Owner of Cook house defends development proposal ahead of special council meeting

Property owner Carmen Lien says his proposed development on the site of the Cook house supports the goals of Regina's Official Community Plan. Dave Parsons / Global News

Cook residence owner Carmen Lien thinks the Albert Street home must have been quite the destination in its prime.

Touring Global Regina through the 1929 Tudor Revival style home Wednesday, Lien imagined lavish parties being thrown in its sprawling basement and dinners being served in its ornate dining room, all in the warmth provided by the home’s vintage 1922 boiler.

But for Lien, those glory days are gone.

The foundation needs extensive remedial work, the dining room is suffering from significant mould damage and the boiler is leaking, its pipes are wrapped in asbestos and Lien can’t imagine it being very efficient.

“It’s not feasible to restore this house as is,” Lien said.

Those are just a few of the problems Lien would have to address. He says its roof is nearing the end of its usable life, there are many floors in the house on which a round object wouldn’t sit still and antiquated knob-and-tube wiring is still in place in some parts of the home.

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He says he’s gotten two cost estimates for what it would cost to restore that home to that glory, both in the region of $3 million.

That’s part of why he’s proposing to build a multi-family condominium on the site of 13 to 16 units.

Architectural renderings show a proposed development on the site of Regina’s Cook residence. Courtesy: Carmen Lien
The proposed development is seen from Hill Avenue. Courtesy: Carmen Lien

While the home would change the look of the corner of Albert Street and Hill Avenue, Lien argues that the look of the Cook house itself will largely be preserved (the efforts for which he says will still cost $1.3 million).

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“Almost everything will be reused and restored to its former glory and used in some way in the new project. It will save the entire property,” Lien said. “And it will allow more people to enjoy it. We’re going to allow the Cook residence to last the next hundred years.”

Mould damage is seen on the Cook home dining room ceiling. Dave Parsons / Global News
Cracks are seen in the home’s stucco walls. Dave Parsons / Global News
Cracks are seen in the home’s stucco walls. Dave Parsons / Global News
The home’s original boiler is seen. Dave Parsons / Global News

But to make that vision a reality, Lien will need the support of Regina city council Thursday.

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His proposed development is the sole subject of a special city council meeting.

Specifically, councillors will be considering three items: an application to amend the related heritage bylaw to approve alterations, an application to rezone the property to a zoning that permits a development of the multi-residence scale Lien is proposing, and an application to close an adjacent portion of Hill Avenue.

It’s the last one that Lien thinks has caused one of the biggest misconceptions.

An ongoing campaign has seen many residents in the area put up ‘Save Regina’s Cook house’ signs. File / Global News

He says he’s heard many people opposed to the project express concern about a loss of parking along Hill Avenue, which he says isn’t the case.

He says original city plans for Hill Avenue earmarked a much wider plot of land than is currently used by the road, and that three metres of that road right-of-way land is currently made up of open grass between the sidewalk and property line.

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Lien wants to purchase that space from the city to increase area for landscaping outside of the building.

He adds that he thinks the planned 24-stall underground parking garage will alleviate any other concerns about loss of parking in the area.

The home’s current zoning doesn’t include stacked housing as permittable land use. Dave Parsons / Global News

The property is currently classified by “R1” zoning, which limits the type and number of dwellings that can be built.

Lien says a restoration project isn’t feasible within the limits of that zoning. He’s looking to see the city approve contract zoning on the property.

“We need to overcome the $1.3-million restoration cost that we believe will be required to restore the property. So we need to be able to build a larger structure to spread the cost over.”

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A grand fireplace can be seen in one of the home’s living rooms. Dave Parsons / Global News

As for how his plans will affect the property’s heritage value, Lien thinks worry is overblown.

He says he respects the idea of preserving Regina’s heritage, and thinks his project will both preserve the historic look of Albert Street now and into the future.

“These families are going to be able to enjoy this heritage. They’re going to have these beams. That fireplace is going to be part of their unit,” Lien said.

Lien says his conservation intentions are detailed in a comprehensive plan that he’s already submitted to city administration.

“It goes from how we’re going to manage the cleaning and restoration of the brickwork and stucco, the windows that you see, the roof, how we’re going to manage rebuilding the foundation to stop deterioration and support the new project.”

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If completed, Lien argues that his development will support multiple goals of Regina’s Official Community Plan.

For one, he says the high-density development, which already has access to sufficient utility infrastructure, will benefit the City’s sustainability goals.

“We’re going to have a sustainable, potentially even net-zero building. We’re using some of the most advanced technologies that are Energy Star. We’re following LEED certification and passive house certification. It will be far superior to what’s currently here.”

He adds that the development will increase the property tax value by 700 per cent.

On the south side of the house lies a sunroom, which Lien says will be preserved and relocated if his plans are approved. Dave Parsons / Global News
On the south side of the house lies a sunroom, which Lien says will be preserved and relocated if his plans are approved. Dave Parsons / Global News'

But if the Regina Planning Commission’s (RPC) decisions are any indicator of what might happen Thursday, Lien might be facing an uphill battle.

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In a special meeting of their own last weekend, the RPC voted unanimously to approve city administration’s recommendations to deny all three applications.

“It just doesn’t fit — it’s too big. It alters the fabric of what the area looks like,” RPC chair John Findura said at the time.

There are also 21 delegations are signed up to weigh in at Thursday’s special council meeting.

Gordon Pritchard, a homeowner on nearby Leopold Crescent, is voicing support for the development.

In a written submission, he highlights some of the benefits he sees in the development, including the potential increase in property tax revenue.

“In this citizen’s humble opinion, it is in fact the duty of the City to work with Mr. Lien to see that this project gets off the ground,” he writes.

The submissions of several other delegates, though, oppose the development.

Heritage Regina president Jackie Schmidt argues that the development proposal does not properly “protect the heritage value and character-defining elements of the property” as is required by the Heritage Property Act of Saskatchewan.

“Mr. Lien’s speculation on the financial benefits of this proposal is outweighed by the negative impact to the community and the long-term negative impact to this and other heritage neighbourhoods,” she writes.

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Schmidt also expressed concern about the rezoning application.

“When people purchase a home in a neighbourhood that is zoned as residential detached, they have a reasonable expectation that the house next door will not suddenly change from a single family or duplex property to a three-story, multi-family condominium complex.”

She concludes her written statement by arguing Lien’s development could pave the way for similar developments.

“The door is opened for people to champion new construction at the expense of designated heritage properties. This is not acceptable.”

If council denies the applications, Lien says he’ll have to reconsider his plans for the property, which he says is costing him more money by the week.

“At this point, with insurance, property tax, mortgage and miscellaneous maintenance, this is costing me $5,000 to $6,0000 a month now,” he said.

The lifetime Regina resident says he’ll likely look at selling the property, but isn’t convinced that sale will come easily.

“There’s other properties on Albert Street that could be perceived as heritage properties that are having a tough time selling.”

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He says, though, that even if a “for sale” sign is erected, he’ll continue to maintain the property.

The special council meeting begins at 1 p.m.

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