The owner of a crumbling heritage building in the Plateau has finally been given the go-ahead to dismantle part of it.

Quebec's Ministry of Culture has given the owner until mid-July to tear down the facade of the building on Esplanade Avenue facing Jeanne-Mance Park and demolish the structure behind it.

The move comes two weeks after the 115-year-old building decayed to the point that one of the exterior walls partially collapsed, forcing 40 people who live nearby to immediately evacuate their homes due to sudden safety concerns.

Many neighbours, though, have long pushed for action as they watched the empty Greystone become increasingly neglected, prompting a fence to be erected around it over a decade ago and fuelling many complaints to the city.

The Plateau-Mont-Royal borough had tried unsuccessfully to force the owner to renovate the building for years.

“It's really an extreme case of negligence by a property owner of a heritage property it's really deplorable that we've got to this stage now,” said Alex Norris, who is serving as interim mayor of the Plateau.

Last fall, it succeeded in getting Quebec Superior Court to grant the city an injunction, ordering longtime owner Guy Desrosiers to demolish the building and to eventually rebuild it – but maintain the facade because it is part of the province's Mount Royal Heritage Site.

Desrosiers planned to demolish the facade brick by brick, but the province's culture department insisted the facade be buttressed during demolition, again delaying work.

The culture ministry has now agreed to the brick-by-brick removal, with each stone removed and numbered. The letter also states he must use specialized masons and an engineer overseeing the work and that he is required to recreate the architectural characteristics of the original building.

Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal said he’s not convinced the owner will follow through.

“This calls for the city to intervene and just say, ‘Sorry we'll have to use the new power of the law to even find a way to acquire this property and do some projects,’” he said.

A new structure needs to be built within the next five years, said Bumbaru.

“We will be measuring the success not by saying the minister of culture issued that paper, but when we walk by – what do we see? A vacant lot, a derelict site or a successful reconstruction?” he said.

The owner has 45 days from May 31, the date they issued him the letter of authorization, to complete the demolition.

Norris said while he's never happy to see a heritage facade dismantled, he is pleased with the manner in which the owner has been ordered to do the work, from both heritage and public safety standpoints. He said the borough intends to hand over the hefty bills it has incurred to the owner.

“I'm going to make sure that all of the costs we've incurred as a public authority as a result of Mr. Desrosiers’s negligence are recovered by the city, so that the taxpayer isn't out of pocket because of his failure to take his responsibilities,” he said.

Some neighbours have been permitted to return to their homes, but not Desrosiers himself, who also lives a few doors down.

His own home has been deemed unsafe for the time being.


- With reporting from CTV Montrea's Caroline van Vlaardingen and Angela Mackenzie.