Monday, April 22, 2024

Separating Fact From Potential Fact

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Earlier this week, Meaford council gave approval to the establishment of a Heritage Conservation District aimed at preserving the historic character of the downtown core.

Run for the hills! Barricade your doors! The Man is coming after your property rights!


I’ve heard a lot of “facts” being tossed about with regard to this policy. The trouble is, some of those “facts” aren’t facts at all.

You will need a permit to replace a door or window in the Heritage District. Not true.

There will be huge fees for the permit process. Not true.

I’m going to need a heritage permit to renovate my bathroom. Not true.

I could go on, but really, do I need to?

I confess, I’m torn on the whole heritage issue myself. On the one hand, I see Meaford’s historical charm as one of few real assets we have to attract tourists, and it makes sense to me to preserve that as best as possible. On the other hand, I’ve always been partial to the saying “tradition is the illusion of permanence”, and I struggle with the question of how much we should invest in our past, when there are so many issues to deal with in the present, and a potential horror show approaching in the future.

That said, when reviewing the final documents for the Heritage Conservation District, it seems, to me at least, that as much as possible was done in order to implement a system that would preserve the historic character of the downtown core, while not placing undue burden on property owners.

No, you won’t need to get a heritage permit to replace the windows in your heritage home, but if you are changing the size or shape of the opening for a window or door, you would need to go through the permit process.

No, you won’t need a heritage permit to replace the shingles on your roof, but you would need a heritage permit if you are planning an addition to your heritage home.

What can you do to your heritage home in the heritage conservation district without the need for a permit? You can paint, install skylights, replace your eavestroughs, do interior renovations, and a host of other things.

Primarily, the requirement for a permit is triggered by any major modification to the street-facing façade of a heritage building within the heritage conservation district.

And should you require such a permit, what is the cost? Zero dollars. Zilch, zip, zero.

I’ve heard the following type of comment from a few folks since Monday’s council approval of the policy:

That’s great, but I heard that the next council could decide that they want to impose fees on the permit structure.”

Seriously, let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves if we really want to view everything that a council does through the lens of what the next council may or may not do.

There is enough of a challenge dealing with the “what is” in the world, I can’t imagine the energy it must take to also be constantly dealing with the “what ifs”.

Another “what if” I heard this week – “What if the unelected, unaccountable heritage committee intentionally drags its feet to delay a project.”

First things first. The Heritage Committee will not make decisions, they will offer input and advice to council when major permits are requested. Can you imagine seven bodies on council allowing an advisory committee to intentionally delay submitting advice or input to council?

Again, we can play the “what if” game all day long, but when the day is over, we’ll have a big bucket of nothing concrete. The next council could reverse many of the policies of the current council, but does that mean council should do nothing on any issue for fear that the next council will do something the opposite?

This council explored this issue to exhaustion, planning staff have worked tirelessly on this policy, and the public has been consulted every step of the way.

I suspect that in 15 or 20 years, the community as well as visitors will be pleased that in 2014 a council had the forethought to protect one of our greatest assets.

And in the unlikely event that the next council decides they want to impose large fees on the heritage permit process, my advice would be to round up the troops and raise hell at council.

The rules aren’t overly restrictive, the process appears very straight forward, and the permits are free. I’m really having difficulty finding the downside.

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