A report commissioned by the developer Forest Green Homes which recommends the demolition of the oldest house in Newmarket (Bogart House, 1811) is flawed according to ERA Architects, brought in by the Town to give a second opinion.
The developer’s Heritage Impact Assessment – written by Wayne Morgan – says the old house is beyond saving and should be knocked down and replaced with a memorial plaque.
Morgan served on the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee for twenty years from 1980-2000 and describes himself as a Heritage Planner. Bogart House was designated in 1987 while he served on the Advisory Committee.
In their so-called “peer review” to the Town, ERA Architects say:
“The conservation option recommended by Wayne Morgan relies on two assumptions that are not backed by sufficient evidence in the HIA.
1. That the construction date/age of the Bogart/Johnston House cannot be verified.
2. That the building’s condition is past the point of reasonable repair."
ERA say that if the date of construction is confirmed this would make the house both rare for its early full two-storey construction in Ontario and age as one of the oldest surviving houses in Newmarket. They say further investigations are required by a conservation architect.
In fact there are many internal contradictions in the Morgan Report. Morgan asserts at various points in his report that the Bogart House does indeed date from 1811 while, at the same time, pointing to the alleged absence of documentary evidence. He says:
“The House is designated because it is an early (1811) structure and a representative example of vernacular architecture. It is a rare example of an early structure.” (Morgan’s underlining for emphasis.)
The great mystery is why Morgan took the developer’s shilling and risked his reputation when he was centrally involved in the designation of Bogart House 30 years ago and had intimate knowledge of the property, its history and unique heritage value.
Heritage Committee gets fired up
The issue came before the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee last night and I drop in to hear what they have to say.
The Chair, Athol Hart, is unusually animated making it very clear he wants to see the old house preserved in situ. He tells us it has the same foundation, doors and windows that it had in 1987 when it was designated. The only difference is that it has been allowed to decay into its present condition.
But who was responsible for allowing this to happen?
Dave Ruggle, the Town’s senior heritage planner, says the development application from Forest Homes – initially submitted in 2013 – will “not be going further” until the Bogart House issue is resolved.
My own Ward Councillor, Tom Hempen, is trenchant telling us Bogart House is a significant part of our heritage and when Forest Green purchased the land at Leslie Street for development they knew the old house was designated. He is uncompromising:
“Regardless of what the peer reviewer says, the owners need to honour their agreement to preserve the building.”
Committee member Malcolm Watts wonders aloud why Wayne Morgan was asked by the developer to do the HIA given he was involved in the original designation. He also questions Morgan’s qualifications. He is a heritage planner not a conservation architect. Malcolm says there must be a timeline for work to be done on the old house.
Now everyone is talking about water penetration and the damage that is being done. Tom Hempen wants the Town’s By-law people to get in there without delay.
I am nodding in agreement. The Heritage Committee nails its colours to the mast and makes its position absolutely clear. And that’s good. We now wait to see the form of the follow up.
But the wider question of how the Town allowed the iconic Bogart House to get into its present lamentable state remains to be answered.