A temporary fence went up Monday morning around an old house at the entrance to Prospect Village — a sign that the building’s demolition is imminent.
The Halifax Examiner previously reported that the Department of Transportation and Active Transit (since renamed Public Works) had purchased the vacant house, intending to tear it down. A story published last May explains the department’s reasoning:
Located at 1533 Prospect Bay Road, the house sits at the corner of Indian Point Road. NSTAT says it represents a hazard, because the visibility for motorists stopped on Indian Point Road is poor, and because its location close to the road complicates snow-clearing.
In the story, Guy Deveau, the department’s central district manager, called the house “a hazard for maintenance staff in that area.” He added, “We don’t go around typically buying houses for the sake of tearing them down. We look at the safety of our motorists primarily.”
But documents released through a freedom of information request show that the department paid $11,000 over the asking price for a house described by acquisition and disposal officer Troy E. Davidson as being “in fair to poor condition at best,” and that it considered the hazard to snowplow drivers not particularly serious.
The documents were shared with the Examiner by John Charles, a retired Halifax municipal planner and resident of the village. Charles said in an interview he saw fencing and danger signs go up this morning with “no warning, and no communication” from the department.
District 11 councillor Patty Cuttell was also not given any warning. She learned about the imminent demolition in an email from the Examiner asking her to comment. She said she was “surprised” the province seemed to be going ahead without any notice.
“I think it’s a terrible loss for Prospect Village and Halifax as a whole. Prospect Village is such a unique part of our city,” she said in an interview. “I think one of the things that most concerns me was the lack of consultation prior the purchase of this house. It was only really considered from the perspective of transportation — not from a heritage perspective or a cultural landscape perspective, or tourism, or community-building. The decision seems to have been purely made for the purpose of accommodating snowplows. And I don’t think that’s a good enough rationale for buying the house and demolishing it.”
The process began on March 22, with an email from Public Works area manager Gary Rafuse. Writing to Davidson and central district director Guy Deveau, Rafuse noted that the house has gone on the market, that it “encroaches the TAT roadway” and that it “would be a good candidate for demolition.” He attached a Google Street View image.
Deveau told Davidson to “proceed with possible acquisition” as the house “creates a pinch point for the narrow road surface” and buying it would be “a good opportunity to clear our ROW [right of way].”
But Davidson does not seem to have been particularly keen on the purchase. In a March 24 email to James Hardy, manager of acquisition and disposal for Public Works, Davidson wrote that “the property is more of a want than a need.” He also expressed concern about the province paying more for it than the asking price: “From my perspective, I am not comfortable with an over list price war. Albeit, that is what the market trend is at present.”
On May 6 though, after having inspected the building, Davidson wanted to move quickly. In an email to Deveau and Rafuse, he wrote that “demolition is imminent. I have recommended removal of the home and building as soon as possible.” Davidson adds that he is confident “removal of the building will provide…” but the rest of the sentence is redacted.
In the available documents, it is only on that same day — six weeks after Rafuse’s initial email — that the question of the community’s response comes up.
Rafuse, writing to Davidson and Deveau, and forwarding an email from then-premier Iain Rankin’s constituency office, says:
Community may be upset with the Prospect home purchase.
How shall we handle this message.
In his reply, Deveau suggests to Rafuse that he “extend an invitation to meet with a local group to discuss what they have in mind as far as this location being the entry to their village. [Redacted] open to some ‘beautification’ of parts of the lot similar to what we are allowing on Rte 333 in Goodwood with that group.”
Rafuse did not return the Examiner’s calls or emails in May, but at the time Allison Lawlor, president of the Prospect Peninsula Residents Association, said in an email that residents “had a good meeting with Gary and we’re working with him on the future of the property.”
Now the building is set to come down.
Cuttell called Public Works’ narrow focus “a very siloed approach to how we look at our communities… and I don’t support that.”
But she said the issue is bigger than this one house.
“There’ s been a lot of focus on protecting our heritage buildings, and providing incentives and grants for heritage conservation districts, and zoning to protect our historical built environment,” she said. “But I don’t feel there has been an equal focus outside the urban core. How do we protect our built heritage in our coastal villages and communities? Because they are a huge part of our history, and our cultural landscape, and they should be part of our tourism strategy — what makes us unique and special.”
Charles agrees. He decries “the incremental losses happening in small communities right now.” And the pinch-point effect of the house, with Public Works sees as a problem, Charles considers an asset, because it slows traffic down.
Once the house is gone, he worries about snowplows and other vehicles not having to slow down at that point any more.
“Traffic is going to increase in speed. I don’t want to be in the position of saying ‘I told you so” but I probably will be,” he said. “It’s too bad. There are so many houses that have been pretty close to derelict, and people have come in to fix them up.”
Update: Here’s the response the Examiner received from Deborah Bayer, a spokesperson with the Department of Public Works:
In the Spring, the local MLA coordinated a meeting that included community members, local councillor and department staff to discuss alternatives for the house. From this meeting, the option of relocating the house was considered. The community group was given time to consider this with contractors. The community group concluded that it was beyond repair and could not be relocated. The house restricts the roadway on Prospect Bay Road and creates sight line issues for the intersection of the adjacent Indian Point Road. Removal of the house will help improve road safety. Demolition of the building is scheduled for this week.
Both Charles and Coun. Cuttell told the Examiner the option to move the house was presented and the community declined. Charles said, “It’s not really in our skill set yet” to organize such a move.