When the Ness-Adair home was heading toward demolition in 2008 to make way for the Canadian Tire development, more than 1,000 residents signed a petition to save it, led by Marj Mossman. The subsequent sudden loss of the home led to the resignation of the Chair of the Heritage Committee and a renewed attention at Council on heritage preservation. In a schizophrenic turn of events, some people are now opposed to the latest application of the Heritage Act.
Former Mayor Brian Jackson was quoted at the time saying, “We need a spirit of co-operation. Things have been somewhat adversarial up to this point. It’s been a learning experience for the town. The work of the heritage committee is ongoing and it is taking steps to make a list [of potential heritage sites] to enable them to designate certain properties with the permission of the owner,” Jackson said. “We’ll hopefully not be caught in the same position.”
Yet here we are again. The debate has again been adversarial about whether to formally list the Wauchope home on the Heritage Registry. This time, Council received a volley of angry letters from some residents who argue that the Heritage Act is invasive, unfair and financially punitive.
If people want to be angry, they should direct their anger at Gregory-Otis-Trinity Group. Let’s face it, they spoiled it for everyone with their callous and ill-timed demolition in 2008, especially when the expected new construction has failed to materialize.
The Wauchope’s concern is clearly financial. Their lawyer says that heritage registration would repel any commercial developers who may be interested in the property. I’m quite sceptical about that claim. Developers in Innisfil are holding a large inventory of agricultural land on the speculation that it will be rezoned. The Places to Grow Act and the Lake Simcoe Protection Act haven’t caused any panic selling. The Big Bay Point Resort developer hasn’t been shy about taking on the municipality, the County, the Conservation Authority, environmentalists, ratepayers and the Ministry of the Environment. Can we really believe that simple heritage registration, which delays demolition for 60 days, would stop all developers in their tracks?
Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star this past week about two developers who bought properties on each side of a downtown street. One had a row of historic homes removed from the Heritage Registry and then tore them down. The other company took its time and incorporated the facades of Georgian style homes into their mixed-use development. Neither had any qualms about buying properties with historic – potentially ‘heritage’ – buildings on site. Each achieved their separate development results, new construction in one case, partial cosmetic preservation in the other.
A representative of the Heritage Committee suggested that the Wauchope matter be deferred until the property is actually acquired by a developer because the controversy was too damaging to public perception of the Heritage Committee and its work.
This seems to me to only continue the uncertainty surrounding the issue. It would be more appropriate for the town to signal its commitment to heritage preservation. And it would also be appropriate for a community-minded developer to step up with a commitment to at least try and relocate the home if and when the Heritage Committee determines that it is a worthwhile structure to preserve.