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Heritage Conservation District plan for Wellington deferred amid concerns

Council has decided even more time is needed to adopt a Wellington Heritage Conservation District (HCD) plan.

After two hours of public comment and discussion at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting, council supported councillor John Hirsch’s motion to refer the plan back to staff for a report to address concerns and proposed amendments.

Hirsch emphasized the report and approval of the HCD plan must be achieved this summer, in this term of council.

Of two deputations and seven comments made by members of the public, a few were in favour of council proceeding with approval of the designation, others had concerns over its implementation, specific areas and certain wording.

Councillor Mike Harper noted some members of the committee had been working on amendments to the plan to try to satisfy some of the comments made in the meeting Thursday.

Councillor Hirsch said it was important to have some coordination between the HCD plan and the Wellington Secondary Plan (SP), especially when it came to impinging on people’s property rights.

“It would alleviate those concerns and end up leaving ultimate control over decisions, such as demolition, building heights and setbacks, in the hands of council, rather than being overly prescriptive in the HCD itself,” said Hirsch.

CAO Marcia Wallace noted the changes included a lot of technical information and would impact the livelihood of a lot of people.

“A report should come back to council that explains the edits, so the public can read it and understand what exactly is being proposed, and to include the comments made today,” said Wallace, adding it is possible the report could come back to council for consideration in July or August.

Councillor Andreas Bolik said a plan is needed that provides “both certainty to people, but also flexibility to especially deal with unintended consequences.”

“I don’t want to dismiss the concerns, but we need to have strong heritage policies, although it’s always about balance,” added councillor Ernie Margetson.

He said council will ultimately be the decision makers, noting the Ontario Heritage Act allows appeals from the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) to council, to the tribunal, if necessary.

Councillor Harper noted Section 3 of the HCD plan as an important section.

He noted that demolition of a contributing property isn’t permitted, unless there is a problem with the health and safety of the building (Section 3.3).

“The sort of thing we are thinking about is a mechanism that would allow for that proposal to be considered,” explained Harper. “For example, if the owner of a contributing property situated in the HCD proposes to demolish or remove any building or structure, that a heritage permit with supporting rationale of a heritage impact assessment shall be required, along with consultation.”

For setback issues, Harper noted changes to the wording could include, “where deviations from this policy regarding front yard setback are proposed, a heritage permit with supporting rationale, which may include a heritage impact assessment, shall be required.”

“We are really looking at creating ultimately some kind of mechanism that recognizes special circumstances because we understand that under the SP they have been granted certain rights and expectations and we wouldn’t take that lightly, we would want to work with you,” added Harper.

Consultants Bray Heritage undertook the Wellington Heritage Conservation District research and study to get to this point and Carl Bray provided a brief outline of the work undertaken, noting this was the final stage of a long process which began in summer 2019.

He spoke to the overall character that was revealed in the research and study phase, a brief discussion of designation, and the contents of the plan.

“One of the key characteristics of Wellington is its community and the ability of local people to be stewards of their community,” said Bray. “That notion of stewardship is inherent, certainly in the SP, but really it’s fostered by the HCD plan.”

He said the HCD plan not only provides the tools to manage change, but it also talks about what change fits.

“That nuanced description is very, very important,” he said.

Bray said they looked at the overall character of Wellington in a number of different layers, including subsets, such different neighbourhoods and districts, and the character of those.

“Things that came out time and time again were views to the lake, the tree canopy, and the civic hub of one-stop shopping,“ said Bray. “You’ve got the churches, the marketplace, town park, village hall, post office, and nearby you have got the small commercial district with banks, library, museum.”

He noted the commercial core is quite tight and very low-scale.

“This is a village; it is not a town or a city, so that small pedestrian scale, one- or two-storey buildings predominating, with the more important buildings being slightly larger, that is very typical of villages.”

Bray said Wellington is one of the few villages in Canada that is strung out like a necklace with various things along that necklace.

“It’s a development pattern that is quite interesting, almost unique in this part of Ontario.”

Wellington has a linear development pattern sandwiched between the lake and the farmlands to the north (noting some of those farmlands will be re-developed soon).

It was noted the boundary selected encompasses the greatest concentration of cultural heritage resources, of many kinds.

“HCDs give you not just the tools as a municipality, but as a property owner to understand how best to contribute to the character of the area, but it’s also a notion of encompassing a holistic view of an place,“ explained Bray. “It’s not just about a bunch of pretty buildings.“

Bray explained a HCD plan is a change management tool with mandatory polices and discretionary guidelines (which are not mandatory).

