514 Main from the corner of Reid: demolition by attrition?
A Hudson visitor recently asked me why the town allows what looks to be an abandoned crack house in the village centre.
Council wants to preserve a century-old heritage structure, I explained. The timber-frame duplex at the corner of Main and Reid was sold by the family of the original owners to a developer, who flipped it to Groupe Lawlor, whose plans for a three-storey multi-unit condo were rejected by council in July 2022. Hudson’s demolition bylaw (652.2) states that nothing in town can be torn down or moved unless the owner has first obtained authorization to build a replacement, so nothing can move forward until the two sides agree on a compromise.
The town doesn’t have the legal tools to force the developer to maintain or restore the building, let alone incorporate it into plans for the replacement structure. The municipality has adopted legislation that would allow it to place a reserve on the the property, but the courts have established the seller has the right to fair market value. Lawlor paid just under $1.1 million, so the question becomes whether the property would be a worthwhile acquisition for the town.
As long as this stalemate persists, the old Gaudreau house at 514 Main, once a well-kept testament to the skill of the inventive artisans who built much of the town’s French quarter, will remain a very public eyesore, the once well-manicured yard and outbuildings filled with junk, the once cozy sun porch running the length of the frontage a sorry spectacle of torn screens, sagging doors, clapped-out furniture and a tattered Canadian flag.
Demolition by attrition they call it — and it’s not the only example in Hudson’s downtown heritage district.
During the second question period, Hutchison was asked what she hopes to achieve by blocking 498’s teardown in light of the fact that the previous council adopted resolutions approving both the demolition and an 18-unit condominium project on the site, located between the IGA parking lot and the SAQ.
The owner, Lotissement SM Inc., has filed a motion requesting a court order for the emergency demolition of the structure, parts of which date back to 1856. To back its case, the developer cites two engineering reports, both of which list potentially dangerous structural defects and salubrity concerns. Council’s basis for rejecting the demolition request: no estimate was filed on the cost of restoring and upgrading the building even though it was never an option.
“The outcome I expect to achieve is that our local heritage is of value and there’s (sic) ways of repurposing lots and continuing to develop or redevelop in a respectful manner of our local quality and heritage,” the mayor replied. “And I think that is a prerogative that has been given to councils in the recent change in the law on cultural heritage and we are exercising that right.”
A followup question was how much is the town prepared to go in fighting this. Hutchison had no answer, but the the case history of 498 Main suggests it’s a bottomless legal money pit. SM had reached a deal in January 2020 with a family member mandated to represent its interests, but wasn’t able to take formal ownership until August 2022. In the meantime, the project was approved unanimously by the previous council at its June 1, 2020 meeting on the unanimous recommendation of the Town Planning Advisory Committee reached at its May 13, 2020 session. A month later, council revoked the demolition permit after learning of the involvement of Quebec’s Public Curator on behalf of the interests of the last surviving resident. The fight will likely revolve around questions about which parts of what decision are still valid.
A cornerstone of Quebec municipal law used to be that every council’s hands were tied by the decisions reached by the previous council. Under Legault’s CAQ government, this has morphed into a quagmire of grey zones, leaving it to the courts to interpret the legislator’s intent and apply it to real-life situations. For that reason alone, one wonders whether any Quebec mayor can say with certainty the law is on their side. As we’ve seen from recent decisions, the law cuts both ways.
Hudsonites tend to get emotional about demolition, but it’s a recent thing. The Wilderness, home to Hudson’s founding couple, was torn down with little fuss back in the ‘60s. That began to change with the destruction of a row of businesses on what is now the IGA parking lot.
With the growing public concern at the loss of heritage buildings, successive administrations tightened Hudson’s demolition bylaws as it became clear that nothing was safe from demolition, not even the Christmas Shoppe on Cameron. (It and Val’s hair salon were demolished to make way for a structure that began construction only last year.)
A draft revision produced in 2009 enshrined the principle that no main building on a lot could be torn down until its replacement had been approved. It wasn’t formally adopted until 2015, with five exceptions — accessory buildings; main buildings to be demolished for public safety reasons; main buildings whose condition is such as to endanger people or has lost half of its value by decay, fire or explosion; main buildings where there was a court order for demolition, and municipal buildings.
In 2019, the previous council removed the exception for main buildings whose condition is such as to endanger people or has lost half of its value by decay, fire or explosion. In other words, the owner of a building seeking a demolition permit for those reasons first would need to get a replacement structure approved.
The Torrance Cottage precedent
Groupe Lawlor’s proposed replacement for the Gaudreau house at 514 Main. Council and TPAC both rejected this plan and demolition, leaving the existing structure unprotected. Update: a revised plan was rejected at the June 2023 council meeting.