By Doug Hallett
City hall has moved a step closer to establishing Guelph’s first heritage conservation district, with a final decision by city council set to be made within three months.
Council heard from several residents at a public meeting on the issue Monday. Almost all of them favoured the proposed Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District.
“I see nothing frightening about the guidelines” that would govern physical changes in the heritage district, said Karen Balcom, who lives within the district on Albert Street. A heritage district “will not prevent change that is compatible with the neighbourhood,” she said.
Balcom said she and her neighbours have seen some “unrestrained infill development” in their area. So there is “some urgency” to get this heritage district approved and get the guidelines in place, she said. “My neighbours and I support it.” North end resident Mike Lackowicz maintained that the mix of housing types in the area make it “not a strong candidate” for designation as a heritage district.
Creating a heritage conservation district in the area north of the university was a main recommendation of the Old University and Centennial Neighbourhood Community Improvement Plan that city council received in 2006. The Old University Neighbourhood Residents’ Association still strongly supports the proposed heritage district, association vice-president Bruce Ryan told council Monday.
Daphne Wainman-Woods, the chair of Heritage Guelph, said the city’s heritage advisory committee also strongly backs the plan.
A heritage conservation district doesn’t freeze a neighbourhood in time, she said, but rather is a good way to “help manage the change that is inevitable in a vibrant town.”
Stephen Robinson, the city’s senior heritage planner, said a “heritage permit” would be needed for a property owner to be allowed to make many types of exterior property alterations within the proposed district. Criteria would be less stringent for properties that are considered to be “non-heritage,” he said.
No fee would be charged for heritage permits, Robinson said. Every effort would be made to “dovetail” these permits with other parts of the city’s planning process, such as issuing building permits.
Not all heritage permits would be “quick and easy,” but city hall’s process for dealing with such permits “would look to create efficiencies wherever possible,” he said.
The heritage district’s guidelines would control not just buildings, but also landscapes and riverscapes, Robinson said.
The controls will also cover removal of trees that are over a certain size.
There would be a maximum building height in the district, “based on existing building heights one finds within the district,” he said.
A public open house on the proposed heritage district is to be held at city hall on June 24.
“It’s not the intention to try to control taste,” Robinson said of physical changes that city hall would allow in the heritage district.
It’s possible to preserve an area’s cultural heritage value “while allowing new construction, new ideas . . . in a way that is sensitive and compatible with the rest of the streetscape,” he said.
“I think it is highly likely this will be the first of many” applications to establish heritage conservation districts in Guelph, said Coun. Jim Furfaro.
There are 162 properties within the proposed district, Robinson said.
Six of them – the McCrae House museum, The Boathouse, Gow’s Bridge and three old stone houses, two of them on Albert Street – are already individually designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
In all, Guelph has 96 individually designated heritage properties. It also has 2,010 properties listed in city hall’s official heritage registry, which are partially protected by a longer demolition-permit process.
As well, the city has another 2,000 or so properties that are considered to have some cultural heritage value, but not necessarily enough to make it into the official registry.
The best way to protect clusters or groupings of heritage properties and “ensure that compatible development occurs” is to designate a heritage conservation district, says a city staff report.
Asked by Coun. Cam Guthrie if solar panels could be added to roofs of homes in a heritage district, Robinson suggested this could be done if the panels don’t “remove features that have cultural heritage value” and if the panels are largely hidden from view from the street.
“Heritage buildings need to pull their weight as well” when it comes to energy sustainability, Robinson noted.
Given the kind of heritage-minded city this is, she said, Guelph is “very, very late in the game” in establishing its first heritage district, which would be added to more than 100 such districts across the province.
A few residents of the proposed heritage district have written to city hall recently opposing the restrictions on redevelopment that would accompany its creation.
However, only one opponent appeared before council Monday.