Saint John — Saint John council voted unanimously this past week to rewrite heritage bylaws to allow the Irving Oil headquarters to go forward.
The project, widely celebrated by residents and Irving employees alike, has met resistance from the heritage committee due to the fact it would mean the destruction of a historic parking lot.
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Greg Benton, chair of the Saint John Heritage Board. Benton filed an appeal on the building late last month, stating its construction would destroy the historic parking lot located in uptown Saint John.
“This bare expanse of asphalt is part of our identity; it would be like New York losing the Statue of Liberty, Paris tearing down the Eiffel Tower,” he said.
“We’re excited to see Irving is committed to the city, and we’re excited to see this substantial development taking place,” said Saint John Mayor Mel Norton. “I would really love to see a construction crew doing something besides tearing down derelict buildings or filling potholes, for once.”
In response to the ruling by Saint John city council, Benton has announced he will publicly protest the building’s construction.
“I’m going to chain myself to the lot — it will symbolize the bond I have with the history and beauty of uptown Saint John. It won’t be easy, but I’m confident that I and the Board are on the right side,” he said.
When asked how he plans to secure himself to a bare expanse of heritage asphalt without damaging it, Benton promptly left the interview.
Other residents wishing to keep their CBC usernames private have claimed that the move shows a clear bias toward Irving, comparing the company to the Galactic Empire or having a stranglehold over the New Brunswick government.
“It’s not about any one developer,” said Norton, “it’s just that they’re the only developer around.
“If it’s about the loss of a vacant lot, people have to remember there are plenty of beautiful lots similar to this one all across the province — some in much better shape.”
Greg Benton could not be reached or found for further comment.