The heritage building on the property at 1029 Tower Rd. This side faces Inglis Street. Photo: ZZap Consulting/HRM Credit: ZZap Consulting/HRM

A developer has applied to modify a south end heritage property dating back to 1873 and build a new three-storey apartment building on the same lot.

ZZap Consulting Inc. made the application to the city on behalf of the property owner, Stefan Frent, and a developer, Trystan James. The application is dated July 28, but was added to the city’s website on Thursday.

The proponents have applied for a development agreement for the property at 1029 Tower Rd., near the intersection with Inglis Street.

The house on the site is a “Victorian era wooden cottage built in the Georgian style complete with five-sided Scottish dormers,” according to the heritage impact statement filed with the application. It was built “around 1873.”

“Initially this cottage was part of a larger property fronting on Inglis Street (today 5757 Inglis Street), as seen in the 1878 Hopkins Atlas of Halifax,” the statement says, hence why it faces Inglis Street, not Tower Road.

The site as shown in the 1878 Hopkins Atlas of Halifax, with the heritage building outlined in red. Photo: ZZap Consulting/HRM Credit: ZZap Consulting/HRM

The property was later subdivided, and new structures built in the space closer to Inglis Street.

Prominent residents of the home include Dr. James Doull, who, according to the heritage impact statement, lived at 1029 Tower Rd. from 1920 to 1925 while serving as Nova Scotia’s chief health officer. After leaving Halifax in 1930, Doull worked in public health at the Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, and eventually helped found the World Health Organization.

The building has changed little since then.

“Although there have been modest changes to the original design, the main building mass of the existing building is largely unchanged with its original dormers, front and side window openings, and gabled roofline. A side addition is believed to be added in the mid 20th century,” the heritage impact statement says.

The home’s architecture is valued as part of the Tower Victorian Streetscape, which includes 14 houses on Tower Road between South and Inglis streets.

“The unifying force on the street are the bay windows and porches. Many of the same architectural features are repeated several times. The mouldings and fretwork are extremely decorative. Each house provides an interesting glimpse into the eclectic construction period,” the heritage impact statement says.

Under this new proposal, the developer wants to rotate the house 90 degrees to face Tower Road and make room for the new three-storey building.

An overhead view of the site plan, with the heritage building rotated to face Tower Road. Photo: ZZap Consulting/HRM Credit: ZZap Consulting/HRM

They’re also proposing to restore the heritage elements of the building, remove the 20th century addition, remove the existing chimneys, modify the building to meet modern code, and build a new addition in the back. The addition is meant to accommodate proposed commercial use on the property, and won’t be visible from the front so as not to “detract from the heritage resource.” The commercial use in this case would be a ground-floor coffee shop, but the heritage building would also include residential units in the basement and second floor.

A rendering of the rotated heritage building, facing Tower Road, with the new building to the right. Photo: ZZap Consulting/HRM Credit: ZZap Consulting/HRM

Next to the heritage building, the developer wants to construct a three-storey, six- to nine-unit apartment building. The new building is meant to fit in with its surrounding, the developer says:

The design and proposed material choices for the new multi-unit dwelling were carefully planned to ensure the building does not obscure, radically change, or negatively impact the heritage resource on the property. The material choice and architectural form of the new building are visually compatible, yet distinguishable from the existing heritage resource. More modern materials were chosen that are of compatible proportions and variability as the heritage resource, and the assemblies and construction methods are well suited to the existing and proposed materials on the heritage resource.

If approved, the whole project would be complete in about a year, the developer says.

Property owner originally planned to tear down the heritage building

This new proposal represents a significant shift from the applicant’s original plan to demolish the building altogether.

As reported by Kate Woods in the Signal in January:

Stefan Frent bought 1029 Tower Rd. on July 27, 2016. He applied to HRM to demolish the building on Jan. 25, 2017.

Under the Nova Scotia Heritage Property Act, property owners of designated heritage sites must wait three years after applying for demolition or a major renovation.

Elizabeth Cushing, a heritage consultant in Dartmouth, considers that waiting period unnecessary.

“The three-year rule for demolition continues to undermine the decisions that HAC (heritage advisory committee) and regional council make, and revisions to this rule have been recommended since the 1970s,” she told the committee.

Even if regional council votes against demolition, the property owner still has the right to demolish after three years.

This waiting period is “considered a serious limitation of the Heritage Property Act,” said Seamus McGreal, a heritage planner with HRM’s planning and development heritage program.

McGreal said there are options besides demolition. He suggested since the lot is 5,000 square feet and the small building is only taking up 16 per cent of the space, there may be room for a four-unit, three-storey building. By reorienting the building to face the street, this would fix the issue of awkward placement, he added.

The city’s page for the development proposal says, “the property owner can legally demolish the heritage building between January 25th, 2020, and January 25th, 2021.”

The heritage impact statement says the developer chose the development agreement route over demolition, “As the building has both sentimental value to the owners and heritage value to the city, strategies to avoid this option were considered as the priority.”

“The owner believes the submitted plan provides for the optimal outcome for the 1029 Tower Road building.”

The proposal now heads into two streams: a development agreement process with the Halifax and West community council and a heritage advisory committee approval process for a substantial alteration to a heritage property.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Isn’t the point of having a “Nova Scotia Heritage Property Act” to prevent buildings from being demolished?