The redpath mansion is crumbling, but residents and protectors of the city's heritage buildings balk at allowing a developer to raze the house and build anew

LINDA GYULAI,
The Gazette August 19, 2010

The remains of the Redpath Mansion on downtown du Musee Ave. have stood for 24 years as a vestige of what preservationists hoped was a bygone era of battles to save heritage in Montreal's Square Mile.

However, a developer's renewed request to demolish what is left of the deteriorating structure at 3455-3457 du Musee to replace it with a 14-unit condo project is again sparking debate.

The Ville Marie borough will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the project by Amos and Michael Sochaczevski, who are father and son, as well as on five other rezoning projects around the borough.

The Queen Anne-style mansion was built in 1886 by architect Sir Andrew Taylor for the Redpath family, which founded the sugar-refining company of the same name, on a slope of Mount Royal overlooking Sherbrooke St. W.

Demolition was started in 1986 when members of the Sochaczevski family bought it, but Heritage Montreal sought a court injunction to halt it. That left the facade and about 10 metres of the side walls standing. A city appeal board blocked a second request by the Sochaczevskis to demolish the remaining structure in February 2002.

Now, the latest project calls for demolition and construction of a seven-storey building with 28 underground parking spaces. The top three floors would be of glass and recessed on all sides so it's not noticeable from the street, the owners say. The project, which passed first reading at a borough council meeting in July, would stand 25 metres high, while the zoning allows for 16 metres.

However, Heritage Montreal says the plan violates an agreement it signed with the city and the Sochaczevskis in 1986 after the initial demolition was halted. The agreement called for any future project to preserve and integrate the remains of the original building. It also called for the project to respect the scale and design of the original building.

"The Redpath project involves 24 years of trying to have discussions and it's being treated in a very shallow fashion," Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru said.

However, the Sochaczevskis say the project is greatly reduced from an initial plan to build 11 storeys, and will breathe life into a derelict site.

"Finally, after 20 years, we have a project that will put a development worthy of the Golden Square Mile on the site," Michael Sochaczevski said. "There is no building, there is only a ruined front."

The plan is to use the foundation of the original building and reuse some elements, such as the stone, in the new project, he said. " We took a lot of things into account and we tried to please everybody and still have a reasonable project that makes common sense," Amos Sochaczevski said.

Moreover, the site is surrounded by 11-, 17-and 20-storey towers on neighbouring streets, the Sochaczevskis say. However, Bumbaru countered that most of the towers date back to the 1970s when Montreal was a "frontier town" that lacked zoning rules.

"Nobody here says: 'Don't develop,' " said Jean-Francois Sauve, who lives behind the mansion on de la Montagne St. "Just respect the agreements that were made and the (zoning) rules that are in place.

Sauve says he's also concerned the project will block sunlight on his property and allow residents to peer into his garden and home. "It's quite surprising that we're right downtown and the city can't enforce simple zoning," he said. "It's actually quite alarming."

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