Architectural Conservancy Ontario

ACO logo Architectural Conservancy Ontario - London Region 

ACO London sent an online survey on heritage issues to candidates running for City Council in the upcoming municipal election. The survey asked candidates about their thoughts on issues such as heritage conservation, ‘demolition by neglect’, and adaptive re-use of older buildings. This is the second time ACO London has surveyed local municipal election candidates, the first was for the 2014 election.

Would you consider designating a property with heritage or cultural value against the owner’s wishes? Do you support municipal property tax breaks for heritage properties? Do you support financial assistance and advice to those who seek to conserve, restore, and maintain their heritage properties? Do you support funding, by-laws, and policies that encourage heritage conservation? Please specify any initiatives that you would propose.

The Ontario Heritage Act allows municipalities to designate properties or districts as ‘Heritage’.  As a councillor and a member of council’s Planning and Environment Committee, I have had occasion to designate numerous properties under the provisions of this Act.  I believe it’s an important tool for municipalities in order to ensure careful consideration of the fate of our heritage inventory.  My preference is that the owner agrees with the designation but, regardless, owners of any property that could be considered a heritage asset need to recognize the role they play in the stewardship of their property. 

It must be recognized that a heritage designation does not prevent alteration or demolition, but rather it ensures that the community, staff and council carefully considers any application for these acts.  

Over the course of this term, I have been a staunch advocate for preservation of our heritage inventory.  I supported the elimination of the vacancy tax rebate (which was an impediment to promoting adaptive reuses) and continue to support the tax increment grants for heritage restorations and development charges equivalent grants for adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

How would you deal with the issue of ‘demolition by neglect’? Are you in favour of the City enforcing property and building standards for all heritage structures, including allowing city by-law inspectors to legally enter empty buildings on a frequent and regular basis to ensure that property and building standards are being upheld? Would you support issuing fines to property owners and developers who allow buildings to be destroyed by non-accidental fire, illegal demolition, or other acts of negligent destruction? Do you agree London should adopt a Heritage Building Protection Plan initiative such as other municipalities have implemented that would require property owners and developers to submit and implement plans to maintain and secure heritage structures throughout development approval processes?

Unfortunately, this has been a strategy used too often to circumvent the heritage alteration process.  This term, I have supported measures to minimize the risk that a heritage asset could fall victim to deterioration.  This has included ensuring maintaining heat, power and security to the designated South Street hospital buildings until they can be redeveloped, placing make safe orders on buildings in poor repair, removing the vacancy tax rebate and, in one circumstance, using HER zoning rules to give absolute protection to a building at risk of demolition.  

There are more steps that can be taken and I am certainly open to exploring those further.

How would you balance development pressures against the community’s desire to conserve heritage structures and neighbourhoods? How would you encourage the adaptive reuse of London’s built heritage when its original uses are no longer feasible? Do you support, in principle, neighbourhood-specific moratoriums on demolitions while an area is being studied as a potential Heritage Conservation District?

When applications are brought forward for alteration or demolition of a building on the heritage inventory or listed as a heritage property, I spend the time to read through the heritage impact assessment conducted by the proponent’s consultant, our administration’s review of the assessment, as well as the recommendations of the London Advisory Committee on Heritage.  In making my decision, I seek the best outcome for the public good.  Most often, that has meant I have sided with the arguments for preservation of heritage buildings. 

There are often options left unexplored to ensure that heritage buildings have the best opportunity to be preserved, either intact or as a component of a redevelopment project.  I have been clear to proponents that it essential that those are considered and pursued, where feasible.  

In the upcoming Development Charges study, I would like to see the City adopt policies that provide for lower DCs in the built areas of the city with higher DCs in greenfield developments.  Our current policies average out the cost of infrastructure funded by DCs across the city without reflecting the true cost on an area basis (it costs more to put roads and pipes in for a new subdivision than it does for servicing an infill development because the services are already there for infill).  This policy would help to promote adaptive reuse of buildings as it would result in lower development charges for those projects. 

In working with staff to draft updates to the infill and intensification guidelines, I was supportive of using an Interim Control Bylaw to pause demolitions in order to avoid an increase in demolitions by those rushing to avoid new regulations.  In certain limited circumstances, this may be appropriate when considering new heritage conservation districts, but there would have to be evidence that there was a risk of increased demolition activity prior to new policies being enacted.

What steps would you champion as a member of Council to ensure that the London Plan’s provisions to protect heritage properties along the BRT routes are implemented?

There are very few heritage buildings that would be directly impacted by the BRT routes.  In most circumstances, the impacts would be limited to a reduction in the front yard setbacks from the road.  The BRT Master Plan details with great specificity the impacts and mitigation plans for heritage properties along the route.  I will ensure that our project team takes all reasonable steps to protect our heritage resources along the routes.

Do you plan to incorporate built heritage issues into your campaign platform? How? Please include any additional comments you would like to share.

My platform will touch on ensuring we further develop policies to protect our built and natural heritage. As previously mentioned, advocating for improved application of development charges, continuing to grow the number of heritage conservation districts, and giving thoughtful consideration to how we designate heritage assets are all central to my approach to supporting heritage in our city.

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  • Stephen Turner