By Doug Hallett
An owner’s proposal to demolish a house in a prominent spot in Guelph’s first proposed heritage district and replace it with a house seen as incompatible has drawn criticism from a city councillor.
“All we can do is appeal to the owner in hopes that they understand the incredible potential for this site . . . it is a mystery to me why the owner would not go out of their way to be compatible with the neighbourhood,” Coun. Leanne Piper told the Tribune.
The homeowner’s application for a building permit to demolish 1 Martin Ave., located west of Gordon Street and directly south of the Speed River and Royal City Park, goes to council for approval Monday. The 19th century property is on “a prominent corner lot within the proposed Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District” and is also next to a house at 49 Albert St. that is individually designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, says a city staff report.
Heritage Guelph and city planning staff have worked with the homeowner to discuss design options to make a replacement house fit in with the neighbourhood, but with limited success.
“Although the owner has incorporated some of Heritage Guelph’s and planning staff’s design suggestions, their decision to continue with a deck-like front porch, large gable windows of brick and large simulated louvered ventilators,” the report says, “is not in keeping with the heritage character of the building to be demolished or the character of this area” of the proposed heritage district.
The house at 1 Martin Ave., built in or before 1875, isn’t listed on the city’s Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties. It’s seen by city planning staff as having “no real cultural heritage attributes,” the report says.
However, Piper, a leading heritage advocate in Guelph, said this case shows why a heritage conservation district is needed in the area.
“The architectural character of the Brooklyn area, most especially along the river corridor and Royal City Park, where the public interacts with the streetscape, needs to be subject to additional design expectations,” she said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.
A heritage conservation district would do this, she said, but “unfortunately” this demolition application has come in before council gives final approval to this first heritage district in Guelph. As a result, Heritage Guelph and city council “are powerless to influence the design if it meets the zoning,” she said.
City staff have been doing detailed work on the Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District since December 2012, when council approved a boundary for it.
Even outside of proposed heritage districts, homeowners have been known to take the advice of Heritage Guelph when demolishing and rebuilding, Piper said. “There are some amazing examples of replacement dwellings in established neighbourhoods that took the advice of Heritage Guelph and they have blended in beautifully with the neighbourhood – it can be done!” she said.
“Such dwellings are embraced by neighbours and enhance property values,” she said, noting this has happened with new houses built on old streets such as Mont, Elizabeth, Glasgow, Essex and Mary.
“Brooklyn is a highly desirable area of Guelph because of the architectural heritage of the area,” Piper said.
She also emphasized the qualifications and public-spiritedness of the members of Heritage Guelph, council’s heritage advisory committee.
By Doug Hallett