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Saving Oliver

Posted on May 26, 2016 by Melissa Villeneuve
Lethbridge Herald photo by Ian Martens Rezoning will give the city more say in the future of the historic Oliver Building.

Lethbridge City Council has voted in favour of a bylaw to rezone the land for a historical building in downtown Lethbridge to have greater control once it’s sold.
The city is preparing to sell the property located at 316 5 Street South, also known as the Oliver Building.
The bylaw changes the land-use from Downtown Commercial to Direct Control. This will allow the city to ensure the unique attributes of the building facade are either retained or replicated with restoration of the existing building or redevelopment of a new building.
It also restricts the range of land uses, excluding auto body and/or paint shop, automotive, parking facility, vehicle sales or rental and service stations.
Councillor Ryan Parker said passing the resolution gives the community certainty over what will happen with the Oliver Building.
“What we’ve heard loud and clear in the community, and council’s heard it, is that there’s huge historical significance,” said Parker.
“They do not want to see it demolished, but at the same time they want to make sure that whatever does occur, it stays exactly how it is with the exception of making sure it’s safe. We want the facade to look just how it’s always looked for the past 50, 100 years.”
The Oliver Building, constructed in 1900, is named for William Oliver, a prominent citizen and entrepreneur who served as an alderman and as Lethbridge’s mayor for four terms. It was constructed with locally-produced brick during early commercial development in the city, and saw continuous activity until 2008.
The building has a significant design and architectural features, showcasing some of the most interesting brick detailing in the downtown core.
In the early 2000s, the building showed signs of poor maintenance. It was rendered uninhabitable in 2008 after one corner partially collapsed due to structural deterioration, and part of the building had to be demolished for public safety.
The City of Lethbridge became the owner in May 2014 and initiated a land sale the following year. The proposals received at that time did not meet the bid requirements, so the city is preparing to try again with appropriate land-use controls in place.
“With Direct Control there’s no grey. It’s black or white. If you say you’re going to do something, you have to do exactly what you’re going to do,” said Parker. “By passing these guidelines, people will know the rules of engagement, what needs to occur, what kind of bricks, how it has to look, and they really can’t deviate. That’s the key.”
Although the building doesn’t currently hold a historical designation, Parker said its value is priceless in the hearts of those who grew up in the area and worked in the building. An official designation could be pursued within the coming months.
“Right now we as a council find huge value in making sure we retain the history of our downtown,” he said.
The property is currently listed for sale, and Parker hopes the city receives some competitive bids before the process wraps in June.
The vote was held after a public hearing in which community members spoke of any concerns with the bylaw.
Local businessmen Hunter Heggie and Brian Vandenberg voiced frustration over trying to purchase the land for the last three years without success. Heggie said he is in support of the bylaw so long as it means saving the Oliver Building, which is their intent should their bid be successful.

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