Owners of a historic Longwoods Road estate are free to proceed with plans to move or demolish 1840s home on their property after Chatham-Kent council Monday refused to designate the structure under the Ontario Heritage Act and removed it from the municipal heritage registry.
Owners Keith and Karen Graham opposed the application of the municipal heritage committee to designate the home at 9722 Longwoods Rd. because they have concluded that repairing the building isn’t practical due to its structural credibility.
In a letter to council, the Chatham-Kent natives, now living in Toronto, said they bought the property in 2014 with every intention of full restoration.
“Our plans from the very beginning have been to restore the property to its original splendor and to save as much of the original character as possible.”
Restoration of some of the outbuildings has already taken place and the couple said they have pursued their project on a “transparent and open” basis with municipal staff.
Plans for demolition had prompted the committee to seek council approval for designation.
Committee member Dave Benson said the designation wouldn’t mean the building couldn’t be demolished, only that the municipality would “have a seat at the table” during the process.
The Grahams said they have been negotiating to move the building to another site in Chatham-Kent but have encountered difficulties with Hydro One and prospective new owners.
The heritage committee called the property an ‘estate unequalled in all of Chatham Township.” The site was originally built as a two-storey brick inn next to the road. It was moved closer to the Thames River bank in the 1930s, clad in wood and expanded by 30%. It eventually became the home of Chatham mayor Garnet Newkirk.
Coun. Jeff Wesley said although he’s aware of the historical significance of the property, he doesn’t believe the municipality has the right to “dictate to property owners” what they can do.
He said the municipality has never designated a home against the wishes of the property owner and argued that to do so would cause a substantial decrease in the value of potential heritage properties.
“I have a problem in tying someone’s hands,” he said. “It will lead to the further deterioration of heritage homes. The Grahams have done everything they can. If we do this, we will just be killing investment through bureaucracy.”
Coun. Carmen McGregor concurred and Coun. Doug Sulman said the mayor and council should pressure Hydro One officials to help expedite a potential move.
Wesley noted that the property had been for sale for five years and vacant for two prior to the purchase by the Grahams.
“There was ample opportunity for action to be taken then,” he said. “We can’t be discouraging investment this way.”
The Grahams told council that they have admired the property for years and they view Chatham-Kent as their home and plan to return here upon their retirement.
“Our vision is to quite simply restore this entire property to the grand estate it once was and hope it will be something that the citizens of Chatham-Kent can look at with pride once again.”