Wilson Farmhouse

A resident’s comments.

Re: Demolish farmhouse, says report (10 September 2013, Guelph Tribune)
Re: City staff now pushing to demolish contentious farmhouse (10 September 2013, Guelph Mercury

We Guelphites are privileged to have a mayor and council devoted to participatory democracy—the conviction that citizens in addition to elections ought to have a say in the details of how they are governed.

On the one hand, therefore, it is appropriate that staff have acquiesced to the desire of activists in the Northern Heights neighbourhood to demolish the Wilson Farmhouse.

On the other hand, however, this staff recommendation can fairly be construed as a betrayal of the broader community of citizens and prior councils that have “formally determined” through participatory democracy that the Wilson Farmhouse is a heritage property worthy of being preserved.

“Formally determined” because the ultimate product of that prior effort over more that a decade of active consideration is engraved in stone in Guelph’s Official Plan (Section 3.5.20). Thus, the neighbourhood proponents of demolition are very much a Johnny-come-lately group on this issue, and that is relevant.

While these citizens were considering the purchase of their homes, the Wilson Farmhouse stood on its promontory as the most visible feature in the landscape, something that absolutely could not be ignored. They would have been negligent had they not inquired about the plans for that large, ancient home in their midst.

And if they did their pre-purchase due diligence, either themselves or via their builder or real estate agent or lawyer, they would have discovered the unambiguous Official Plan statement “The farmhouse…will be incorporated into the design of the main public square for the lands…,providing opportunity for [its] use as a public facility…or alternatively, to be retained as a residential use.”

Every professional engaged in the housing industry knows that Official Plans in Ontario are our bibles for municipal planning and design. If due diligence did not uncover this glaring fact, then that process can fairly be labelled as incompetent.

Not only was the Wilson Farmhouse prominently there first, but so too was the official determination that it would remain at the southeast corner of the Wilson Farmhouse Park around which the entire Northern Heights neighbourhood was planned and built. Effectively the farmhouse and its park were presented to these buyers as the central amenity of their community; a gift to these new Guelphites from the prior success of heritage activists in our fair city, and the openness of prior councils to those citizen voices.

Accordingly, it is not unkind to ask, If they do not appreciate this central amenity of their planned neighbourhood, then why did they purchase a home there? Ignorance of the Official Plan because their agents were not duly diligent on their behalf is no excuse.

If there is no suitable, cost-effective public use for this property, then the alternative anticipated in the Official Plan ought to be implemented—sell the Wilson Farmhouse on the open market as a heritage residential property, a private residence whose owners accept the obligation to preserve specified heritage features. This has worked well in the past as a device to preserve historically significant properties without cost to taxpayers, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to those heritage-minded owners. The only way to find out if there is another “heritage angel” for the Wilson Farmhouse is to put the place on the market.

If the Northern Heights neighbourhood rejects this option, then Guelph’s strong tradition of participatory democracy requires that the question be placed before all citizens because preservation of our heritage is a city-wide issue.

Moreover, there is roughly a quarter of a million dollars at stake here for all Guelph taxpayers—the potential income into our coffers from a sale versus the cost of demolition. And that is most definitely a city wide issue.  DG

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Filed under Heritage, Wilson Farm Park

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