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Wellington heritage conservation district should define ‘sense of place’

By Sharon Harrison
While the final decision to designate Wellington’s core as a heritage conservation district is in the future, it did take a step forward when council heard a presentation from consultants brought on board to look into the matter.

Dr. Carl Bray, of Bray Heritage in Kingston, along with Lindsay Reid, of Branch Architecture based in Prince Edward County, presented study findings to council at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting.

Municipal planning coordinator Cristal Laanstra noted the project began in the summer 2019 to assess the merits of a heritage district in the village.

“We are hoping this could build off the successes that we’ve seen in the Picton Heritage Conservation District,” said Laanstra. “Also, we had some work that was being done through our Heritage Advisory Committee that related to the village of Wellington and it looked at some of the different properties that could be worth designation.”

Laanstra said they were looking at how they could balance new development with the existing character of Wellington, preserving the charm, but also being open its development.

In reviewing the study, its contents and recommendations, Dr. Bray began by noting how Wellington was very much related to the water, and is a linear village.

“It has grown-up alongside the shore, alongside a major thorough-route and has its back to the farm land.”

Bray confirmed requirements of the Ontario Heritage Act have been met in determining whether the district warrants designation.

The district boundary, he said, is slightly different to what was found in the Request for Proposal, but “We feel it is one that more directly captures what’s available in the core of the village, and our recommendation is to proceed.”

Bray says it is about attempting to define a sense of place.

“Through that definition comes a series of policies and guidelines that make it possible for council to determine what would fit and what wouldn’t fit,” said Bray. “It is a unique piece of legislation in that way and this is a unique planning tool with which to use that legislation.”

Bray said it is not just about buildings.

“Rather than it being an architectural beauty contest, as some have described it, it’s much more about the holistic understanding of a place,” he says.

The study included an inventory and evaluation of what can be seen, but also what local people feel about the area and how Wellington developed over time.

It was noted the recommended boundary changed to incorporate the eastern and western edges of Main Street.

“The more we looked at the way the village had developed over time, and what was there on the ground now, we felt the it should not only include properties that flank Main Street, but include a little bit of Belleville Street and a chunk of Consecon Street, which we felt were continuations really of what we were finding along Main Street proper.”

The boundary also includes all the waterfront properties in that area.

Bray said their findings came up with individual buildings or building groupings, but also the landscape, concentrations that are important for their function, like the civic properties forming a hub in the centre and commercial core.

“And connections with boarder things like the Loyalist highway and the lakeshore and agricultural lands behind, and then the associations with important people and events; so it’s not just what’s happening now in the present, it’s what’s come before and how some of those associations and traditions can carry forward in the future.”

Bray said there is more to Wellington than one overall set of characters, noting the orderly progression of the evolution of the village.

“It started at the foot of Belleville Street and it moved westward for a variety of reasons over time,” he said.

Bray called a heritage conservation district a form of change management.

“It encourages development, but of the kind that really suits the village and suits the County as a whole. It also allows the municipal staff the tools with which to deal with that development, and also gives investors and local property owners some assurance of what their investment is going to be able to have in the future, and what the rules are.”

“We feel Wellington does merit designation as a heritage conservation district. It is a really interesting place and an excellent and rare example of its type.”

Wellington is one of the suburban centres that the County has identified for future growth.

“Having a district plan is a way to manage that growth in ways that don’t really hurt what’s already of value in the village, yet allow new development in a good way and enhance what’s already there.”

Councillor Ernie Margetson asked how long the development of the plan would take, and if it will it be done in this term of council.

While difficult to predict, especially in a pandemic, Bray indicated it would be between nine to 12 months, depending on the extent of public consultation.

Margetson raised concern about a rural section of Consecon Street which has been designated as a collector road within the Secondary Plan, and an important part of the future development of Wellington.

“The development of the properties north of the Millennium Trail are going to be very important, and Consecon Street and any of the north-south streets are going to become important conduits, not just for traffic, but for services and that can be a real concern in terms of how it affects the streetscape and everything association with it,” Bray said.

Councillor Bill Roberts referred to the economical and tourism impact other municipalities had experienced, where overall a heritage designation promoted a healthy six to seven per cent increase in tourism, as well as bringing several hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local economy. Roberts asked if those benefits were applicable here.

Bray said heritage conservation district designation has shown to be two things.

“One, it stabilizes local property values or enhances them. Secondly, it is certainly part of a County-wide branding, and will attract cultural tourism,” which he called the fastest growing component of worldwide tourism.

“You want to make sure you don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg, so a heritage conservation district plan can give you some boundaries. The economic multiplier can be significant.”

He said for every dollar a local person invested in their property, $14 came back.

“You really have to make sure though that not all your eggs are in the tourism basket.”

Reid said, “in terms of place making in the County, there needs to be that balance between economic development and allowing for a place for local people to live and creating a special place that doesn’t exclude the lovely neighbourhoods and communities we already have.”

Bray said Wellington does not want to be Niagara-on-the-Lake, “which is a ‘ghost town’.”

