By Doug Hallett
Boundary issues – what they’ll be and when they’ll be set – are shaping up as a big hurdle in the creation of Guelph’s first heritage conservation district.
City council split 7-6 Monday on a couple of votes related to boundaries for what would be the 105th heritage district in Ontario. It did so after lawyer Robin-Lee Norris said the owners of all 12 properties that front onto James Street East are now on record as opposing inclusion of their street.
Mayor Karen Farbridge was among seven council members who defeated a motion by Coun. Bob Bell calling for the boundary of the proposed heritage district to be adjusted to remove James Street East. Farbridge said council should deal with all boundary issues at the same time later on. But, she said, the boundary should be decided “sooner rather than later,” in order to provide “some certainty” to property owners within the proposed heritage district.
The boundary should be decided well before the city’s staff and consultants finish the second phase of the process of creating a heritage district, Farbridge said.
“I think it would confound the process if we don’t do that,” she told council.
When a heritage district is created in Ontario, the boundary is normally decided at the end of the first phase of the process. That’s where Guelph’s process is now.
However, city staff recommended Monday that council just “acknowledge” the boundary that’s been proposed by the city’s consultants, with a final boundary proposal to come during the second phase of the process. Council approved this recommendation by a slim 7-6 margin.
Another part of the motion, which directs city staff and consultants to proceed with the second phase of the process, passed easily on a 10-3 vote.
Council told staff to report back in April on when the boundary can be finalized. They were also told to report to council in April on a second survey to be sent to affected property owners in the proposed heritage district, which is located along a stretch of Gordon Street south of the river.
A survey that was mailed last year to 455 homes in, or adjacent to, the proposed heritage district had a response rate of only four per cent. Some councillors argued Monday that another survey is needed to get a better idea of what affected residents think about a heritage district in their area.
The second phase of the heritage district process is when guidelines would be set governing future alterations to properties with the district.
Although he voted in favour of proceeding with the second phase of the process, Coun. Jim Furfaro said he was worried about “taking a leap of faith” that residents’ concerns would be addressed in this phase.
“It’s like buying a grab bag and not knowing what you are getting,” he said.
Of the 180 properties in the proposed heritage district, seven already have individual heritage designations under the Ontario Heritage Act. Thirty-one of the other properties are on the city’s official heritage registry, while 56 others are on a list of Guelph properties built before 1927.
Council was told that two sets of property-alteration guidelines would be drawn up during the second phase of the process – one for heritage buildings and one for contemporary buildings within the district.
Alterations to properties in a heritage district can require a heritage permit from city hall, but the Ontario Heritage Act allows municipal councils to provide automatic exemptions for certain types of alterations. Examples can include such things as building rear yard decks, installing new roofing materials and paving driveways, council was told.
The aim of a heritage district isn’t to prevent change in a neighbourhood, but rather to maintain “the qualities of the neighbourhood” as change occurs, said Todd Salter, the city’s acting general manager of planning services. “Change can occur, but it would be guided change,” he said.
Cutten Club seeks exemption
Cutten Fields, which includes a golf course near the University of Guelph, has joined homeowners on James Street East in objecting to inclusion in a proposed heritage conservation district.
In a letter to council, Cutten Fields CAO Craig Moore objected to the heritage district’s proposed boundary taking in the most westerly section of the 81-year-old golf club’s property along College Avenue. For the most part, the heritage district’s proposed eastern boundary ends at the Cutten Fields property – except for this section along Gordon.
In narrowly deciding Monday to leave boundary decisions for another day, city council referred only briefly to the Cutten Fields request. But it spent a lot of time focusing on James Street East.
Lawyer Robin-Lee Norris, hired by the Jamieson family that she said owns six properties on the street, asked council to either remove James Street East from the proposed heritage district or delay a decision on moving to the next stage of the process.
David Cuming of MHBC, a Kitchener-based planning consulting firm that is leading the consulting team for the heritage district, said James Street East “is part of this neighbourhood” and has associations with an element of Guelph’s history. The street originally incorporated the electrical rail line, powerhouse and station of the Toronto Suburban Railway, which ran between Guelph and Toronto.
Two of the properties on the street – at 9-11 James St. E. and 22 James St. E. – are seen as having heritage value related to that historical association, said Coun. Leanne Piper.
Various members of the Jamieson family own six properties on the south side of the street and hope to redevelop their property at some point in the future, Norris had previously told a council committee.