Pretty Young things
DEVELOPMENT IS CHANGING THE FACE OF ONE OF HALIFAX’S MOST ARCHITECTURALLY DISTINCT NEIGHBOURHOODS
Young Avenue is something unique, and bit by bit, developers are changing it.
In 2016, developers tore down the Cleveland Estate and the George Campbell Mansion (built circa 1909 and 1902) respectively. They were steps away from Georgia and David Piper’s house.
They say they were shocked and saddened when the demolition began, as the street’s history is one of the reasons they chose their “elegant, old” house. “It’s not just about the architecture, but the people who lived here and the people who helped create the city,” says Georgia Piper.
The couple live in the Louisa Smith Mansion, which was built in 1897. Smith was the widow of Halifax businessman Martin L. Smith of M&N Smith Limited. The house has had four owners, including the Pipers.
“You can go in the house, from room to room, and see there’s more than 100 years of history before your eyes,” says Georgia Piper. “You don’t find it in what we are building now.”
If the couple ever sells, they worry that the house could end up like its neighbours: a twisted iron gate and an empty lot the only reminders the home existed.
Developer George Tsimiklis and his brother, Steve of Tsimiklis Holdings Ltd. bought the Cleveland Estate and George Campbell Mansion, with plans to build a subdivision.
Along with the Pipers, other worried Haligonians have been trying to raise awareness about the street. Their efforts include the Young Avenue District Heritage Conservation Society and a Facebook page, Save Young Avenue.
Among the concerned is Peggy Cunningham. “It’s [redevelopment] corrupting the street’s heritage and history,” she says. “It was designed to be a grand avenue that led the public to Point Pleasant Park.”
George Tsimiklis’s solicitor, Michael Moore said in an email that Young Avenue and the surrounding area have changed before. So, his client’s decision to create a subdivision isn’t a radical idea.
“The character of Young Avenue has already changed as some houses contain a number of residential apartments and newer smaller homes have already been constructed,” said Moore. “There are also some newer contemporary designed homes on Young Avenue which are not consistent with the design of most older houses on Young Avenue.”
Both the Pipers and Cunningham believe there are ways to keep the neighbourhood fresh without losing its unique character. For example, the Pipers house used to be located near the railroad tracks, but was moved to its current location, instead of being torn down when that construction began. Cunningham says the previous owners of her home decided to sell to her because they wanted people living in the house, instead of tearing it down.
“There’s development that moves ahead, but also respects heritage and incorporates and repurposes it and there’s development that just gets rid of it,” says Cunningham.
Aaron Murnaghan is a heritage planner with HRM. The Centre Plan “does identify that area as what we term a possible future heritage landscape,” he says. “We’ve also really been trying to encourage individual heritage property owners to register their properties for a while now.”
Currently, one Young Avenue home has municipal heritage status, one has provincial heritage status, and two have federal status.
Moore said at the time of the sale his client was within his rights, as per HRM bylaws when it came to the demolition. Neither home had a municipal heritage designation. (But even heritage designation doesn’t mean that a property is safe from demolition. Owners can apply to have designation revoked. If successful, section 18 of the Nova Scotia Heritage Protection Act allows owners to demolish registered heritage properties three years later.)
“Both properties were sold on the open market after being listed for sale for a lengthy period of time,” said Moore. “There is little demand for large older residential homes due to the cost of renovating, maintaining, heating and insuring those homes.”
On Oct. 5, CBC reported that Tsimiklis was appealing the bylaw changes to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review board. According to the article, he says the changes don’t “reasonably carry out” the proposed planning strategy.
“Together, we need better heritage protection,” says Cunningham. “It’s very bizarre you can get a demolition permit in a matter of a few days and it takes eight months to over a year to get heritage protection.”
On Sept. 12, Halifax and West Community Council approved amendments to the land-use bylaw which will include an increase minimum lot frontage to 80 feet, increase the minimum lot size to 8,000 square feet, the width to 80 feet and the depth to 100 feet. All of this is supposed to curb the subdivision of existing lots, but it won’t apply to any current developments or properties that fall under the 80-feet rule.
Those who want to preserve Young Avenue’s architecture feel there is still a lot of work to be done to preserve the “grand avenue” of Halifax. “If any more houses go, you lose the character of the street,” says Georgia Piper. “If you lose the character of the street, how will you create that again? You never will.”
WHAT MAKES YOUNG AVENUE SO UNIQUE
• The Young Avenue District Heritage Conservation Society says the area is home to some 20 properties of historical significance.
• Developers demolished three, including the two in 2016.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.