The owners of the Trites-Leroux Mansion have cleared another hurdle on the path to restoring the historic Fernie icon, having successfully made their case that it’s future is tied to the construction of additional units on the property south of Downtown Fernie.
At the council meeting held on Sep. 14, City of Fernie councillors voted to approve the third reading of a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) that will see six units added to the property in what was pitched as an exchange for the preservation of the building.
One of the owners, local businessman Dr. Amos Kahane told The Free Press that he was very glad the HRA had been passed, and the future of the building was now secure.
“This building has been standing for 110 years, (I) don’t see why it can’t stand for even longer,” he said.
Next on the agenda for the owners will be securing a building permit and buttoning up the mansion for the winter.
“We’re looking forward to (working on) it,” said Dr. Kahane, adding that winter drawing closer would limit how much work could be done.
The third reading had previously been delayed on Aug. 10, after councillors voted to suspend public hearings in order to allow more input after members of the public raised concerns with parking and heritage value.
A month later, Mayor Qualizza and five councillors voted to approve the HRA, with only Cr. Morgan Pulsifer voting against, having said during discussion that the opportunity to include affordable housing in the development was being missed.
In a marathon reconvened public hearing that went for almost one and a half hours, neighbouring residents to the decaying mansion again raised concerns with the proposed agreement about parking and heritage value, but also alleged bully-like tactics from the developers.
During the, at times relatively lively public hearings, two neighbours likened the developers’ tactics to bullying, with one accusing them of attempting to “tug at the heart-strings of the general public” by making a case to the media that they had been failed by the city, saying that claim was “almost amusing” given the slow decay of the mansion over the past few months.
Dr. Kahane rejected caims that they were bullying anyone, saying that all developments lead to changes for the neighbours that inevitably made them unhappy.
Nine written submissions were tabled, while another six residents participated in the public hearing on Sep. 14. Every participant in the public hearing iterated that they wanted the mansion to be preserved. Though the majority of them raised concerns, Dr. Kahane said those concerns re-tread points on parking availability and heritage value that had long been adressed.
During the meeting, another of the owners, local businessman John Turcasso took the opportunity to defend their efforts to preserve the building, saying that for him and his partners, just restoring the mansion alone was impossible, as it was unaffordable.
“I’d love to just renovate the building itself and forget about the rest,” said Mr Turcasso.
“But with us, when we run the numbers on Leroux, it just does not work.”
The three local businessmen had originally bought the mansion back in 2018.
Dr. Kahane had explained to The Free Press previously that given restoring the mansion alone was not an attractive business proposition, only by including additional units on the estate was it possible to fund the work which he claimed was already extensive. In the same interview Dr. Kahane stressed that all work to come up with a plan for the property had been done in consultation with the city.
Dr. Kahane took the opportunity to speak at the Sep. 14 council meeting, forcing the point that if the proposed development was not approved, demolition of the mansion was a real possibility.
“If the building comes down then we can build something much bigger,” said Dr. Kahane.
“And then, it’s going to be about money, and I don’t think anyone’s going to like it.”
The lot that the mansion is located on is zoned for 19 units, up from the current 6 and the proposed 12.
The majority of city councillors eventually voted to agree with the city staff recommendation that the third reading of the HRA be passed, with Mayor Qualizza saying that “the Leroux mansion is very important to all of us.”