Richmond Court on the move

Landmark building going to a new location in the Rockland area

Workers have carved the 5,000-square-foot Richmond Court apartment building in half to prepare it for a latenight move next week to a new Rockland-area home.

Harry Newton and Michael Sweet are relocating the landmark white-andgrey building at the corner of Oak Bay and Richmond avenues. It will join their stable of other rental units in large older homes in the 1000-block of Pemberton Road. Once there, a new foundation will be laid and the five-unit building, with ceilings nearly 11 feet high, will be restored.

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"We are very excited about it because it is unique," Newton, of Newtco real estate company, said Wednesday. "From a business perspective, it works out."

Mike Miller, of Abstract Developments, sold the building to Newton and Sweet for $1, keeping the land to develop.

Miller is taking a fresh look at the soontobevacant Richmond Avenue site now that the city of Victoria has developed a new official community plan. He could not provide any details of a development plan, saying it is still in the early stages. The other three corners at that intersection hold multifamily developments, and Miller's earlier plan was to build a condo project on that property.

Newton estimates that it will cost about $500,000 to move and renovate Richmond Court.

Sweet, head of Black Horse Contracting, is on site with workers who have been going "non-stop," to have it ready to move in the middle of the night on Sept. 15, Newton said.

The building's future was uncertain in 2009. Built in the 1800s, it is a well-known and striking structure. It served for a time as what is now known as St. Michael's University School and has been used for rental apartments. It is not on Victoria's heritage registry.

After Abstract purchased the site, it applied for a development permit to demolish the building to make room for its earlier project and to receive some minor variances in setbacks and site coverage.

City council turned down the permit, saying that the building had heritage value and that it was worth preserving rental properties.

Abstract successfully challenged that decision in court in 2011, removing the barrier to a development permit. Miller then announced that the building would not be torn down.

Newton and Sweet took possession of the building in August. They won approval from Victoria to subdivide their Pemberton Road land to make room for Richmond Court between two of their three houses. Excavation has taken place, and a fence rings the property on Pemberton where a new foundation will be laid for the incoming building.

The Pemberton subdivision was contingent on Newton and Sweet signing a housing agreement with the city that all the units in their buildings will be used as rental housing.

Getting ready for the move meant taking out chimneys and other weighty materials to make it possible for Pridy Bros.

House Moving to move the building. The two-storey building with an attic weighs 120 tonnes, Newton said.

It has already been lifted up from the base. "It came off the foundation beautifully," he said.

Rents have not been set for the units, which are close to 1,000 square feet each and will have one and two bedrooms, Newton said. Some will have natural-gas fireplaces. He expects they will be ready early in 2013.

Victoria Coun. Pamela Madoff, a heritage advocate, said Richmond Court will enhance the heritage character of Pemberton Road. She is pleased it is being saved, "thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Harry Newton and Mike Sweet."

She added: "Far too often, Victoria's character buildings are moved to other communities, which results in their gain and our loss.

"It is unfortunate when the value of architecturally significant buildings is only acknowledged through the formal process of developing a heritage inventory and, in the absence of this categorization, are deemed by some to be lacking in merit."

Meanwhile, Abstract has other projects underway.

They include a proposal for a six-storey mixed-use redevelopment of the southeast corner of Fort and Cook streets, still to go to a public hearing. Plans call for 9,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial, topped by approximately 90 condos. The construction cost would be about $15 million, Miller said.

Miller is also hoping to redevelop the corner of Oak Bay Avenue and Foul Bay Road into a mixed-use building, subject to a public hearing. Construction would come in at about $9 million for that project, he said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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