Owner applies to rezone Hebert residence

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Public hearing draws large crowd; adjourned to Feb. 27

The owner of the historic Hebert residence at 11 Mill Drive says if she can’t run her business out of the property, she may have it torn down.

Owner Yvette Laviolette has applied to have the property rezoned from residential (R1) to direct control (DC), with the understanding she would operate her insurance adjustment business out of the building but that it would not involve clients visiting the site.

“I’m here to seek council’s help to save a heritage building in St. Albert, and to keep a small business here in St. Albert,” she said.

She explained her position at a two-hour public hearing Jan. 23, which was adjourned and will continue Feb. 27. This will give affected residents another opportunity to make their opinions known.

City planner Jessi Fry said administration is opposed to the rezoning application for several reasons. In general terms the rezoning would not be in compliance with city documents including the Municipal Development Plan.

She noted site-specific issues as well. The lot would need four parking stalls, which are not there now, and paving an area off the back alley to accommodate parking could affect drainage to neighbouring properties.

“Administration recommends to deny the proposed redistricting because a professional office use is incompatible with the surrounding neighbourhood,” she said.

Fry added that redistricting the site would not guarantee that the building would not be torn down regardless, just that council would have direct control over any future development at the site.

Laviolette said she bought the house with her husband in 2007, and lived there with her husband and her three children who still lived at home. They subsequently moved out and she has tried to rent it, but she has had difficulty in keeping renters as the house was built in 1905 and is in many ways incompatible with modern use.

For example there are six “very small” bedrooms on the second floor, there is a narrow staircase making it difficult to move furniture like a queen-size bed upstairs. The shower is inconveniently located in a main-floor bathroom off the kitchen.

Laviolette said she can’t afford to keep it vacant, and that she could make money by tearing it down and building something new on the property.

The house is currently listed as a “place of interest,” Fry said, but is not a protected heritage site. Laviolette said she would apply for heritage status to protect the property in perpetuity if the rezoning application was granted.

Asked if she had considered the third option of trying to sell the house, she said she had not.

“It would be difficult to sell given the feedback I get when showing it to prospective renters,” she said. “I think very few people are prepared to invest in what it takes to keep up a heritage home.”

More than a dozen members of the public provided submissions at the public hearing. The majority of those were supportive of the application, but three adjacent property owners spoke in opposition to rezoning the site.

Many of those speaking in support of the application made reference to the need to preserve this important heritage site within St. Albert.

“It’s more than a century old and an excellent example of architecture no longer seen in the city,” Jared Milne said.

“The city of St. Albert clearly wants to and needs to preserve heritage in St. Albert,” former MP Brent Rathgeber said.

Others spoke in neutral terms about the proposal. Arts and Heritage Foundation director Ann Ramsden said while she supports preserving heritage, she’s unsure if approving this application will achieve that end.

“My concern is that the redistricting comes first and the designation comes afterward, what assurance do we have that the designation would take place?” she said.

Neighbours living adjacent to the property spoke in opposition to the application, arguing it could destroy the character of the quiet residential neighbourhood.

“A business would not, unfortunately, contribute to the neighbourhood in any meaningful way,” Chantal Fournier said.

Long-time resident Claude Valliere said he was surprised so many people who didn’t even live in the neighbourhood were supporting the application.

“After living there for 50 years, I want to make sure that our community stays nice and quiet the way it is,” he said. “We definitely don’t need any businesses in there.”

Council passed first reading of the bylaw, and adjourned the public hearing to Feb. 27.

Mayor Nolan Crouse said residents who have not spoken will have the opportunity to speak at that time, and those who have already spoken will have the opportunity to provide new information.

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Doug Neuman