Wilson farmhouse demolition would violate O.P., a By-law and City policies

A missive from concerned resident.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback to the staff report on the Wilson Farm Park – Farmhouse.

My concern is that, if executed, the recommendations in the staff report would:

1) Violate a specific provision in the Official Plan which enshrines protection of the Wilson Farmhouse

2) Violate the Heritage objectives of the Official Plan, specifically section 3.5 on Cultural Heritage Resources.

3) Violate City By-laws – specifically the Demolition Control By-law.

4) Violate the City’s Guiding Principles for Community Engagement

5) Violate the Major Goal (5) of the City’s Official Plan “to ensure efficient use of public

expenditures without excessive financial strain upon the City.”

I am trying to understand how it has come to be that recommendations of a staff report could be so contrary to the O.P, By-laws and City Policies.

The best guess I can come up with is that while issues relating to parks and public consultation come under the direction of Community and Social Services, issues relating to the Official Plan, Zoning, Heritage Preservation and Demolition are all matters currently handled by the Building and Planning Services Department.

I would not expect that staff in CSS would have expertise in these areas and perhaps they do not fully understand the implications of their recommendations. I recognize that they are making an effort to respond to what they perceive as the wishes of the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, in the absence of any public consultation process, those wishes can only be deemed to be representative of one segment of the community

I would like to expand on the five assertions I have made above by providing specific reference to the relevant sections of City documents.

1)

Violate a specific provision in the Official Plan which enshrines protection of the Wilson Farmhouse.

Reading through section 3.5 of the Official Plan on Cultural Heritage Resources, it’s striking that the Wilson Farmhouse is one of only two heritage properties in the City specifically mentioned in our Official Plan.

Cultural Heritage Resources – Victoria Road North Secondary Plan Area

3.5.20 In addition to the policies contained in subsection 3.5 of this Plan, the following policies provide context for new development within the Victoria Road North Secondary Plan Area:

1. The farmhouse at 595 Victoria Road North will be incorporated into the design of the main public square for the lands located along the west side of Victoria Road, providing opportunity for the use of this building as a public facility (community centre or library) or alternatively, to be retained as a residential use.

2. The fieldstone house at 797 Victoria Road North is currently owned by the Grand River Conservation Area and should be preserved.

Given the specific reference to the farmhouse in the O.P. Council will need a professional legal or planning opinion as to whether or not an Official Plan Amendment would be required to proceed with demolition.

I would like to note that the Victoria Road North Secondary Plan was incorporated into the City’s Official Plan through O.P.A 11 and was approved by the OMB in 2001.

2) Violate the Heritage objectives of the Official Plan, specifically section 3.5 on Cultural Heritage Resources.

3.5.3.1

1. Built heritage resources shall be preserved and incorporated into all development

plans, unless the applicant demonstrates to City Council that the built heritage resource does not meet the criteria for designation used by the City of Guelph Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC)

No one has demonstrated that the Wilson Farmhouse does not meet the criteria for designation used by the City of Guelph Heritage Committee. In fact, in the recent ruling of the Conservation Board of Ontario, the Board upheld the City’s position and recommended designation and stated that the farmhouse “is a benchmark for the community and reflective of the City’s once vibrant agricultural past.”

I believe the following Objectives and Policies are also relevant:

3.5 Cultural Heritage Resources

Objectives

a) To maintain the unique style and character of the City.

b) To encourage the identification, restoration, protection, maintenance and enhancement of cultural heritage resources.

c) To encourage the preservation, restoration or re-use of historic and architecturally significant buildings and landmarks throughout the City.

General Policies

3.5.1 The City will encourage the restoration, protection, maintenance and enhancement of cultural heritage resources which include, but are not limited to, archaeological resources, built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscape resources.

3.5.2 This Plan promotes the design of development proposals in a manner, which preserves and enhances the context in which cultural heritage resources are situated.

3.5.3 Development proposals in the City shall be designed to be consistent with the maintenance of cultural heritage resources and, in addition, shall incorporate these resources into specific design proposals where possible.

3) Violate City By-laws – specifically the Demolition Control By-law.

The specific intent of the Demolition Control By-law is to maintain the existing stock of residential units and former residential buildings in the City. It is my understanding that demolition permits for demolition of housing are only issued in circumstances where the applicant has committed to replacing the house in question with a new building, guaranteeing that there is no net impact on housing stock in the City. The staff recommendations do not mention any plans for the City to build a replacement dwelling. The City cannot, with any credibility, impose conditions on private owners and developers which the City itself is not willing to follow. Council needs to ask planning staff about their standard criteria for issuing demolition permits.

THE CORPORATION OF THE CITY OF GUELPH

By-law Number (1988) – 12922 (amended by Bylaw Number (1989)-13162 and (1990)-13516)

A By-law to designate the City of Guelph as an area subject to demolition control in accordance with Section 33 of The Planning Act, 1983.

WHEREAS the Corporation of the City of Guelph wishes to retain the existing stock of residential units and former residential buildings in the City of Guelph;

4) Violate the City’s Guiding Principles for Community Engagement

The City of Guelph believes the best, most representative public policy is developed with input from the community. (City Government web page, http://www.guelph.ca)

There has been a complete lack of City-run public consultation regarding the farmhouse and the 1/3 acre it sits on. This is documented in the staff report.

