By Jillian Zynomirski
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—Lorrie Harcourt’s house, which she has resided in since 1986, is at risk of being expropriated by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), as it claims that it requires access to the property and house during construction of the Argyle Street Bridge.
Harcourt’s house, also known as the Toll House, a historical landmark in Caledonia, is located at 4 Argyle Street, and can be seen on the northeast side of the existing bridge.
Harcourt currently resides in the house, along with a tenant with accessibility issues, and at times her grandchildren and adult children. Harcourt also runs a hairdressing business out of her home.
In 2014, Harcourt was first approached by the MTO seeking access to parts of her property to facilitate the reconstruction of the bridge. Between 2014 and 2019, negotiations were ongoing for the MTO to gain temporary limited access of her property.
Harcourt agreed to offer the limited access to the MTO, as long as it was in accordance with the Expropriations Act to ensure due process and fair compensation.
The two parties were unsuccessful in reaching an amicable agreement. The Ministry is now seeking to expropriate Harcourt’s property as a whole, including her house.
A hearing was held on Friday, June 21, 2019 for an Inquiry Officer to hear evidence from both Harcourt and the Ministry.
The Inquiry Officer will prepare a report containing a summary of the evidence, the Officer’s findings, and the Officer’s opinion on the merits of the expropriation. The Inquiry Officer’s report is given to the Ministry and the landowner. The Ministry is the approving authority, and will consider the report and decide whether or not to proceed with the expropriation.
The Minister shall give written reasons for her final decision and will serve the decision to both parties within 90 days of receipt of the report.
The MTO’s Position
MTO Engineer Danuta Mahabir, Head of the Geotechnical System, said the Ministry requires access to the interior and exterior of the Toll House to implement conservation measures to protect the heritage building and its structural integrity, while also ensuring the safety of the public and workers.
“There are significant impacts based on the proximity of the Toll House to the bridge,” said Mahabir.
The recommended replacement bridge will be on the same alignment as the current bridge, but will have a wider footprint to accommodate for a left-hand turn lane. This will result in the new bridge being closer to Harcourt’s house, said Mahabir.
“It is the Ministry’s position that vacant possession for the duration of construction is required,” said Mahabir. “The Toll House is considered to be an at-risk building (built in 1875, 144 years old) based on its proximity to the bridge and the construction area. While the ministry seeks to mitigate and monitor the impacts of vibration during and after construction, there is still the potential risk of undermining the Toll House foundation, compromising the structural integrity of the building, and/or significant damage or collapse to the building.”
The Ministry says that obtaining the property as a whole is the only viable option to mitigate safety risks, preserve the integrity of the building, and allow access for construction.
“At this time, based on the information the Ministry has to date and based on the age and condition of the Toll House, the Ministry no longer considers a temporary limited interest in the lands to perform engineering investigations and monitoring a viable option,” said Mahabir. “The Ministry is not willing to accept the risks concerning the structural integrity of the building and safety of those occupying the Toll House during construction.”
Harcourt’s lawyer Shane Rayman believes “the Ministry only needs temporary and limited interests over portions of her property for monitoring during its reconstruction. The MTO does not have to take her entire home.”
Rayman said the MTO has also not provided any assurances on how Harcourt will be able to relocate, or whether she will be compensated so that she can find a suitable replacement property before her current home is taken away.
“Harcourt is concerned that she will be left in a situation where she may not have a home for herself, her long-term tenant, her adult children, and her grandchildren,” said Rayman.
In closing, Rayman said: “Ms. Harcourt should be treated with respect by the Minister, who should make a responsible decision to let her stay in her home.”
Harcourt said the last five years have been the most stressful of her life.
“Especially because of the complete runaround that I have gotten from the Ministry,” said Harcourt. “I bought and paid for this house, legally … and to have it taken out from under me like this is heartbreaking. Especially because (the Ministry) has not proven, in my opinion, that it is necessary and reasonable to do so. I feel as though (the Ministry) is only taking (my house) because it’s cheaper, not because they have my best interests at heart. Their argument seems to be based on preserving the building, without any care for the people inside.”
Ultimately, Harcourt would like to be able to stay in her home.
“I have lived here for 33 years, over half my life, and have worked hard to fix the house up, and pay off my mortgage…. I love my old home and have spent a good chunk of my life trying to preserve a piece of history.”
If the expropriation should proceed, Rayman said “he would want to make sure she’s getting the compensation she needs so that she can keep her lifestyle, keep her business, and make sure her family has somewhere to live.”
If the expropriation were to proceed, Harcourt will be given an initial offer for the market value of the home, based on the Ministry’s appraisal. Then she could claim additional compensation for her understanding of what her home is worth, moving costs, business relocation costs, and her cost of getting a home that provides at least equivalent amenities.
If the two parties cannot come to an agreement, they would go to the board of negotiation. If an agreement is not made at this point, it would be decided by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, an independent administrative local tribunal.