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Ridley Offices owner questions town's motives

Ridley Offices is one of the oldest properties in Harbour Grace.
Ridley Offices is one of the oldest properties in Harbour Grace.

HARBOUR GRACE — The owner of a historic property in Harbour Grace now the subject of a potential municipal expropriation is questioning the town's motives.

Rhonda Parsons, a woman from Ontario with family roots in the town, purchased Ridley Offices in 2005. The stone structure on Beach Hill was built in 1838, making it one of the oldest buildings in town.

The town has offered to purchase the property in the past, but Parsons has declined to sell it. The municipality has disputed her use of Ridley Offices as a residential dwelling and suspended her garbage collection, claiming the area is zoned for industrial use. Parsons notes the Municipal Assessment Agency recognizes her property as residential.

Last month, council approved a motion to seek approval from the minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment to expropriate the property. Discussions in council chambers of expropriating the property date back to the fall of 2015.

Rhonda Parsons, the owner of the historic Ridley Offices property since 2005, isn't buying the town's explanation for the potential expropriation of her building.

Speaking with The Compass last week, Parsons said she was surprised by council's decision, learning of it through an article published in the newspaper.
"I have a problem with it, because the idea that I wasn't a part of the conversation … it is my property, and I think that as a courtesy I should have been notified," she said.
Parsons met with the town manager earlier this month upon learning of the latest motion concerning her property. Parsons said she was told the town is interested in having the local historical society look after the property. This would likely refer to Harbour Grace's Heritage and Redevelopment Committee, which the town is looking to have incorporated.

Parsons does not believe the town is making a strong enough case to expropriate Ridley Offices.

"You have to have a clear reason as to why you're going to expropriate someone's property — it's either for the public good or you're going to put a road through there," she said. "There's reasons why you would do that, and I wasn't given a reason."

Parsons contends there's a hidden agenda at play linked to the town's proposed Marine Industrial Park. Her property is also situated next to Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises, and Parsons has been critical of that business' operations, claiming shipbreaking activity has negatively impacted Ridley Offices. She also claims HGOE has offered to buy the building.

"It's not about the business per se, it's about the practices," she said. "I know it (stimulates) this economy and provides jobs, which is great."

In previous conversations with The Compass, HGOE officials have pointed out that shipbuilding and ship repair work has taken place on Beach Hill for decades, dating back to the 19th century. In her own previous interview, Parsons said activity in the area decades ago doesn't compare to the work that's happening today.

Regarding the potential expropriation of her property, Parsons suggests the town's actions amount to another form of reprisal. According to Parsons, she lost her garbage collection service following an interview with CBC about the town's alleged unwillingness to address a business permit application. Later, she claims a 'no entry' sign was placed at the top of Beach Hill, preventing her from accessing Ridley Offices. A call to provincial government managed to get the sign removed, she said.

"The idea of putting up a sign like that on a road that's been public for 150 years just doesn't make sense — none of this makes sense to me."

In an interview with The Compass two years ago, Parsons expressed concerns about the potential demise of her property if it were sold. Mayor Terry Barnes and Coun. Hayward Blake have since indicated the town has no interest in losing the building and wants to ensure it's protected. It was Blake who introduced the motion last month to seek ministerial approval.

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