The highlighted grids of public comments in the report are from input on the 2010 neighbourhood consultation on the Master Plan for the
Wilson
Farm
Park
. They do not represent the needed additional consultation identified in 2012.

p. 1 To date, however, there has been no broad community consultation regarding the future options of the farmhouse.

p. 3 In March of 2012, Council received Information Report # OT031207 which discussed outstanding items related to the re-purposing of the farmhouse – in particular, the need for additional public consultation on potential future options for the farmhouse and the status of the heritage designation. Although staff have scoped an engagement process, it was not initiated and no formal broader community engagement has occurred regarding options for the farmhouse.

p. 6
It should be noted that all options listed above have been mentioned via informal

and formal venues, and each also represents differing opinions expressed by the
community. In other words, while there is a segment of the local neighbourhood that has been quite vocal in expressing a particular perspective about the house and property, there may be other segments of the local neighbourhood and broader City that are neutral or supportive of retention options.

This situation constitutes a complete abandonment of the Guiding Principles for Community Engagement. At my request, the Clerks have included a copy of these principles for your reference.

None of the Community Engagement Team responsibilities or City Employee responsibilities has been fulfilled.

While it was neither their job, nor responsibility, to conduct public consultation, the Northern Heights Community Association attempted to fill the vacuum left by the City by holding public meetings and conducting surveys.

I do not believe this group was in a position to effectively fulfill this role while at the same time advancing an activist agenda to have the house demolished and the land integrated into the park. It is not clear if the results of a survey conducted in the neighbourhood by the Northern Heights Community Association in December of 2012 were ever remitted to the City.

Doorstep canvassing work conducted by the Northern Heights Community Association and described in the cover letter of their April 29, 2011 petition submitted to the City documents a diversity of neighbourhood opinion which they have not made clear in their positions to the City or in the media.

“After canvassing neighborhood with enclosed petition & objections, it should be noted that no one refused to sign. Numerous more signatures, with little effort, could have been obtained.

Most people were uncertain or misinformed as to the situation…some even thought it was already heritage & severed!

Everybody canvassed wanted the park kept complete….No severance! The majority favoured demolition with other park uses for public.”

Citizen and neighbourhood groups are not in a position to fulfill three of the most important principles identified by the policies:

5. Transparent and Accountable: The City designs processes that are open and clear. Stakeholders will understand their role, the level of engagement and the outcome of the process.

6. Open and Timely Communication: The City provides information that is timely, accurate, objective, easily understood, accessible and balanced.

9. Equitable Engagement Process: The City designs engagement processes that allow all community members a reasonable opportunity to contribute and to develop a balanced perspective.

If an Official Plan Amendment is indeed required to proceed with the demolition of the Wilson Farmhouse, a pre-set framework will be provided for public consultation and input. Even if an OPA is not legally required, I believe a City-wide consultation on demolition of this Heritage resource should be conducted, if only to honour the extensive work and public consultation that would have gone into creating the Victoria Road Secondary Plan OPA in the first place.

5) Violate the Major Goal (5) of the City’s Official Plan “to ensure efficient use of public expenditures without excessive financial strain upon the City.”

2.3 Major Goals of the Official Plan

….5. Provide for urban growth in a manner that ensures the efficient use of public expenditures without excessive financial strain upon the City.

I recognize that members of the Northern Heights Community Association, representing one segment of the neighbourhood, would like to see the Wilson farmhouse demolished and the 1/3 acre it sits on incorporated into the Wilson Farm Park.

The price tag associated with this will be upwards of $250,000. The staff report suggests that the house and property could be sold for anywhere from $200,000 to $215,000. Costs for demolition could be as much as $50,000.

Other costs and lost income which may not have yet been identified are costs associated with cataloguing and preserving heritage artifacts from the house if demolition were to proceed, as well as lost future tax revenue for the City in the event of residential occupation of the house.

$265,000 to add a 1/3 acre to a City park is not “efficient use of public expenditures”. In the current context of revenue and budget shortfalls, I suggest that this would place “excessive financial strain upon the City.”

Conclusion:

I would ask Council to consider the following course of action:

1) Refer the issues in this matter relating to the Official Plan, zoning, heritage and demolition back to Planning and Building Services.

2) Move forward to complete the Heritage Designation Process initiated in 2011.

3) Launch a City-wide brainstorming initiative to make sure all creative ideas for use of the house as a community resource have been identified.

4) Concurrently launch a community-based needs and wants assessment for community space in the park for the whole Ward 2 neighbourhood north of Woodlawn Road.

5) In a timely manner, complete a process of presenting ideas matched with needs and associated costs to the community north of Woodlawn.

6) If no economically viable community use for the farmhouse can be found, proceed with severance and sale of the house on the open real-estate market, as anticipated in Section 3.5.20.1 of the Official Plan.

7) If no buyer comes forward, donate the house and land to Habitat for Humanity for renovation for residential use. At minimum, this would save the City $50,000 in demolition costs and generate property tax revenue going forward. It would preserve a heritage building and City housing stock, as well as meeting a need for housing for low-income families.  SW

Scan — Wilson Park Farmhouse Survey

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