was required at the manse location, but no reasons were given why it could not run from Princess Street to the front of Vatcher Hall, which is in fact a shorter distance because of the large angle between Albert and Princess Streets. The applicants also claimed that it was not practicable or economical to provide accessibility and functionality in a renovated manse. Again, there was no evidence, and Kingston has many examples of successfully repurposed heritage buildings meeting modern requirements.

In order for Council to exercise due diligence on the demolition application, they should insist on more information, including a brief report from a local heritage professional on the impact of replacement of the manse, advice from the City on whether the utilities corridor could be located elsewhere, and an explanation from the applicants of the difficulties of repurposing the manse. Without compelling reasons for immediate demolition of the manse, Council should consider removing that item from the recommendation and approving stages 1, 2, and 3 of the project, with the intention of making a decision on the manse at a later date.

Peter Gower
Don Taylor

Area residents and long-standing members of Heritage Kingston

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