Homeowners objecting to restrictions tied with ‘heritage’ designation

February 2, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

A number of local residents have become disillusioned with the way the Town of Orangeville is conducting its Heritage Conservation District study, calling on the municipality to “leave them alone” when it comes to preserving their historical homes.

Close to 30 homeowners clamoured to Town Hall this past Monday (Jan. 29) to voice their concerns about what a potential Heritage designation could mean to them. The basis of their argument centred around  “ridiculous” restrictions that come hand in hand with the Heritage label, most notably the fact owners would need approval to make any changes to the front exterior of their home.

“We are here this evening to note our total objection to a Heritage Conservation District,” said Zina Street resident David Kirk. “Heritage is a good thing, declaring restrictions is not. We believe it is our right and our responsibility regarding decisions (over our homes) and those decisions should lie solely with us.”

More than 238 homes were included in the Heritage Conservation District study, which Council endorsed in May of last year. The study focused on two older residential neighbourhoods, which listed properties on Broadway, Zina Street, York Street, Bythia Street, First Street and First Avenue. The area was first identified as a possible Heritage zone by Town Council back in 2003.

A Heritage Conservation District is a defined geographical area with a concentration of heritage resources with special character or historical association that distinguishes it from its surroundings. Orangeville’s cultural heritage value lies in its decorative 19th-century commercial downtown and adjacent historic residential neighbourhoods, which Heritage Orange-ville feels are important to protect.

One of the consultants charged with putting the study together, Lynda Addy, was in attendance at Monday’s meeting. She argued that Heritage Conservation Districts are inherently a good thing in Ontario.

“The University of Ottawa recently studied 64 Heritage Districts across the province to come up with information on how these zones are working in Ontario. It was very heartening for me to learn that, once these areas are up and running with community-supported guidelines, there is a high degree of satisfaction in Heritage Conservation Districts in Ontario,” Ms. Addy noted.

Contrary to popular belief, the interior of a home is not protected as part of a Heritage Conservation District, meaning homeowners are free to make any renovations they’d like indoors. No permits are required for regular maintenance and repairs, such as painting and landscaping. It is meant to protect the outside structure, meaning brickwork, windows and doors.

“The Heritage Act does not restrict people,” Ms. Addy continued. “Anyone looking to make changes to their property is invited to come forward and apply. This designation is not meant to freeze buildings at a moment in time, it is meant to help their evolution over time. The best way to protect historical buildings is to make sure they have use in the present and future.”

That is where the problem lies for most of these residents, however. They do not want to have to apply to make their own changes to homes.

“I don’t think there’s any doubting that residents value the character of these buildings, that’s why we buy them,” Elizabeth Duke told Council. “But we are very much against mandatory restrictions in our neighbourhood. Most of these homes are already listed as properties of cultural value and interest, which already states what we can do to our properties and when … so I fail to see the urgency to impose further regulations right now.”

Ms. Duke noted that having her home designated as lying in a Heritage Conservation District would “greatly impact” both herself and other homeowners in the area both from a financial and timing perspective.

“We’ll see an increase in our insurance rates for sure, so there’s a financial downside. Then there’s the inconvenience,” Ms. Duke said. “We are all really busy people. Nine times out of 10 we’re going to have to undertake additional steps to make the changes we want to make. I don’t think that’s fair to me as a homeowner. When I find time on a Saturday to do some work on my front door, I don’t want to think ‘oh wait, I can’t do that because I don’t have approval. Guess I better wait for another Saturday I have free six months from now’.”

Councillor Sylvia Bradley, who serves as Chair of Heritage Orangeville, believes there is a lot of misinformation floating around regarding “what a Heritage Conservation District is and what it isn’t.”

“I think once these people become part of the process and participate in the guidelines they’ll have a better understanding about the benefits of a Heritage Conservation District,” she said.

The protestors did have two supporters on Council, with Don Kidd agreeing that all final decisions related to a property should lie solely with the homeowner.

“I agree with Mr. Kirk and the other speakers here this evening. If a homeowner buys a property, maintains a property and pays all the expenses for that property, then it should be the homeowner that gets to decide what to do with that property,” Coun. Kidd said.

Coun. Nick Garisto said that while he wasn’t totally against Heritage Conservation Districts in Orangeville, he was against focusing the issue onto residents that don’t want to be a part of it.

“If they come to us and say they would like to see their home designated, then I have no issues with that, but we shouldn’t be forcing residents into this,” Coun. Garisto said.

With the draft Heritage Conservation District study now submitted to Council, Ms. Addy noted the next step would be to engage further with the public, through one or more information meetings, to come up with a structured plan for the area.

“My proposal is to have a working group in the area where stakeholders and property owners can join together and come up with design guidelines that are acceptable for everyone,” Ms. Addy concluded.

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