JD Irving’s plans to demolish Brown House, a Saint John heritage building it owns at 111-119 King Street East, does not have the support of Saint John residents who organized a protest on August 16. Residents gathered outside Brown House and projected information against the demolition off the building.
JD Irving has asked Saint John Common Council to remove the properties from the King Street East Heritage Conservation Area. If Council grants the request, the company would no longer be required to offer the properties for sale before demolishing Brown House, a requirement of the City’s Heritage Conservation Areas Bylaw.
JD Irving has owned the building since 1996. The company also owns the two adjacent vacant lots. In 2016, the company sought to demolish the building, but its application was denied by Saint John’s Heritage Review Board.
The building is more than 80 years old and located across from the Loyalist burial grounds. Opponents to the demolition say that JD Irving has let it become dilapidated. The building, vacant since 2016, has had its utilities disconnected and been exposed to the elements.
Prior to 2016, JD Irving had supported the application that the building be designated with heritage status.
Saint John residents opposed to the planned demolition point out that the city and province is in an affordable housing crunch and that the building could provide some badly needed units for the uptown Saint John area. In the past, the building has housed five apartments.
For JD Irving, the building and vacant lots are a prime location for its company, adjacent to the company’s headquarters in Saint John.
On July 11, JD Irving presented to Saint John Common Council, requesting it be allowed to demolish the building. Some members of the public also attended this meeting and spoke against the proposal.
JD Irving’s proposal for the properties includes a park with plaques marking historical events. The company says it would maintain the park for 20 years.
City councillor David Hickey questioned a clause in the proposal that if vandalism were to occur then JD Irving would stop maintaining the park. Irving spokesperson Chris MacDonald responded, “It’s important from our perspective to maintain that property because then we have control.”
Sara Stashick is an uptown Saint John resident with community planning expertise. She said, “A desire for control is not a legitimate reason to ask for special treatment.”
“Most councillors at the session seemed to share the sentiment that they simply don’t have any power to compel JDI to either improve the state of the property or sell it, and appeared resigned to granting JDI’s request for special treatment. What they seem to have missed is that the City had already begun exercising its authority by initiating the Vacant and Dangerous Buildings
Program,” added Stashick.
Stashick and Raven Blue were among the organizers of the protest at Brown House on August 16. They projected messages off the building, including the names, phone numbers, and images of all the city councillors who voted in favour of removing the building’s heritage protection. Also projected were 10 key facts pertaining to the proposed demolition, history, what city council can do for options, quotes from JD Irving representatives, and calls to action.
Stashick said that people attended the protest for different reasons. “Some are concerned about preserving heritage assets, some are here because they’re looking at it from an affordable housing lens. For me it’s about fairness and not giving special treatment to special interest groups just because they want it,” she said.
Stashick said it’s important that the public know what’s happening. She wants city councillors currently in favour of the application to change their minds and vote against the proposal at the city council’s third reading of the application on August 22.
City councillors currently in favour of the application are Greg Stewart, Gerry Lowe, John Mackenzie, Barry Ogden and Gary Sullivan.
For Stashick and other Saint John residents, this is not a done deal.
Lynaya Astephen is a Saint John-based social justice activist.