Mapping an Historic Conservation District within Cookstown

Among the dozens of action items arising from the Inspiring Innisfil strategic plan that Town staff are working through, is the recommendation to designate parts of Cookstown as an Historic Conservation District:

  • Investigate the establishment of one or more Heritage Conservation District(s). Cookstown is a strong candidate … as a potential location; this would also have the possible desired effect of redirecting the truck traffic on Highway 89 to allow the community to recover its small town ambience and character. (Inspiring Innisfil – Tourism & Culture Strategy 13)

“The Ontario Heritage Act enables a municipality to designate the whole or any part of an area as a heritage conservation district. This allows City Council to administer guidelines designed to protect and enhance the special character of groups of properties in an area as redevelopment proceeds. The character is established by the overall heritage quality of buildings, streets and open spaces as seen together.” (www.heritagetoronto.org)

One of the first steps in the process would be to map out what areas and features of Cookstown should be included as part of such a district. Where does history begin? What makes Cookstown unique? What needs to be preserved? Only Cookstown residents have the answers.

“The Ontario Heritage Act requires a study of the area, which provides background to the historical, architectural and character-defining features that make the area special. Design guidelines are also developed for the proposed area.

By chance, I happened to notice comments about heritage districts from Mark Reid, a partner and planner with Urban Strategies quoted in the weekend press. His discussion related to Toronto’s Kensington Market but is relevant to Innisfil as well:

“I’m a firm believer that you can’t stop change, that you should get in front of it and plan for it. If we don’t the development community will… A Heritage Conservation District contains the strongest policies that are the least able to be overturned at the Ontario Municipal Board.”

Public consultation and engagement is an essential part of the process to gain public support and to avoid over-regulation in the preservation guidelines. Cookstown residents are known to be fiercely protective of their identity within Innisfil. Before long, they may have an opportunity to participate in the task of defining the dimensions of, and limits to, change in their historic neighbourhood.

It may be a refreshing change from past preoccupation with urbanization in Alcona, for Cookstown residents to take the spotlight in wrestling with how Innisfil will evolve.

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