All Heritage Conservation Districts in Ontario
OMB DECISION DECLARES OPEN SEASON
The Ontario Municipal Board’s approval of a 20-storey height tower inside the Port Dalhousie Heritage Conservation District in St. Catharines, Ontario threatens the integrity of all heritage conservation district designations in the province, and sets a dangerous precedent for heritage districts across Canada.
Concerned citizens are questioning the Ontario Municipal Board’s actions, and urging the Ministry of Culture to stand up for the Ontario Heritage Act.
Why it matters:
The Ontario Ministry of Culture says that designating Heritage Conservation Districts (HCD) under the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) will ensure respect for the community’s heritage objectives. But the Ministry was conspicuously absent from a recent high-profile case that made a mockery of that statement.
Port Dalhousie, a historic canal village on the south shore of Lake Ontario in St. Catharines, was designated a Heritage Conservation District under the OHA in 2003. Soon after, the district was threatened with a tower development more than 5.5 times the 11 metre height limit in the zoning bylaw and in contravention of the heritage guidelines adopted by the municipality. Thus began a battle that would rage for 5 years, culminating in an unprecedented 71-day hearing at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) that pitted the City and local advocates against the developer. Ultimately, they and local heritage advocates lost out: the OMB rejected the community’s stand to protect the character of the district. Instead, the OMB ruled that the tower proposal did not contravene the heritage guidelines and gave the developer the go-ahead for a 20-storey height tower in the middle of the “protected” low-rise historic district. The battle for Port Dalhousie’s heritage district cost community volunteers over half a million dollars in professional fees.
Why they’re endangered:
This landmark OMB decision calls into question the protection afforded the more than 90 heritage districts already designated in Ontario. It also sets a dangerous precedent for heritage districts across the country: if a 20-storey height tower is appropriate in a district comprising mostly one- to three-storey structures, why bother to designate a Heritage Conservation District and endorse heritage guidelines for them at all? New development that ignores municipal heritage guidelines can erode the entire effect of preserving heritage property.
In the U.S., courts have consistently upheld the authority of local governments to deny permits to build incompatible structures in historic districts, even in the face of zoning and subdivision laws permitting more intensive development.
Where things stand:
A soon-to-be-released University of Waterloo study of Ontario’s mature HCDs confirms that where heritage controls are more stringent, property values are higher and residents have greater enjoyment of the benefits of living within an HCD. The study found that inadequate enforcement of HCD guidelines is a common concern.
In Port Dalhousie, efforts to protect the heritage integrity of the district continue. An online petition organized by Stop the Port Tower, a group with over 4,000 members, targets both the provincial and federal governments.
Top 10 Endangered Places List: 2009