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Three heritage district trouble spots

Some city councillors still have a problem with at least three aspects of the city’s proposed first heritage conservation district.
The problem areas are: proposed regulations affecting properties adjacent to the 162 properties within the heritage district; the process for property owners to appeal against heritage permits; and the degree of subjectivity involved in granting heritage permits for physical changes to properties.
The purpose of identifying adjacent properties and giving city hall some control over development there is to “avoid a really obvious stop-and-start to the boundary of the district,” said Stephen Robinson, the city’s senior heritage planner.
There would be “a lot more flexibility within the adjacent properties than within the (heritage) district,” he said.
However, Coun. Bob Bell said he was concerned about a “burden of regulations” on adjacent properties. He said he wants city staff to remove some of the adjacent property from controls before the heritage district returns to council for final approval sometime this summer.
“I have huge concerns about the boundary issue,” stated Coun. Karl Wettstein.
The city’s heritage district plan currently identifies Cutten Fields and the University of Guelph as adjacent properties. Robinson said city hall wants to negotiate an “appropriate” width for the parts of these two huge properties that would be deemed to be adjacent to the heritage district for regulatory purposes.
Establishing the heritage district means bringing in a system of heritage permits for many types of physical changes to affected properties. If property owners object to refusal of the changes they want to make, or if they find conditions attached to the heritage permit unacceptable, they can appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, council was told.
Staff agreed Monday to requests from councillors to search for what Bell termed “another appeal path,” which would not lead initially to the OMB. Staff will report their findings on this when the issue returns to council.
Councillors Cam Guthrie and Jim Furfaro both said they were concerned about the degree of subjectivity involved in deciding what sort of changes could be made and what sort of infill development could occur. Furfaro said he wanted to hear back from staff what other cities with heritage districts have done to reduce subjectivity and make the issuing of heritage permits be “based on concrete criteria.”
“I am really concerned about the Big Brother, regulation-heavy approach,” Guthrie said. He wanted to see less of this in the document brought to council for final approval.
Guthrie also said he envisioned historical plagues and signs going up in the heritage district to explain the importance of the area. This could create “tourism opportunities” for Guelph, he suggested.
Bell said he’ll be willing to approve the heritage district if the changes he is seeking are made by staff.

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