Monday, June 24, 2024

We Wisely Created Meaford’s Historic District – Now Let’s Respect It

Letter to the Editor

Editor,

There is a great deal of misinformation circulating around Meaford concerning the proposed Sykes Street development. This is counterproductive if we are to have a constructive conversation about the merits of the proposed development.

I am a proponent of development, particularly in Meaford where the local economy needs a boost – and where our downtown buildings are in dire need of repair. It is because of my keen interest in local development that I recently joined the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) Meaford.

I have watched too many valuable buildings throughout Ontario be needlessly demolished to achieve short-sighted and often one-sided goals. I value Meaford’s unique architectural mix. I want that important resource respected by those who wish to develop here.

There appears to be some misunderstanding about ACO Meaford. Labels like “obstructionist” and “backward thinkers” have been used to describe our group on line. This talk is unfair and inaccurate.

Consider the ACO Mandate, as stated on our web site:

  • To promote the preservation of buildings of architectural and/or historic importance

  • To take an active interest in preserving landscapes of natural beauty and areas of ecological importance

  • To promote the preservation of the architectural integrity of our streetscapes

  • To preserve and enhance the municipality’s historic heritage by providing education, social and cultural programs

  • To be an advocate in the preservation, restoration and revitalization of historic sites, buildings, and landscapes deemed important to the character of the municipality

  • To participate and contribute to Municipal initiatives concerning heritage issues

  • To apply for grants to support heritage activities within the Municipality of Meaford

What is ACO Meaford’s position on the Sykes Street development?

We live in a prosperous province with natural and built resources that most would envy. There are dozens of examples throughout Ontario of how towns of all sizes have restored and repurposed heritage buildings and recreated vibrant main streets. That is how responsible development is carried out in 2015 Ontario. We have a responsibility to future generations to be equally sensitive as we redevelop our town.

We believe that the approval process for the Sykes Street development has not considered design options that would allow more of our downtown to be preserved and repurposed, rather than torn down and replaced.

We want to establish a more open dialog between ourselves and our own experts, the Municipality and the developer. We are confident that we can work together to create a development that achieves everyone’s objectives and brings the very best possible improvements to our main street.

Why has ACO Meaford launched an OMB challenge to the Sykes Street development?

The OMB appeal process is the only tool available to the public to force more discussion about matters of community concern. We take issue with the following:

  1. Council’s recent passing of two bylaw amendments contradicts Meaford’s Heritage Conservation District Plan and Guidelines. These guidelines were passed with wide community support less than two years ago! The creation of the Heritage District was based on the fundamental principle that Meaford’s heritage buildings are themselves drivers of our tourist economy and key to our future economic success. The recent amendments ignore that vision and set a dangerous precedent for future development applications.

  2. Council made Site Plan Approval conditional upon receipt of a “Conservation Plan” from the developer. But the requirements of the Plan (as specified by the Peer Review Architect) are illogical: the damage is already done. The developer is required to “analyze the heritage buildings and determine a conservation strategy”, yet he has been given approval to demolish all but two of the second story façades. All that has really been asked for is updated drawings that show how some historic architectural details will be mimicked in the new buildings. The original brickwork will be hauled to a landfill site.

This approach is outdated. It has been tried elsewhere and has failed. One can simply not replicate the authenticity and charm of 100-year-old masonry using today’s materials and budgets.

  1. We believe Council made decisions based on misinformation regarding the state of the buildings while ignoring other points of view:

    1. The developer claims that the bricks on the subject buildings are crumbling. This is not true. The only crumbling bricks on Sykes Street belong to a demising wall on the adjoining property to the north. We have been assured by our own experts that the buildings in question are structurally sound. Heritage District guideline Section 4.9.1b) requires all development proposals to include an assessment prepared by a professional engineer with expertise in heritage buildings and structures. We have not seen that report.

    2. The developer claims that the bricks that have been sandblasted have been structurally compromised. This is not true. ACO Meaford consulted a heritage mason who told us that the brickwork on these buildings was created by master craftsmen and for that reason the masonry remains in remarkably good shape; it has simply been neglected. To repoint and stabilize the entire 5 building façade would cost under $20,000.

  2. We believe the peer review architect’s report relied too heavily on unsubstantiated claims by the developer that preservation is too expensive. It is the developer’s responsibility to analyze the financial viability of his development. We believe the peer review architect’s role is to consider the historical value of the buildings in question and comment on what preservation schemes are warranted in the context of the Historic District Plan. Preserving two second story façades and demolishing the rest falls woefully short of our expectations.

What is next?

ACO Meaford is anxious to participate in ongoing discussions with all parties. Through our affiliation with ACO we have access to experts in the field of historical preservation who can provide valuable insight. These discussions need not stall the development!

Our goal is to ensure that this development brings the economic benefits we all want – without compromising the heritage assets that are critical to this town’s future as a historic tour destination. Through dialogue and hard work we are certain that Meaford can achieve both.

ACO Meaford wants to assist with a number of initiatives aimed at advancing Meaford’s economic development. Council has already begun work on several of them:

  1. Harbour redevelopment – a critical next step in Meaford’s economic plan

  2. Downtown building façade restoration – not just talk but funding

  3. Ongoing streetscape improvements and pedestrian access – sustain the momentum

  4. Street sign improvements – an essential element to a successful historic neighbourhood

  5. Additional historical plaques

  6. Development of unique events designed to highlight our town:

      1. Antique book fair

      2. Expanded Heritage walking tours

In the meantime, please consider joining our group. We value all viewpoints and welcome all expertise. We have lots of work to do and we could use your ideas and assistance! Please contact us through our web page at: heritagemeaford.com

Gord Naylor, Meaford

Gord Naylor is a retired general contractor and construction manager living in Meaford.

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