London, Ont., councillors mull increased cost of relocating 100 Stanley St.

A handful of city councillors in London, Ont. discussed the increased costs of a relocation on Tuesday that’s tied to an upcoming construction project on Wharncliffe Road South.

The project requires the relocation of 100 Stanley St., a heritage-designated home that long made local headlines after former owner Nan Finlayson fought to avoid expropriation of the land.

In 2020, Finlayson and the city reached a settlement in the amount of $500,000 after council voted to expropriate 100 Stanley St. earlier that year.

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On Tuesday, councillors sitting on the Civic Works Committee debated a report from city staff that indicated the cost of relocating 100 Stanley St. had ballooned to a range between $900,000 and $1.1 million, about $500,000 more than the originally anticipated price tag.

“This increase is attributed to the project team now having a better understanding of the property and the processes involved,” notes the report from city staff.

“This better understanding is a result of the overall project design having been progressed and the project team now having greater access to the heritage dwelling.”

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The relocation of 100 Stanley St. is part of the city’s Wharncliffe Road South Improvements project, a project that aims to widen Wharncliffe Road South at Horton Street and repair a railway overpass at the intersection.

When the latest report on the project was brought to the Civic Works Committee on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Holder expressed frustration with the increased cost.

“I appreciate that when we undertook this project, and with great compliments to our staff, we understood what we thought was a reasonable estimate to move things,” Holder told the committee.

“For it now to double, and potentially more than double, gets into the crazy stage.”

Holder introduced a motion to have 100 Stanley St. demolished rather than relocated in an effort to save taxpayer dollars.

Coun. Stephen Turner then asked city staff if it would be more expensive to demolish the home.

City staff noted that doing so may lead to an even heftier price tag.

“To change course at this time does require additional process, potential delays to the overall (Wharncliffe Road South Improvements) project, and that would incur additional costs,” said Doug MacRae, director of roads and transportation for the City of London.

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Turner later remarked that he feels London is “kind of boxed in” when it comes to dealing with 100 Stanley St.

“I’m with mayor on this that the optics suck, to be candid,” Turner told the committee.

“The impacts of changing course, however, seem far more consequential, potentially, than if we just maintain course.”

Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen expressed support for Holder’s motion to demolish the building, describing its planned relocation as a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“We’re talking about $1.1 million to move a house when the house doesn’t need to be moved. The vast majority of my constituents have said, ‘Hey, this looks like hundreds of houses throughout London.’ Yes, it’s an older home, but what are we supposed to do? Make all of these homes heritage sites? Bankrupt ourselves?” Van Meerbergen told the committee.

“Demolition is the way to go.”

Coun. Jesse Helmer advised the committee to stick to the relocation plan, citing concerns for increased costs should the demolition option be taken up.

“Not just in terms of the actual cost of the project, but the uncertainty it develops for the businesses, many of whom are very opposed to this project, as Coun. Turner can tell you,” Helmer said.

“We’re talking about the total closure of Wharncliffe for months. People have tried to plan their lives and their businesses around what’s going to happen.”

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Holder’s motion was eventually shot down. While Holder and Van Meerbergen voted yes, Turner, Helmer and Coun. Elizabeth Peloza, who serves as the committee’s chair, opposed the idea.

Coun. Maureen Cassidy was absent for the vote on Tuesday.

Following the debate on 100 Stanley St., Helmer requested a “timeline” be produced by city staff to outline “if an amendment were to proceed, what are the sort of critical points along that timeline and where could delays, or not, be introduced.”

“We will do our best to quantify the risks and costs as we know them through the path of either pursuing a change to the environmental assessment or based on the plan head of you right now,” said city engineer Kelly Scherr.

The report will go before full city council on Mar. 23.

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