‘I want to be there, I want to protest’: Demolition of Lanark’s Glenayr Kitten Mill could begin at any time

The Lanark Kitten Mill in September, 2023. – Submitted photo

The Glenayr Kitten Mill in Lanark Village is set to be demolished, but the exact date of when the demolition will begin is unclear.

“Faced with an unsafe property, the Township has retained a contractor to demolish the structures to ensure public safety,” reads a Nov. 23 press release from the Township of Lanark Highlands.

On Sept. 19 of this year, an “Order to Remedy Unsafe Building” was placed on 75 George Street (also known as the Glenayr Kitten Mill) ordering the demolition and/or remedying of “structural deficiencies” of parts of the building by Oct. 19.

“As the orders were not complied with, the township erected fencing to prevent public access to the property and retained its own engineer to assess the structures and make recommendations about how to address the condition of the buildings,” says the press release from the township.

The township’s engineer found that all of the structures were in a state of disrepair and recommended that three be demolished immediately and the remaining two required immediate action to stabilize them.

Faced with an “unsafe property,” the township has retained a contractor to demolish the structures to ensure public safety. The township says the owner will be invoiced for the costs of demolition at the end of the process.

For his part, the building’s owner, Andrew Robertson, says he’s still trying to work with his lawyers and the Lanark Heritage Preservation Society [LHPS] to save the building from demolition.

“I’m still trying to work with that group and I was hoping the township would back off, but they’re not,” Robertson told Lanarkist.

He believes the situation is an example of “government overreach.”

“They’re worried about public safety but we could fix the problem and not just demolish a whole building for no reason, especially when someone wants to come in and renovate it.”

Earlier this year, Robertson entered into a sale agreement with the LHPS, who committed to restoring and renovating the building.

Robertson said that he was “doing what he could,” despite the township’s media release implying that he wasn’t doing anything about the situation.

“I don’t have the time or money, so I can’t hire anyone [to restore it]. And I thought selling it was part of it was doing something about it.”

The LHPS is still hoping to restore and re-purpose the 1860s-era building, which is historically significant to the village; the group believes a restored Kitten Mill could be an economic and tourist boon to the area if the right decisions were made for it.

Susan Berlin, member of the LHPS, called that media release from the township “highly inaccurate,” saying that in her view it is “designed to persuade people who read it that all the blame was on the owner. And he certainly deserves some of it, but not all of it.”

In Berlin’s view, “the township is liable for a considerable amount of blame because all along they should have known that the Building Code Act says that if there’s a safety issue and they issue a request to the owner to fix it and the owner doesn’t do it…they’re supposed to do it and put the cost in it as a lien on the property.”

The demolition was anticipated to begin anytime after November 24, 2023, and Berlin says she has not received a response from the township after reaching out multiple times to try and find out a specific date.

“They won’t tell us when,” she says. “I’ve asked [clerk and acting CAO Amanda Noël] and I’ve asked [chief building officer Kyle McRae] to tell me when it’s going to be demolished, because I know a lot of people who said ‘I want to be there, I want to protest,’ and they will not say.”

Berlin fears that “if the demolition is indeed carried out, the village will be left with a barren brownfield property with a huge lien on it for the foreseeable future.”

Lanarkist reached out to both Noël and McRae to try and confirm more precisely when the demolition will begin, which contractor was hired and how much it will cost.

In an emailed response, Noël stated that “the information contained in the media release is all that the township is disclosing publicly at this time.”

Lanarkist will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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