“You can’t buy milk in downtown, you can’t buy a screwdriver. All the people that used to live in Niagara-on-the-lake live in St. Catharines and commute in, or Pelham,” he said. “You’ve got a beautiful shell, but it’s a hollow one, except for the very wealthy, and I’d hate for Wellington to go that route.”

Councillor Janice Maynard voiced concern about the development of Wellington, particularly its one access with a few secondary shoots off it for roadways.

“If we are to have a heritage district, I worry about the effects of our ability to build infrastructure because with the amount of development that is anticipated in the Wellington area, a two-lane corridor is probably not going to be sustainable.”

Bray said that is a real issue.

“From what we have observed, and what we have heard from local people, traffic is already bad in Wellington along Main Street, certainly in the height of summer, and certainly during special events.”

“Something has to give,” he said. “If you try to increase the traffic capacity of Main Street, forget on-street parking, you might lose some trees, it’s going to fundamentally change that character,” Bray said, asking “Is that something you want?”

That fundamental question, he said, is going to have to be answered.

“The character of Main Street with the ability to park on the street, the ability to wander across in safety with some traffic calming measures; the feel is that it is part of a village commercial core, a village downtown, rather than part of a commercial district on a highway.

“There is only a certain amount a heritage conservation district can do to address that question, but it is a more fundamental question of development planning for the whole urban centre in Wellington,” said Bray.

The study will proceed to council to be ratified, which would allow staff and the consultants to proceed with preparation of a heritage conservation district plan. Bray noted there would be opportunities for further public consultation.

The committee of the whole meeting is available for viewing on the County’s YouTube channel.


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  1. angela says:

    Cheerfully sacrificing an extra five minutes to get through Wellington’s Main Street traffic does not cut it. We have already sacrificed far more than that. Are we really willing to make the county Playground Central at the expense of quaint villages like Wellington and Bloomfield? Once, Wellington beach was a wonderful place to walk a dog, stroll the boardwalk, or just sit on a bench and enjoy the wind and the waves. Last summer, the first item in few there was a port-a-potty. The beach was crowded and its sense of peace and tranquility gone. Locals avoid it, just as they do the Sandbanks and Outlet. These places are for the tourists. Certainly, tourists benefit a certain segment of the community – business owners who have come here from other places to capitalize on the sudden popularity of the county. It is not local residents who start up these eateries and similar venues designed to cater to visitors. Wellington has lost much of its character and there is not much left to protect from exploitation. County locals have been pushed aside in favour of the tourists. They come, they litter, they trespass and they dominate. How is this a good thing for any community? The majority of locals wait until they leave.

  2. LB says:

    The County tourists are important for a couple of reasons. One is they provide critical support for local businesses. This support results in a higher return outcome for those business owners who invest their savings and livelihood into that business. That can be the difference between opening a business or not, and certainly the ability to stay in business.

    Extended tourism in the County means people can own and operate businesses for more than just a few “summer months only” of the year which is more typical of rural Ontario. Many small towns virtually shut down for 8 months of the year.

    The businesses in Wellington are amazing. All of them. They need more than the local trickle to sustain them. I’m happy to trade an extra 5 minutes to get through town for all that Wellington offers today vs. 12 years ago.

    My concern with Heritage designations is that they are really a means by which a smaller group of like mined people ensure their views are promoted. This means that property owners could be subject to some imposed restrictions which is never a good thing, even if well intended.

  3. Chuck says:

    That is why the 80 million dollar water upgrades make no sense. Not only a high risk gamble to current water connected users but who is coming to Wellington to buy these new homes. Who is going to spend $500k to a million to live in a tourist playground? I just dont get it.

  4. angela says:

    So we decide to protect Wellington’s heritage after much of it is already gone. It’s an empty gesture. It would have been a worthwhile endeavor had it been undertaken some time ago. The county is good at this – locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.

  5. Susan says:

    Angela is right. You can designate the area and old homes without providing funds, but the quaint little Village is already gone. Who really wants to live in the middle of a tourist attraction?

  6. gilles says:

    Alas, for all the naysayers so far! The intent behind designating the Wellington core is to PROTECT it, to save the architectural heritage, to hold on to the charm of this Loyalist village, and further: to guide future development so that it is compatible with the character and identity of Wellington’s heritage.

  7. angela says:

    That ship has sailed. Anyone who remembers Wellington a few years ago knows that it has been transformed to a tourist attraction. Sad to see and there is likely worse to come. Its originality was lost a long time ago.The beach is now a zoo and Main Street traffic is a lot heavier. Soon the original village with all of its charm will be just a memory.

  8. CountyProud says:

    Viju, I agree. Sadly it is happening all across this beautiful County of ours. Even our Mayor has said, on the public record, we have a responsibility to share this beautiful place we call home with others. I fear, we may be fighting a losing battle.

  9. Viju Menon says:

    Please do not change Wellington into another Niagara-on-the-lake! Lose its originality.

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