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Is there heritage value beneath rubble of illegally bulldozed 130-year old barn?

Three years after a protected barn was demolished under the cover of darkness, a dispute over its heritage value is set to resume at city hall.

A new report to the Community Advisory Committee on Planning (CACP) recommends granting a demolition permit to remove the pile of collapsed wood -- by hand -- so that the provincial Conservation Review Board (CRB) can determine if the stone foundation merits heritage designation.

“Despite the demolition of the accessory building, staff continue to believe that the property has significant cultural heritage value or interest,” reads the report from the city’s heritage planner.

On Jan. 28, 2020, city council declared its intention to grant heritage protection to the 130-year old barn at 247 Halls Mill Rd. in Byron — blocking property owner John McLeod’s request for a demolition permit.

Two nights later, McLeod used heavy equipment to topple the barn.

He was eventually fined $2,000 under the Ontario Heritage Act.

A stop work order issued by the city has left a pile of wood and debris on the site ever since.

“It’s a devastating loss for the community,” said neighbour Debbie Park. “We have a reminder of that every time we walk.”

In February 2022, McLeod filed an appeal to the CRB challenging council’s intention to designate the barn as a heritage structure.

Coun. Anna Hopkins said that triggered the need for a demolition permit to remove the pile of wood.

“The historical significance has to be determined by the board,” explained Hopkins. “They need to see the foundation, and that’s why the debris has to be removed.”

Park believes a $2,000 fine for violating the Heritage Act wasn’t enough for bulldozing a piece of Byron’s history.

“I was shocked at the fine,” she said.

Park worries that McLeod could ultimately profit by selling the barn board and other timber, and told CTV News London, “I’ve been inside that barn I have a 150-year old barn at my house, and there’s absolutely no comparison.”

Not wishing to appear on camera, John McLeod’s wife told CTV News that no one will want to buy the wood because it is severely damaged by dry rot.

The long-term plan for the site is to build infill houses that resemble the heritage of the neighbourhood.

Park said neighbours have a different idea.

“To see if they’re able to save the foundation, whatever is remaining of the foundation that wasn’t damaged by the bulldozer,” she said. “And we would like to see a plaque on the edge of the property with photos of the barn.”

The Halls Mill area dates back to Byron’s earliest days.

The barn was cited in a 2019 municipal report as one of the historic assets that might justify declaring the neighbourhood a Heritage Conservation District.

It was built in 1890 as a coach house, barn, and warehouse for a woolen mill owner.

The advisory committee will offer input on the request to remove the woodpile to expose the foundation at a meeting March 8. Top Stories

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