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22 James St. E.

Tribune photo

The final boundary for the new heritage district excludes 22 James St. E. – a converted residential building that was used by the Toronto Suburban Railway when the electric railway served Guelph.

Heritage district go-ahead

By Doug Hallett
Guelph Tribune

Guelph is closer to getting its first heritage conservation district now that city council has finally approved a boundary for it.

It’s called the Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District. It includes the area where the Speed and Eramosa rivers converge and extends south down Gordon Street to near the university, but it is now smaller than what was originally proposed to council last February.

Homeowners on James Street East fought against including their street in the heritage district, and the boundary approved at council last week excludes all property east of Gordon Street in the James Street East area.

The final boundary excludes 220 Gordon St., a mid-19th century limestone building at the corner of Gordon and James. It also excludes 22 James St. E., which was a power station for the Toronto Suburban Railway until 1931, when the electrical commuter railway ceased operation in Guelph.

On an 8-5 vote, council agreed to direct Heritage Guelph and city staff to talk to the owners of these two properties about the potential for having them designated individually under the Ontario Heritage Act. Both properties are already on the city’s official heritage registry, but this doesn’t provide much protection against demolition.

Council also passed a motion directing staff to talk to the University of Guelph about “height and scale limits and appropriate setbacks with respect to the redevelopment of 346 Gordon St.” – a student house on the east side of Gordon just beyond the southern border of the proposed heritage district.

Council’s approval of a boundary means the heritage district process will now advance to its second stage – namely, preparation of a detailed heritage conservation district plan that will provide guidance on how to manage properties within the district.

Because of its association with the Toronto Suburban Railway, the James Street East area was one of the four areas originally identified as “distinctive” parts of the proposed heritage district.

However, James Street East wasn’t part of the original Brooklyn area south of the river that was subdivided for residential lots in the mid-1800s, says a city staff report. This old Brooklyn neighbourhood is the heart of the proposed heritage district.

Consultants hired by the city recommended last winter that the Wellington Street Dam, which creates a scenic pond near historic Gow’s Bridge and enhances boating in the area, be included in the heritage district.

This proposal was opposed by some groups, including the city’s river systems advisory committee, the Grand River Conservation Authority and Trout Unlimited Canada, the staff report says.

These groups asked that the dam be excluded from the heritage district “so as not to preclude future change in the hydrological function in order to improve the health of the rivers and affect improved water quality, as well as ecological and aquatic restoration,” it says.

The exclusion of the dam, endorsed by council last week, means the issue of whether or not the dam should be demolished will be based on a later examination of a variety of factors to be studied during an environmental assessment. However, the nearby riverscape is to be part of the heritage district.

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