Heritage Status: Does it pay to complain?

Logo_CityofOttawa_ColorBy Ron Rose

In the middle of June, more than 160 homeowners in Old Ottawa East woke up to discover their homes were being considered for designation on the City of Ottawa’s Heritage Inventory. A report presented to the Planning Committee indicated that 3100 dwellings in Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South were evaluated and 357 were deemed worthy of being placed on the heritage register. One-hundred-and-sixty of these houses are within Old Ottawa East.

Homeowners were provided with some information about their designation but that aroused more questions. Many residents have heard about the significant constraints that are placed on a house when it has been designated as a Heritage Building, so people were left asking “what does this actually mean for me?”

A number of OOE residents attended an Open House on June 22 to express their views on the inventory. Concerns included the impact on the development potential of a property, the costs involved in maintaining heritage aspects and the perceived lack of transparency in the process. Local resident Mark Audcent told the committee, “Our biggest concern is how such a listing will affect the economic value of our home.”

Some home owners were bewildered about why their dwellings were considered for the inventory, claiming there was nothing significant about their dwelling. Julie Harris, a consultant to the Ottawa Archdiocese, referring to the church at 152 Glenora St., said the church is one of dozens in Ottawa of its kind, “its simply not distinctive.”

The City told residents that being included on the inventory does not necessarily mean the dwelling will be included on the final Provincial list of designated heritage buildings under the Ontario Heritage act. The City also stated that being included on the inventory does not affect the owner’s ability to renovate or change the exterior of the dwelling. According to the City, having a dwelling listed on the inventory also should not affect the owner’s ability to sell their home as sellers are not obliged to disclose the fact that a dwelling has been included on the heritage inventory to any prospective buyer, although the information is publicly available online.

The only restriction noted in the information residents received is that a homeowner has to give the City 60 days notice before they demolish a home listed on the inventory. That restriction raised a number of skeptical eyebrows. City staff have made it clear that the 60 days notice was to give the City time to review the application and, if deemed appropriate, have a dwelling designated as a heritage property. This designation may mean the owner would not be allowed to demolish the dwelling.

The Planning Committee met again on Sept 12 and approved the addition of most of the 160 buildings, but temporarily exempted the dwellings of those who had raised objections at the Committee meeting. This led to some concerns about fairness. Coun. Steven Blais called the move unfair to the people who didn’t have time to come to City Hall to speak to the committee or aren’t aware of the implications of the register on their properties. “I don’t think the failure to respond should be an indication of your [the Committee’s] support,” Blais said. He wanted to see councillors halt the addition of all the properties.

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Filed in: Culture, FP, Front Page

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