By Belle Hatfield
Yarmouth Town Council has deferred its decision on an application to remove Zion Baptist Church from its municipal heritage registry to give the province's Heritage Trust time to decide whether to make a formal offer of assistance to the church's trustees. It's considered a last ditch effort to save the church from demolition. When the motion came to the floor Thursday evening, Nov. 14, Councillor Phil Mooney, who sits on the heritage committee, spoke about the "spirited" discussion at the last advisory meeting, preceding the motion to recommend against de-registration.
"As it sits now, I have no problem voting tonight to de-register the property," he said.
Council was informed that members of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia had toured the church earlier in the day.
First the church's trustees, and then a representative of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, were given an opportunity to address council.
Speaking for the church, Charlie Jess said, "This has gone on a long time. We have to get it over with."
Richard Pitman said the congregation feels it has run out of time. As of Dec. 31, the building will no longer be insured (the church's insurer has indicated it will no longer insure the building after the end of the year). He said without insurance, they will be limited in how they can proceed with an orderly sale of any of the interior fittings and elements.
"We have a limited time now for people to come in and make us an offer (on furniture and fittings)," he said.
Iain Taylor spoke on behalf of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.
He said the three members of the executive had met after touring the building and were prepared to sit down with the trustees in the morning after the meeting, but he warned that council's actions were critical. To vote to de-register would send a signal.
Taylor told the Vanguard last week that until the full board meets to ratify recommendations from the executive committee he wouldn't be at liberty to discuss details of the commitment the preservation society was prepared to make in assisting restoration, but he described it as “substantial.”
The church has structural deficiencies and has been deemed unsafe. Repairs are beyond the congregation’s means. Church trustees first applied for de-registration in 2011 and were denied, which meant the church faced a three-year delay in executing a demolition plan. In the intervening two years, the property has been offered to the town and the Yarmouth County Historical Society, and put on the market for public sale. The trustees say they have received no written offers from any party willing to take the property off their hands. And Jess pointed out on Thursday evening that they still haven't received anything in writing.
The congregation believes the only reasonable option left is an orderly demolition that preserves as much of the church’s heritage as possible. It applied again last spring to de-register the property in order to prepare for that demolition in June 2014. Without council’s approval the demolition will be delayed until after Sept. 30, 2014, although nothing prevents the owners from dismantling the church’s interior at any time.
In deferring the decision, the town's mayor Pam Mood reminded the parties involved the motion would be back on the table in December for a decision.
The municipal registration of heritage properties is governed by the Nova Scotia Heritage Properties Act. The act allows for registration of municipal heritage properties that are deemed to have a local or community level of heritage value. Heritage value may include architecture, historical associations, or settings and provide important representations of a municipality’s history.