Carrots vs. Prods to Preserve Cookstown’s Character

About 40 people, including myself, attended the public meeting in Cookstown that was held to discuss a proposed Community Improvement Plan (CIP). This is separate but complimentary to the Heritage Conservation District proposed to encompass the whole village.  The Conservation District plan is intended to establish some limits and guidelines on future alterations within a defined heritage area.  The CIP, on the other hand, is intended to open some avenues of funding for local improvement of public and private properties within Cookstown regardless of the outcome for a Heritage District. It would take the form of grants or loans to property owners and funding for some municipal improvement projects. The details won’t be known until later this month when a draft CIP is released for review and comment. ( Another public meeting will be held November 26)

The objections I heard are similar to those made in other towns. Some object to being subject to Heritage Conservation process of review and approval. When a Heritage District was considered in St Mary’s, ON, their Mayor was quoted saying:

“The number one complaint I’ve heard from people is ‘You’re not telling me what I can do with my property.’ And I agree.” He then added that if he, being someone living outside of the downtown, wanted to add an addition to his home or sever his lot, he has a number of permits, regulations, and other such rules to abide by. “Am I being told what I can do with my property? You bet.”

Grose noted that decisions will be made by the Heritage Conservation District Committee and, if a property owner should disagree with a decision, there are a number of ‘outs’, such as appealing to Town Council or the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).” (Yes to Conservation District,, Nov. 2012)

The concern I heard from a couple at my table about the CIP is that if some existing residents want to make alterations to their property they may feel compelled to make more costly renovations than they can afford in order to qualify for support. The success of any program, Heritage District or CIP, will be how well it meets its objectives and enlists the trust and cooperation of residents and businesses.  There may be some options to tinker with the details such as:

  • reducing the scope of the Heritage District to the commercial area and adjoining blocks
  • apply larger incentives such as a higher grant qualification depending on the age and condition of a building
  • recommend a range of cost alternatives for common property improvements
  • define a list of common alterations that are likely to be approved

My concern is that if Cookstown achieves some fundamental types of changes such as a by-pass for truck traffic, sidewalk and streetscape improvements and increased water supply, it may also be a renewed area of higher development activity. Having watched significant changes occur steadily in Alcona for more than a dozen years, I’m not sure Cookstown residents appreciate how dramatically their neighbourhood could change.  The people I spoke with sounded justifiably proud of their century-home property. Maybe they’re assuming everyone else will think the same way. A few years ago I decided to take some photos of ‘traditional’ lakeside homes before they fall to a demolition permit. Here are a couple of photos (two different properties) to illustrate how something like this …


Could potentially turn into something like this …


Personally, I think Cookstown residents would be better served with Heritage District guidelines to help preserve the best historical aspects and character of their village. It won’t stop change but it would give an opportunity to pause and consider. The CIP provisions have limited funding – hence limited impact – and may not be widely available depending on how many property owners express interest. Let’s hope Cookstown chooses wisely. Cookstown residents can click on the links below to download a Questionnaire on the Community Improvement Plan or Conservation District:

Cookstown Community Improvement Plan
Cookstown Heritage Conservation District
Heritage Conservation Districts in Ontario