HARBOUR GRACE, NL — The owner of a 180-year-old heritage structure in Harbour Grace is relieved the town council has decided against expropriating her property.
However, Rhonda Parsons still worries the Town of Harbour Grace could one day decide to take another crack at obtaining ownership of Ridley Offices, a two-storey stone structure located on Beach Hill, built by merchant Thomas Ridley in 1838.
“This is only good until something crops up in the future — like for example if the (proposed Marine Industrial Park) went through,” Parsons told The Compass.
The move to expropriate Ridley Offices was an act of the previous council. An initial motion to explore the option was passed in 2015, and it was this time last year the town formally sought approval from the provincial government to expropriate the building. It had previously made multiple offers to purchase Ridley Offices, which Parsons rejected.
The motion to not proceed with expropriation was introduced and approved at the Jan. 15, 2018 council meeting. Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs told The Compass council determined it had no use for the property.
“We saw no need for the town to have the property,” said Coombs, who noted the town owned Ridley Offices at one time and kept its Sports Hall of Fame there before selling it to the owner that immediately preceded Parsons. She purchased Ridley Offices in 2007.
Coombs, who was mayor of the day when the town owned the building, recalls it was an expensive property to maintain.
“The thing is, the town had it, and we just couldn’t afford to maintain it,” he said.
The previous council had expressed an interest in taking ownership of the building to incorporate it into the Marine Industrial Park, a project spearheaded by the town as a means to increase economic activity and create a new revenue stream for the municipality. The council of that time said it would preserve the property.
Coombs said the town has had some meetings with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency since the new council was voted in last fall. ACOA would be an essential funding partner if the Marine Industrial Park were to ever come to fruition.
Parsons is skeptical about the prospect of the industrial park attracting the millions of dollars necessary to make it a reality in light of the provincial government’s fiscal situation. As for her own property, she wants assurances from the town it will not face the future threat of expropriation.
“I don’t want it where this council is in power and they say, ‘We’re not going to expropriate,’ and then suddenly if something were to change and things were to start picking up down here, then I still want to have the security of knowing they’re still not going to touch Ridley or try to attempt to tear it down,” Parsons said. “And I’m looking for not just four years — I’m looking forever.”
Last year, the Municipal Assessment Agency changed the status of her property from residential to commercial. The town for years had said her property should be considered the latter, and Parsons said it was the municipality that initiated the agency’s visit to Ridley Offices.
Coombs, who has met with the Ridley Offices owner in recent months, said he would meet with Parsons and her lawyer to discuss that issue. He noted the area where Ridley Offices is located is zoned as rural industrial.
In a subsequent conversation with The Compass, Parsons indicated she did meet with Coombs and other representatives of the town to discuss her situation. She was disappointed to learn there are no plans to have her property changed back to residential.