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Opinion Split on Heritage Conservation District
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February 7, 2014: Last night's well-attended public meeting proved unequivocally that opinion is split roughly down the middle on the proposed Heritage Conservation District for Port Stanley.

Councillor Sally Martyn informed the assembled group that this Heritage Conservation District proposal was initiated by the Port Stanley BIA, the Port Stanley Village Association (PSVA), and Heritage Port. She then turned the floor over to Dr. Craig Cole who said that in 2010 Nigel Howcroft suggested the creation of a Heritage Conservation District to Heritage Port and suggested they ask for it from Central Elgin. Howcroft and Cole then approached the Port Stanley BIA to get their agreement and spearhead the presentation to Council. In the fall of 2011 Carol Gate, then Chair of the BIA, made the presentation to Council. Council did not oppose the idea. Dr. Cole said he and Dr. Robert Burns (Chair of Heritage Central Elgin) conducted the initial study.

The Final Draft for Council Consideration - December 2013 has reduced the proposed size of the Heritage Conservation District to include only Main Street, Orchard Street, Joseph Street, Bridge Street and Colborne Street south of Christ Anglican Church. This is a greatly reduced in size from the legally required professionally completed study by MHBC (so inclusive it would almost make a shanty town a Heritage Conservation District) which created such strong public backlash to the project.

Nigel Howcroft said the purpose of the proposal was to prevent the development of strip malls, high rise complexes or the springing up of Golden Arches, citing the exterior cladding of the recent Home Hardware renovations, which was insisted upon by head office, as the very type of thing a Heritage Conservation District would have enabled them to prevent.

Carol Gates said in places where the study reads "should" it does not mean "must", and in many places it will read "preferred" in the final draft presented to Council. The Heritage Conservation District Steering Committee did not know St John's Presbyterian Church was vinyl clad. Now they know that vinyl siding can be made to look like clapboard; however, there will be no requirement for new buildings to be built to look like phoney old buildings. Dr. Burns gave an example of recent window repairs on his heritage designated home in Sparta that cost less using and keeping the original than replacing them with new modern, but ending up with the same clarity and draft efficiency. There will also be no requirement for existing properties to be restored to their original historical state; it is merely a guide for future development.

When asked what specifically was the character of the proposed Heritage Conservation District and what kind of look would they would be going for on all future development and renovations, the committee could not give a definitive answer. They said it was more a case of knowing what they didn't want than any specific vision of what they do want. Basically they are after architecture on a people-friendly scale that maintains the feel of Port Stanley as a friendly fishing, beach, boating, summer village - and they stress the concept "village".

John Jackson spoke in support of the Heritage Conservation District, describing how a lady had previously bought up all the properties on the east side of Colonel Bostwick Street, with the intention of tearing them down and putting in a strip mall. She went broke before she could accomplish this and the properties went back on the market, being sold to individual home owners. One of those home owners spoke in opposition to the Heritage Conservation District as they have renovated their home extensively without regard to preserving its heritage and have plans for future renovations that would not conform to heritage conservation. That street has now been removed from the proposed Heritage Conservation District area.

Opposition to the Heritage Conservation District centred on property owners objecting to having their property rights abrogated by some committee who could dictate what they could and could not do with their own properties, and this is the main objection to the proposal. People with homes in the area have plans for decks, a second story, gazebo, driveway, new siding, new doors, new windows, energy efficiency, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera and they do not see any justification for legislating a committee to tell them what they are and are not allowed to do with their own properties and at their own expense. There will be no grants for maintaining the heritage character of a property. One young professional woman who bought a home here with the intention of living in it one day, perhaps as a retirement home, said that if this goes through and prevents her from using the best materials and practices for maintaining and improving that home, then maybe she will have to sell it and buy one somewhere else without those restrictions. She said a Heritage Conservation District would discourage young buyers who might not want to keep everything exactly as it is.

Another woman wanted to know what happened to the petition against the proposal that she filed at the municipal office and which bore 175 signatures. The petition was given by municipal staff to the Heritage Conservation District Steering Committee, who used it in making changes to the original MHBC report and shrunk the size of the proposed heritage conservation area. Full Council will only see that petition as a part of the report the Heritage Conservation District Steering Committee makes to Council.

Dan Salhani, owner of The Wharf and two vacant lots on Main Street, has development plans for those lots in the works and currently under review with the Planning Department. Saying he originally supported the idea of a Heritage Conservation District, he now finds himself objecting to the abrogation of his property rights with some committee having the right to arbitrarily say what he can and cannot put on his own property and what it can and cannot look like - at his expense.. "I have no desire to destroy the feel of Port Stanley or its village character," Salhani said. He said he was certainly willing to talk to heritage people for advice on what will best suit the area, but he objects to being legislated to do it because we all know how legislation rapidly gets misinterpreted. It also struck him as both unfair and ludicrous that his property should be legislated to conform to a Heritage Conservation District but the property owned by the municipality, and sitting directly across the harbour from his property, should not. "I'm looking at ugly cement silos that may get converted into apartments."

Linda Hibbert suggested the matter of imposing a Heritage Conservation District should be decided only by the people who live or own businesses in the district, and not by all of Port Stanley or Central Elgin residents. There were about 10 people in the crowd of about 50 people (excluding Council and municipal staff) who would be directly affected. Of those 10, six voted in favour of a Heritage Conservation District and 4 voted against.

Doing a quick count of properties on the map they handed out at the meeting, the proposed Heritage Conservation District affects about 110 properties. I asked Mayor Walters after the meeting if the municipality could conduct a vote of the issue for just those properties and he said it would be prohibitively expensive. You can buy 500 sheets of paper at Staples for $8 or less, on which to print and explanatory form letter and a mail-in yes or no ballot. You can buy 250 envelopes at The Dollar Store for $3. The postage to mail out 110 letters and include stamped self-addressed envelopes to mail the ballots back would be less than $220. Staff time to type and print the letters, ballots and envelopes, stuff the envelopes and mail them out, and then count and record the ballots when they come back would be at the most 8 hours total, and at say $30 per hour, equals $240 at most. Total cost to conduct the vote comes in at less than $471.00. How is that prohibitively expensive? (and they don't pay me over $100,000 a year to figure that out, like they do Don Leitch)

"We want to end up with legislation everyone can live with," said Dr. Cole. If last night's comments were any indication, it looks like the Heritage Conservation District Steering Committee has their work cut out for them.

The Heritage Conservation District Steering Committee is comprised of:

  • Sally Martyn - Councillor, Committee Chair
  • Dan McNeil - Councillor
  • Carol Gates - BIA Representative
  • Nigel Howcroft - Port Stanley Village Association representative
  • Dr. Craig Cole - Heritage Port representative
  • There are three staff members on the Committee that act as advisors, and do not have a vote:
  • Don Leitch - Staff - Chief Administrative Officer
  • Jim McComb - Staff - Central Elgin Planning Office
  • Chandra Dougall - Staff - Acting Recording Secretary

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