“Many people worry that they can’t do anything with their property once it’s been designated. That’s not the case,” said Bray. “Routine maintenance, the kinds of things you would normally do to keep up the property, those don’t require a heritage permit.”

He noted the advice in the HCD plan is discretionary.

“What requires a heritage permit is really the same as what requires other types of building permit for example, so you go through a certain process.”

In his deputation, Montreal resident and part-time County resident Anthony Lemke, with Wharf Lane Developments, said he has brought 13 different businesses to town.

“It was the SP and the confidence we had that our visions for something we wanted to participate in was echoed by the community in which we were living,” expressed Lemke, who said he was a “little gun shy when he saw the HCD”.

He said the vision in the HCD plan emphasizes the current development pattern of smaller structures located on large lots, with development directed so Wellington remains a village, with few buildings no taller than two storeys with generous side and front yards to accommodate trees and gardens.

“Wellington residents want the village to grow into a vibrant, walkable, sustainable, full-service, year-round waterfront town with a thriving business core located along a revitalized Main Street; a town that grows from the inside and respects its history,” said Lemke.

He noted the HCD plan touches on two zones considered in the SP: the village core and the village corridor.

“Those are the two zones the SP targets that creates the town that I have just described,” he said. “In my opinion, we have a conflict of visions.”

“This document [the proposed Wellington HCD plan] trumps everything; every municipal bylaw is trumped by this document.”

He noted the guidelines are mandatory.

“It’s important to understand this tool exists, but let’s be careful with how much we use it.”

In his staff report, Michael Michaud, manager of planning, noted support had been received from the Wellington District Business Association and Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee.

With over 100 HCDs in Ontario, Michaud notes, “studies have revealed that property owners have a high degree of satisfaction with the effect of designation on their property values and economic development within the district.”

“HCDs are essentially an expression of what local residents want to conserve,” he said. “In practice, an HCD is a tool used by communities to help manage change in ways that conserve and enhance those aspects of a place that local people most value.”

Michaud said a HCD plan encourages development, “but of a compatible kind.”

While the pandemic hampered in-person public meetings, something that was noted by some of the comments received from members of the public at the last public (virtual) meeting, Michaud noted in his report some people were not even aware of the plan to designate a portion of Wellington under the HCD plan until recently.

“There was discussion about potentially delaying completion of the HCD plan to allow more time for public consultation, but this option was considered problematic for two reasons,” noted Michaud. “First, despite a significant gap in the project timeline due to the pandemic, there has been ample consultation in terms of the number of meetings and responses to emails and phone calls, much more than is required under the Ontario Heritage Act.”

The proposed designation has been in the works for a couple of years, since July 2019, and this meeting came on the heels of a lengthy virtual public meeting in early May that garnered significant public input and concerns. The first public meeting, also virtual, took place in November 2021.

“Based on comments received, there is general support for district designation,” noted Michaud’s report.

It was noted some property owners were concerned about the plan’s potential impact on their ability to alter their properties.

Comments from the public and PEHAC have been reviewed with the draft HCD plan has been edited, where appropriate, to provide clarity and context to it policies and guidelines, under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Further, it was noted how time is of the essence, most notably because of the developments currently underway for lands north of the Millennium Trail.

“Critical decisions are pending for such matters as road and sewer upgrades and these upgrades could have a direct impact on the heritage attributes of the proposed district,” Michaud said.

While there appeared to be no overall outright objection to the proposed Wellington Heritage Conservation District plan, there was concern over some sections and some wording, especially the extensive use of the word “shall”.

“The plan is overreaching and under-consulted,” said Lourdes Da Costa. “The concept for a heritage plan for Wellington is good, but this plan as currently drafted is not; it is not ready. Its intentions and consequences need to be properly communicated to the property owners that it will impact.”

Evan Nash noted the position of the Wellington District Business Association is to delay the decision regarding the Wellington HCD plan due to the lack of opportunity for public input.

Dan Leeming said due process has been followed with information meetings, including one-on-one meetings.

“I don’t think the specific interests of a few should be allowed to over-rule the greater good of the broader community,” said Leeming. “Deferral is basically paramount to a denial of the HCD.”

Simon Fish said the proposal deserves proper recognition. “I urge you to adopt the process today, “ he said.

Diane Riley said she strongly endorsed the HCD, noting due process has been followed.

“We want to ensure a healthy liveable community for all those who live in our historic village,” said Riley. “It is not just about money, it is about a quality of life and ensuring the future for all. Wellington will not be frozen in the past; this heritage plan gives new direction and avenues for creativity.”

Some photographs included in the report:

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