Court overturns HRM heritage designation, Heritage Trust ‘very concerned’ about ‘precedent’

Click to play video: 'N.S. judge puts end to Halifax’s heritage designation for south end property'
N.S. judge puts end to Halifax’s heritage designation for south end property
A Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice has put an end to Halifax’s heritage designation for a property in the city’s south end. Dalhousie University bought the lot in July 2021 with intentions of demolishing the Victorian home, but city councillors voted in favour of designating it as a heritage property. Last week, a judge called HRM’s decision “fundamentally flawed.” Callum Smith reports. – Nov 28, 2023

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling has put an end to Halifax’s heritage designation for a property in the city’s south end.

In a decision released last week, Justice Peter Rosinski quashed HRM’s decision to register 1245 Edward St. on its Registry of Heritage Properties, ordering the city to remove it.

He wrote that the decision to register it in the first place is “fundamentally flawed.”

“There is a reasonable apprehension of an attitude of closed-mindedness at the (Heritage Advisory Committee) level, and a reasonable apprehension of bias at the HRM Council level – a bread-crumb trail that led to a clearly unreasonable result,” Rosinski wrote in part.

Dalhousie University bought the lot in July 2021 with the intention of demolishing the Victorian home.

Dalhousie University bought the property in July 2021. Callum Smith / Global News

In September 2022, a university brief to HRM council said the house would require significant costs to fix — costs the institution wasn’t prepared to pay. It received a demolition permit in July of that year, despite a third-party application by a grassroots neighbours group to block it.

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That application has been called into question in Rosinksi’s ruling.

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“The relevant legislation does not expressly contemplate ‘applications’ (whether by owners or other persons) to HRM for designation/registration of buildings as ‘Heritage Property,’” the judge wrote. “It appears that the (Heritage Property Act) intended that only HRM itself would identify potential ‘heritage’ buildings for such consideration.”

However, in October 2022, city councillors had already voted to add the lot to its Registry of Heritage Properties. Dalhousie filed a notice for a judicial review the next month.

Heritage Trust concerned about ‘precedent’

In a statement, Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia says it is “very concerned at the precedent set” by the decision “regarding the third-party heritage designation.”

“Heritage Trust believes this Decision threatens every unregistered heritage property in Nova Scotia,” the statement reads. “If a property may be registered only by the owner, and those owners are (often mistakenly) of the opinion that there are only negative consequences of registering their heritage properties, we will see many fewer registrations, putting every such property at risk.”

University and HRM response

For its part, the university says it “welcomes” the court’s decision and is committed to finding the right balance between preserving iconic buildings and development that supports growth.

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“Prior to the judicial review hearing in June 2023, Dalhousie agreed not to demolish 1245 Edward St. within 120 days of the decision, as requested by HRM as part of this process,” reads a statement from Janet Bryson, a university spokesperson.

“When we appeared before HRM Council in October 2022, we indicated we had not yet determined our long-term plans for this property, except to say that we did not intend to retain the structure on the property. A year later, we continue to develop plans, mindful of the particular need to increase our supply of student housing.”

Halifax city councillors voted to add 1245 Edward St. to its Registry of Heritage Properties in October 2022. City Hall is shown on Nov. 28, 2023. Callum Smith / Global News

As Rosinksi references in the decision, Dalhousie’s lawyer had stated that HRM’s legislation does not provide standing for third parties to make applications for someone else’s property.

Despite the ruling, the saga may not be over yet. A statement from Halifax Regional Municipality spokesperson Brynn Budden reads, “The municipality is disappointed with the outcome and is presently engaged in a thorough review of the decision.

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“A decision on whether to appeal will be made upon completion of the review.”

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