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Posted: September 24, 2020

Legendary Trites-Leroux Mansion to be saved

By Erin Knutson

The historic Trites-Leroux Mansion near downtown Fernie is one step further to restoration following a city council decision to take another glance at a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA).

Photos submitted

The city approved the third reading of an HRA on Sept. 14 following a lengthy debate and several residents’ presentations at the public hearing proceeding council’s decision.

“This project is incredibly important to all of us, and I think that’s unanimous to all of us despite what side you’re on,” said Mayor Ange Qualizza.

Six residents spoke at the hearing, along with the submission of nine letters.

Participants favoured preservation though many stated concerns about the revitalization project’s process and outcome, including the possibility of congested parking in an already dense parking area.

The decision will allow for alterations to the building while preserving the integrity of the original structure. Six residential units, along with the prospect of additional parking, are slated for construction. According to owners who bought the property in 2018, all planning was done with the city’s consultation to get the best result.

Despite concerns from residents regarding the continuity of the area surrounding Trites-Leroux’s and its current historical appearance, the argument was made that some preservation was better than none.

The alternative of demolition to the mansion to make way for a host of commercial properties was mentioned to opposing residents as a possible solution for the owners, who maintained the project’s high cost.

The property is currently zoned for 19 units, a stretch from the 12 units that would stand
with the additional units tacked on to the existing six.

Trites-Leroux has a lengthy history and remains a beloved building to those who remember its previous glory. Prior tenants and community members touted the extraordinary building at the hearing, reminiscing on its beauty and the significant events hosted there, including dances, during the Second World War.

Standing at slightly over a century, Trites-Leroux at 101, is looking at more birthdays in years to come.

The owners maintain that the building is a legacy project for them. Money is not the ultimate concern, though it is an important one for consideration due to the expansive cost and burden of restoration to the degraded structure, according to businessman and co-owner John Turcasso.

When the units costs came to light, the lower end of the scale was approximately $400-450k for a one-bedroom unit on the top of three floors.

Turcasso justified the cost by stressing that restoration solely to the mansion was unfeasible and financially impossible. The additional units would help absorb expenses and sustain the structure over time.

“It should not be at a cost to us to restore this building,” he said.

Part of the HRA is to provide an opportunity for affordable housing. According to Coun. Pulsifer, the figures, slant toward and suggest an unattainable price for those struggling to secure affordable units.

“There is an opportunity missed if we’re not taking the opportunity to put money into affordable housing,” he said.

Pulsifer was the only council member of five, including Mayor Qualizza, who opposed the motion.

“It’s a less than elegant solution and the first public hearing on an issue during COVID-19. I hope everyone felt heard and engaged online, or otherwise,” said Qualizza.

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