More than 200 people attended a heritage workshop Nov. 19 to offer suggestions for how the city can improve its policies on heritage protection, and restore relations with owners of heritage properties.
Several themes emerged from the meeting. One, there remains confusion about the controls on heritage properties. Two, there’s distrust and skepticism in the community over how City Hall handles heritage. Third, many people value heritage, but heritage owners want to be part of the discussion to find options and solutions for heritage preservation, rather than having options imposed by City Hall. Finally, residents want heritage to be a positive experience, not the negative experience it has become for many.
Saturday’s workshop – hosted by an independent facilitator, and attended by all members of council – was a big step forward toward collaborative solutions. Residents spent the better part of Saturday breaking in to small groups to discuss and recommend solutions for heritage. These will be captured in a report presented to council in the New Year. Some of the ideas I heard as I circulated discussion tables and listened to residents include:
- a rebate on property tax for heritage properties to provide an incentive for property owners to undertake often costly renovations and preservation of heritage buidlings
- clarity around the rules governing heritage – what restrictions are there around paint colours, renovations, and upgrades (for example to windows); clarity around what it means to be on the inventory of heritage homes, the registry of heritage homes, and on the list of designated heritage home.
- a regular newsletter from Heritage Burlington to all homes on the heritage inventory, with updates about grants, policy changes, meetings and advice on heritage upkeep.
- city purchase of heritage homes, to preserve, upgrade and resell on the open market with a heritage designation registered on title so purchasers know the restrictions when they buy.
- heritage registry be dismantled and the city start over with heritage policies, with input from heritage owners.
- the city stop trying to preserve heritage altogether, and leave it to individual property owners to do so, with only the normal zoning and bylaw standards that would apply to all homes.
- community establish a trust fund for offering grants to owners preserving heritage.
- awards for residents who have restored and preserved heritage properties.
- an “orange box” program of mandatory recycling and salvage of bricks, windows, baseboards and other items from older homes when they are being torn down.
The facilitator has committed to getting answers to the many questions raised at the meeting within two weeks. I will forward those in the next newsletter. In coming months, council will consider the recommendations from the meeting, and discuss policies to put those into effect.
My take: I support heritage preservation, and serve as the council representative on the Heritage Burlington citizen’s committee, and live in an older home listed on the heritage registry. I believe the government has a role to play in heritage preservation, but believe there needs to be more clarity, transparency, and input from residents on that role. I’m open to looking at grants or rebates and other policies to encourage residents to voluntarily preserve heritage properties, which enhance our neighbourhoods for all residents, while preserving important features from our early years as a city.
What’s your view? Does the government have a role to play in heritage preservation, and if so, what should it be? Please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org