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New year, new phase

Editorial: It has been almost two years since the idea of creating Guelph’s first heritage district was introduced at a public meeting, and much work remains to be done. But the district is closer to reality now that city council has finally approved a boundary for the proposed Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District.

The new year will see work begin on a new stage of this project – preparation of a detailed heritage conservation district plan that will provide guidance on how to manage properties within the district.

Guelph has lagged behind many other Ontario cities in not having any heritage conservation districts up to now. Such districts don’t mean an end to change for properties within them, but they do allow city hall to refuse demolition permits. And city hall can also have a greater say in applications to make significant alterations to a property, with the emphasis on how things look from the street.

Six structures within this proposed heritage district are already designated individually under the Ontario Heritage Act. They are John McCrae House, The Boathouse, Gow’s Bridge and three old stone houses, including two on Albert Street. Scores of other properties in the proposed heritage district are either on the city’s official heritage registry, or are identified as having cultural heritage value although they aren’t on the official registry.

When it approved the heritage district’s boundary last week, council also voted to have the city talk to the owners of two properties located near the corner of Gordon Street and James Street East about the possibility of individual designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

James Street East’s association with the Toronto Suburban Railway, which stopped serving Guelph about 80 years ago, was considered a distinctive feature in the proposed heritage district. However, there was fierce opposition from a family that owns a lot of property on James Street East. In the end, Heritage Guelph narrowly voted to exclude from the district all properties in the James Street area east of Gordon, and city staff and council followed suit. This wasn’t the only boundary change made to address various concerns of property owners, but it was a tough one. Difficult compromises are sometimes necessary, though, and this was one of those cases. Now it’s time to move forward again on a highly worthwhile endeavour.

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