Packed house hears pros and cons of de-registration at public hearing
By Belle Hatfield
Yarmouth Town Council heard passionate pleas on both sides of the issue when a public hearing was held Thursday evening, Oct. 10, to consider de-registration of Zion Baptist Church. The Parade Street church is a registered heritage landmark.
Zion church trustee Richard Pitman (right) addresses the request to de-register the heritage building at a public hearing. Beside him is consultant engineer Michel Comeau and Charlie Jess (left). BELLE HATFIELD PHOTO
The de-registration is being sought by church trustees in order to pave the way for demolition. The building has been deemed unsafe and the costs of structural repairs is beyond the congregation's capacity to pay. Church secretary Richard Pitman told council that the congregation has exhausted efforts to interest other parties and is itself exhausted by the struggle to find a solution short of demolition. He said the congregation is tired of focussing on a building and wants to once again be able to focus on worship.
Since 2008, when the extent of the repairs required first became evident, the congregation has dwindled, in part, trustee Len Telfer told council, because of the stress of dealing with the aging building.
"We have lost a 146 members. We have 25 regular givers and there are approximately 40 attending service on Sunday," he said.
Local developer Michael Tavares urged council to reject the de-registration request and get behind a community-based "all hands on deck" approach in trying to re-purpose the building and save what he described as a piece of Yarmouth's heritage. Tavares said "the community has failed the congregation."
He was joined by Iain Taylor, of the province's Heritage Trust. He told council the trust was prepared to help save the building.
"We are prepared to do what we can to save this town from acquiring another parking lot," he said in appealing to council to reject the request.
Without council's consent, the trustees will have to wait until September 2014 before the church can be demolished. The church will cease being a church in December and at that point, liability insurance on the building will lapse. Insurers aren't prepared to continue insuring the building in light of the structural engineer's report, which found the building's structural integrity is compromised in several places.
Several people spoke in support of the town's heritage coordinator, Janet Watson, who has recommended denial of the request. In her report, she wrote that the church “has not lost any of its heritage value and still continues to be a valuable part of Yarmouth’s historic architecture, worthy of registration and protection under the Heritage Property Act.”
The town’s planner, Arthur MacDonald, has taken a more pragmatic view. Since the clock is now ticking on demolition (the town cannot defer demolition beyond September 2014) he wrote that “granting deregistration is the preferred option as it provides an avenue in which, even in the 11th hour, the building could be saved.”
Church trustees applied in September 2011 to de-register the property in anticipation of demolition.
In the meantime plans for demolition are moving forward. The trustees approached the heritage advisory committee asking to have the de-registration date moved to June 2014 to expedite the planned demolition. Because of its proximity to other structures, in particular the Yarmouth County Museum’s complex, and the sensitive nature of the demolition, trustees want to take advantage of good weather and long daylight hours.
Michel Comeau, a structural engineer, spoke at the public hearing, describing the pulverizing effect that the freeze/thaw cycle has had on the building's bricks and mortar.
The interior is crumbling and around $1.6 million in repairs are needed, just to structurally renovate the facility, which was built in 1897.
The public hearing lasted 90 minutes. Council will make its decision at a future meeting of council.