08/01/2013 16:23 EDT | Updated 10/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Griffintown businesses face pressure to sell buildings

Zaven Darakjian’s car repair shop has called Griffintown home for 42 years, despite real estate developers’ best efforts to cut his stay short.

The brightly painted Pit Stop stands on Peel Street near Wellington, among a sea of grey — grey condo buildings, grey parking lots, grey construction sites.

The development of Griffintown kicked into overdrive in 2007-2008, said Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru.

But developers started coming around in 2005 to offer Darakjian what he felt were overly modest sums for his property. He was in hospital with leukemia at the time, and instructed his wife to tell them the building wasn’t for sale.

“They came back and they made me an offer, and it was not at all close [to the value of the land]. They came the year after, they made another offer, with a reduced amount because they said the market is dying. Then they gave another offer, which was the same thing,” he said.

“None of them were serious offers, so I decided not to sell anymore.”

It’s not that he doesn’t want the neighbourhood to change — he’s witnessed the marked improvement of the area over the years, and he said it’s been mostly for the better. But, he added, he felt it wasn’t in an organized fashion.

Bumbaru agrees.

“The City of Montreal has been a bit greedy with dealing with Griffintown,” he said.

With what he called a “voracious appetite” for building projects, Bumbaru said the city neglected to make a real plan for Griffintown as a community, and not just a collection of buildings.

He said a lack of public consultation was partly to blame.

Though some iconic buildings, particularly the Horse Palace, New City Gas and a row of houses on De La Montagne Street, have remained intact throughout the building up of Griffintown, Bumbaru said the rate of loss of heritage buildings is significant.

“The demolition rate has been very high,” he said.

And Darakjian said that, if he moves, his building will likely be demolished.

He said his neighbour behind him has already caused a lot of damage to his building, so much so that eight months ago, the building that houses both his business and his family was deemed uninhabitable by the city.

They left the property for two weeks, during which they made structural repairs to the building so they could move back in.

Still, neither Darakjian or George Liby, the owner of neighbouring business Alpha Plants, think much of Griffintown deserves to be preserved.

“There’s nothing worth saving here,” Liby said, adding that, every now and then, someone pops in to ask if he’d be willing to sell.

He said he’s considered moving, but hasn’t found the right spot for his business, which provides plants and plant technicians to downtown office buildings. His location on Peel Street in the heart of Griffintown is hard to beat.

Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal suggested that incorporating businesses like these into a plan for Griffintown makes more sense than demolishing them for more condos.

The city should look at ways of providing support to the businesses in the area, he said.

“The building may be modest, but maybe it can contribute to the future of Griffintown,” he said of Pit Stop.

But heritage buildings can’t stand alone, Bumbaru added.

“What’s the point of having a small, tiny, modest heritage building if they have a 20-storey condo tower behind it? There has to be a relationship.”