City staff and community volunteers have decided the fate of the James Street Baptist Church. Where is City Council in this process?
By Chris Erskine
Published May 05, 2014
The End is coming for the James Street Baptist Church, but there are too many unanswered questions surrounding this building.
James Street Baptist Church behind hoarding
How did a group of volunteers and city staff end up deciding the fate of the James Street Baptist Church? Their decision has determined the fate of a major heritage designated building, located on one of the most historic streets, and in the very heart of the City of Hamilton.
Why is City Council allowing non-elected people to run this City?
Why as citizens are we allowing this to happen?
In the fall of 2013, the James Street Baptist Church Developer appeared before the Heritage Permits Sub-Committee, an advisory committee that is made up of community volunteers.
Since the committee is made up of volunteers, their mandate is designed to be restricted, to simply review requests that affect heritage properties, and then advise the larger Heritage Committee.
The Heritage Committee is where your elected City Councillors start to become involved, but even here the committee's authority is limited to making recommendations to Planning Committee, a committee with even more elected representatives.
The Planning Committee then reports to City Council, where your representatives can affirm, reject, or change recommendations made at lower levels.
Essentially, the buck stops here.
As citizens, if you don't like their decisions then you can vote against their re-election this fall. This is something you can't do with staff and volunteers. This is why their role must always be secondary to your elected City Councillor.
So, what happen with James Street Baptist Church?
Based on watching the Committee meetings via Joey Coleman's reporting, I believe the following happen. The Developer wanted to save the Church, but his people were saying that the building posed a real safety risk, and had to be torn down immediately.
Instead of trying to help the Developer find a solution by commissioning independent engineering assessment of the building (with the goal of finding a potential solution), the volunteer Permits Sub-Committee decided to create a complicated list of conditions.
My understanding is the demolition permit was conditional, and that city staff were directed to ensure that the conditions were addressed.
Apparently, there is a bylaw that allows minor alternations to be approved by City staff and not go back to Committee process where you're Councillors can decide whether to approve, reject, or change.
So, did City Staff actually grant a demolition permit?
If yes, then why did City Staff feel empowered to use a clause for approval for minor heritage alternations for a major demolition work?
Did the Developer address all the conditions set by the volunteers?
Where is the results of their inspections?
Is this really how the City should be working?
There are simply too many questions. When will we hear from City Council with a recorded vote to affirm, reject, or change the fate of James Street Baptist Church?
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