Wednesday, July 17, 2024

‘Thoughtfully and properly’: Heritage designation in Smiths Falls needs more time for consideration, council tells province

The Heritage House Museum of Eastern Ontario is a designated historic property in the Town of Smiths Falls. Staff is seeking support of a recommendation seeking more time to designate properties that are listed heritage interest. – Laurie Weir photo

Properties of interest need more time for a designation.

That was the recommendation of staff to Smiths Falls council on May 13.

Karl Grenke, manager of development services, recommended to the committee that they support the Town of Fort Erie in requesting that the Ontario Heritage Act extend the deadline to designate properties until Jan. 1, 2030.

Grenke said the change came about with Bill 23.

“When the section of the Heritage Act was proposed to be amended as part of Bill 23 a couple of years ago, staff brought forward a response outlining our concerns,” he said.

Bill 23, the “More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022” introduced a variety of changes to existing legislation, including the Ontario Heritage Act. A new subsection 27(16) requires municipalities to pass bylaws designating listed properties by Jan. 1, 2025, or else they are removed from the register and cannot be reinstated for five years.

Grenke said potential unintended consequences include the expensive process of designation that might not be desired – either by the property owner or by the municipality.

“Properties are listed for a reason. It poses a significant amount of pressure on municipalities and very little time,” Grenke said. “That could create some conflicts. It might create some burdens to the property owner or the municipality, or the Ontario Land Tribunal with costly appeals that may deter the ultimate objective of supporting housing.”

Grenke said the intent of the policy change isn’t intended to narrow the scope of why they list properties. That’s why the province has implemented a two-year limit rather than an indeterminant limit on the way it is used to be.

He said a property could be added to the list for a variety of reasons, “even if there is never an expectation of designation.”

Section 27 of the Ontario Heritage Act requires the clerk of the municipality to maintain a public register of properties in the municipality that are of cultural heritage value or interest. The register includes properties that are designated under Section 27, as well as non-designated properties, which are referred to in this report as “properties of interest.”

Designation under the Act offers the strongest degree of protection of an individual property, and a property must meet several criteria outlined under the Act’s regulations for it to be eligible for designation. A designation bylaw outlines the specific character-defining elements and heritage attributes that cannot be altered or removed unless specifically authorized by council.

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario notes that 36,000 listed properties exist in over 100 municipalities across Ontario, and that the short deadline creates a significant resourcing challenge for municipalities to prioritize, consult and undertake the research necessary to thoughtfully identify the properties that warrant the protection of designation, Grenke noted.

The conservancy recommended that the province extend the deadline for designation by five years, to Jan. 1, 2030.

“Shortly after the deadline came into force in 2023, the Municipal Heritage Committee determined that directing our efforts on advancing the Heritage Conservation District would make the best use of the resources we have,” Grenke explained. “Many, but not all of the town’s listed properties are within the HCD study area, however they may not all
be included in a future Heritage Conservation District.”

Grenke said by extending the deadline, staff could undertake the designation process more “thoughtfully and carefully.”

By supporting the Town of Fort Erie, it would create a more reasonable transition period to carry out the ministry’s intent, Grenke said. “It would give municipal heritage staff and consultants the opportunity to consult with property owners – undertake the research necessary to make a thoughtful recommendation and avoid a hasty decision that might invite conflict and litigation.”

For a property to be listed as one of interest, it needs to meet two criteria under the Ontario Heritage Act, Grenke said. The criteria to be a designated property is higher. Listing a property doesn’t require obligation – it’s flagged for further consideration if we want to, he said.

“The way the legislation is now, if we don’t designate a listed property now it automatically falls off that list,” Grenke said.

Previous to Bill 23, once the property was on the list it stayed until it was removed or designated.

Coun. Chris McGuire, who sits on the Municipal Heritage Committee, said a lot of properties on the interest list are there because the committee hasn’t been able to get them fully designated yet.

“The good news is that the Heritage Conservation District is going to take care of a large number of properties on the list because they’re concentrated in the downtown core,” McGuire said. “The committee’s stance has been to prioritize that and then try to get the properties second because a lot of work goes into each property’s designation.”

Council supported the recommendation by staff and will craft a resolution for an upcoming council meeting for final approval.

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