Heritage Advisory hits up city manager for twenty big ones then asks the Mayor for time to spend the money.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  May 2, 2012  In the world of things Heritage time is always a factor which most people take to mean the length of time it takes for a house to become “heritagically” significant.

Turns out that time from the Heritage Burlington perspective means how much time they need to get their reports completed.   In a letter to the Mayor last week Heritage Burlington advised they needed to push back the date on which they were going to deliver the results of the ruminations on how to fix the problems related to things heritage.

Community workshop drew more than 100 people but there was no sense of resolution when it was over. There were more questions than answers and the report that came out of it didn't really answer the questions.

And problems there certainly are, much of which was related to the different understandings people in Burlington have about just what having a house listed on anything be it the “inventory”, which is one list, the Registry, which is another list or if you’re on the Designated list.  It can be confusing and confusion there has been in Burlington for some time when it comes to Heritage matters.

The city never quite managed to come to terms with just what it wants to do with Heritage and Council isn’t of one mind on the subject either,  which doesn’t help.  Councillor Dennison who lives in a house that is designated would float the Joseph Brant Museum out into Lake Ontario and set it aflame if he thought he could get away with it.

Councillor Sharman seems prepared to put the rights of the property owner ahead of the rights of the community to have some link to its heritage.  If someone owns a property they should be able to do whatever they want with it – if it happens to be historically significant, then the city can buy the building, is the view Sharman touts.

Oakville doesn’t look at its heritage quite the same way and Niagara on the Lake has built a community that earns a living from its heritage.  Burlington tends to squabble over its heritage.

Up until very recently the membership of the Heritage Advisory committee tended to have people who would inventory or register a property if you whispered the letter H.  A citizen had to fight to get their property taken off the inventory even if they were there as a C or a D property.

While the current Heritage Advisory Committee is completely focused on the report they were to get to Council this June and haven’t done much else – they have decided to recommend that everything on the C and D parts of the inventory be taken off that list.  Once their report is presented to the city they will get on with the normal run of business – until then getting property off the inventory will be easier said than done.  The delay is something that can be put up with while this refurbished committee gets on with its task of coming up with answers to

The process for placing and removing properties on the Municipal Register and criteria for designation

Dealing with property rights and values

Suggesting incentives and support for heritage preservation

What to do when a property owner wants to alter, demolish or restore a heritage property. What processes and procedures should be put in place?

Explain to the public clearly what Legislative responsibility the city has to meet.

Set out a clear decision making processes the public will buy into

Come up with a process for stakeholder and community engagement to be entered into by Heritage Burlington, with input from the Public Involvement Coordinator, before final recommendations are presented to CDC by Heritage Burlington.

It didn’t take the Advisory Committee very long to realize they just didn’t have enough reliable data on which to base the recommendations they were expected to make.  They needed to hear what the average Burlingtonians thought and felt about heritage.   Whenever heritage came up for discussion there were two clearly defined groups who were usually at loggerheads with each other.

Another problem the Advisory Committee had was when they sought opinions on matters heritage all they had were lists of people who were either very pro or very negative when it came to questions about heritage.  They knew what they were going to get in the way of answers before they even asked the questions.

Getting reliable data meant going to the public and asking questions and that meant some public opinion polling for which there was no budget.

Burlington has a public opinion research organization on contract and it was suggested they see if they could scrounge up some money to do a short public opinion survey. It was suggested that the city manager had a fund they just might be able to tap to cover the cost of the research.  Ask and you shall be given seemed to work.  The city manager has coughed up a total of $20,000 to cover the cost of the survey.

The committee had hoped to have all this done by the middle of June – but when they took a close look at the work load and the way things work at city hall they realized it just wasn’t going to be possible – thus the letter to the Mayor asking for an extension.

With these additional resources in hand the Advisory Committee was able to go forward and produce the kind of report they wanted to deliver.  There are some very professional people on this committee who are quite capable of producing the kind of report the city needs.

In their letter to the Mayor the Advisory committee explains that: “Because of unforeseen difficulties in sourcing funding and scheduling key resources, it has become apparent that the original timeline cannot be met to achieve satisfactory community engagement and ultimately a final report of the quality that this project deserves.  Moreover, synchronizing our work within the policies, practices, communication patterns and staff workload at City Hall has taken more time than we anticipated.”

The Advisory Committee had bumped into “bureaucratic reality” and had to ask for more time and suggested that:

The public Open House be held May 31st instead of April 25th

Progress report to Community Development be on June 18th

Final report to Community development be September 10th instead of June 18th.

It had certainly seen better days and when the owner wanted to sell he was told the listing on the Registry would impact on the price he could get - so the property was taken off the Registry - just like that. So much for the intgrity of the Registry.

James Clemens chair of the Advisory Committee believes they can do the job they were asked to do within the new time frames.  We can expect Council in committee to go along with thus – unless there are some pressing requests to have property removed from the Registry.  Then things could get interesting.

In the past there have been people with an “axe to grind” or a personal  interest they want to take forward and being on the  Advisory Committee they can advance a personal property interest.  There is at least one member of the newly constituted committee that has a vested interest and a specific goal, which is not the purpose of this committee even though the objective of the committee member is a laudable one. We are given to believe there is more than one person with what are called “ pecuniary interests” that are not declared.  At city council committee meetings the chair begins by asking if there are any declarations of a pecuniary interest.  That should perhaps be standard procedure at the Advisory Committee level as well.  Putting personal interests first isn’t tolerated at Council and shouldn’t be tolerated at advisory committees either.



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