The debate over whether the Wauchope home (a.k.a. the McConkey house, circa 1890) should be placed on the Town’s heritage registry continues in the local papers without adding much more understanding to the issue. Letter writers continue to refer to “registration/designation” interchangeably, which confuses two different outcomes.
The Innisfil Heritage Committee advises the Town and makes recommendations under the terms of the Ontario Heritage Act. The committee has recommended that the Town add the home to a legally mandated Heritage Registry, which would have the effect of delaying any demolition for 60 days while further consideration is given to preservation.
The Wauchopes argue that, “If the town doesn’t own the property, they cannot control it.” That would come as a surprise to every municipal government in Ontario and would make developers ecstatic if it were true. But all municipal governments routinely ‘control’ the use of land through zoning and bylaws, not to mention more all-encompassing provincial legislation such as the Greenbelt, Places to Grow and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.
The Heritage Committee appears to be acting according to the form and intent of the law. Again, the Wauchopes have stated, “Government must stay out of the business of private properties.” Are they arguing then that the Ontario Heritage Act should be repealed? I doubt that will happen and they can hardly fault the Town for working within the guidelines until it is. I think it would be proper to consult with property owners at some stage in the process but there are some legitimate reasons to carefully choose when.
The Wauchopes have said that they “may choose to [live in the house] for much longer.” If so, why is the registration being opposed so vigorously? They have also described the property as their “retirement nest egg” and heritage registration is perceived to devalue the property. As Councillor Doug Lougheed noted, “The historical value is the house, but the economic value is the property. The value between those two things is fairly significant in terms of Innisfil Beach Road.” Exactly. The full potential value of the property is for commercial development. The Wauchopes likely fear that registration will discourage a potential buyer who would want a quick removal of the existing structure without the delay and uncertainty of further heritage deliberations by committee and Council. After all, we already have a recent precedent for that.
Consider the other possible outcomes:
- The house is registered and subsequently designated, after 60 days, as a heritage building. The house is preserved where it is not wanted (at least by a developer and possibly town planners) while the owners receive less than the commercial value of the land.
- The house is not registered and the property is sold for commercial development. The house is immediately demolished but the owners receive the enhanced value of the land based on commercial potential.
The Wauchopes suggested another alternative, proposing that any future sale agreement is conditional on the relocation of the house rather than demolition. Unfortunately, I have heard very little discussion of this option. If the impasse continues, I think it would be reasonable for Council to register the property as recommended by the Heritage Committee. This would legally delay the option of future demolition without affecting the Wauchopes if they do choose to continue occupying the property indefinitely. In the event that an opportunity to sell occurs, heritage registration adds further incentive for the Wauchopes to include a relocation clause for the structure, and for a potential buyer to opt for relocation over demolition.