Heritage is challenged to get it right within a very short time frame. New chair and vice chair installed. Now the hard work begins.

REVISED October 2, 2012

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 13, 2012

They had their work cut out for them.  The marching orders were pretty clear.  There was a new chair and vice chair in place and the mood of the Burlington Heritage  Advisory Committee at their first meeting, after a bombastic Council Committee meeting, was pretty upbeat.

Jim Clemens was made chair and Kathleen White was installed as vice chair.  Clemens, a retired high school history teacher who spent a significant amount of time with the Ministry of Education arrived in Burlington in 1971.  He was smart enough as the newly installed chair to set up a work plan, distribute the work load, make a presentation to city council and then head off to Florida for three weeks.  He has since returned.

Clemens was appointed to the Heritage Committee three years ago.  He now serves as one of the two Burlington Historical Society members on the Committee.

Kathleen White, a bilingual University of Toronto history graduate lives in one of the 67 homes in Burlington that has been designated as a Heritage home.  Kathleen can trace her family roots to the 1800’s in both Ontario and the Prairies.  She works in the private sector with technology and is the mother of two small children.

Clemens and White appear to work well together – they are going to need to if they are going to meet the deadlines and at the same time produce a report that moves Burlington away from the polarization that has be-deviled the city and at the same time put in place the sense of community that will bring the city to the point where it respects its heritage and goes that additional mile to save what is worth saving and have everyone proud of what we are doing.  That the Freeman station appears to have found a new home is a first step and is perhaps the turning point for things heritage in this city.

Heritage in Burlington is in very, very rough shape.  The best the city has managed to do is not have the opposing points of view attempting  to kill each other.  For reasons that neither side of the argument could articulate clearly, there has been very significant opposition to putting a home on any kind of list and more importantly, a serious lack of understanding as to what heritage is and why it is important.

It has been a poorly managed file at city hall.  People who should know better have made some very stupid comments.  Developers have stirred the pot with self-interest comments and the real estate community has contributed nothing of value to the situation the city finds itself in.

What many fail to understand or appreciate is that Heritage Burlington is governed by the Ontario Heritage Act which makes no mention of the owner of a piece of property.   The complaints that come from Burlington residents about the way the committee behaves are understandable, but there is nothing the Committee can do about that.  They are required to follow the rules as they appear in provincial legislation.

There has clearly been an inability to communicate on the part of the Heritage Committee in the past.  With a new chair and vice chair in place, both of whom know how to communicate, one can hope that a better stream of information gets through to the people who have had problems with heritage issues in Burlington – that would be the 100 plus that showed up at the Heritage Workshop last December.

Under a new Mayor who at least understands heritage the city has begun to inch its way forward.  It should be said however the city’s council members should be thoroughly ashamed of their behavior, having gotten federal government Stimulus Funds and then failed to find a suitable location for the Freeman railway station which is about as historic as anything in the city.  It certainly belongs right up there with the Joseph Brant Museum.

The railway station that saw the loading of hundreds of thousands on bushel baskets of fruit from area orchards and then served as the platform from which the youth of the community were taken off to wars from which many never  returned.

Petty, small thinking and self-interest seemed to have replaced the pride of community and a what’s in it for me began to take its place.

HMCS Burlington: Sailed past what is now Spencer Smith Park, acknowledged a salute from the shore party, swung back out into the lake and never returned. Decommissioned in 1945

The city has completely lost any historical connection with its water front – not a jot of recognition to the canneries that were once there; one is very hard pressed to show where the wharves at which ships tied up to take on and transport the lumber, then the wheat and then the fruit that came out of the soil.  For some reason history, or at least some of  it doesn’t seem to matter.  At the same time, this city has one of the most impressive and complete naval war memorials in the country on it’s waterfront – this in a city that really doesn’t have a naval history.  HMCS Burlington sailed past the lakefront breakwater once and we never saw the ship again.

The Advisory committee knows they have their work cut out for them and that there are concerns, at least with one member of Council, as to how useful the Advisory committee actually is.  Blair Lancaster of Ward 6 and Councillor Sharman of Ward 5

Councillor Lancaster was prepared to put those pretty pink work boots to the Heritage Committee and set up a Task Force to deliver on the Staff Direction Mayor Goldring had put forward. That, mercifully, failed.

have never come across as strong friends of the Heritage movement.  Sharman sees any involvement in what can and cannot be done with a person’s property is an infringement on their property rights and he wants to see changes made.  Lancaster wanted to see a Task Force created to resolve the issues that came out of a well-attended community workshop last January.

Sharman was rude enough to ask Jim Clemens, chair of the committee delegating to Council if he was prepared to buy a house whose owner  was asking to be taken off the register.

The facilitator of the November 2011 workshop, Stephanie Roy McCallum, of Dialogue Partners gave the city more than their money’s worth with the report she turned in.

Marianne Meed Ward sits as a Council non-voting member on the Heritage Advisory as well as being one of the Council members on the Waterfront Access Advisory Committee.  Meed Ward has created a reputation as being a very direct and energetic Council member who isn’t afraid to ask questions.  She has turned her volume down a bit of late.

Watching her as a participant of the Heritage Advisory Committee one sees a very different Marianne Meed Ward than we see at Waterfront – which for her was a signature election issue.  At the last Heritage meeting she was involved, active, animated, at times leading and very much a part of the process.  One doesn’t see the same Meed Ward at the Waterfront meetings.  Missing there is the energy and the drive.

Meed Ward has arranged two sets of one-on-one meetings with the Council members for the Heritage committee – she just went and did it because it needed to be done.  They will be taken through the first draft of the response to the Staff Direction and then taken through the final draft of the response before it gets taken to a Council Committee in June.

The committee has already lined up the talents of the new Community Engagement Coordinator and has been assigned someone from the city’s communications department to handle media.

The schedule these people have to work to is incredibly tight.  They now have a full complement with Jeff Sutcliffe, Fraser Dunford, Jim O`Neil and Albert Facenda made full members of the committee.

Diane Gaudaur, Linda Axford and Chelsey Tyers are added as non-voting members.

There is an interesting wrinkle to the make up of the Committee.  The Burlington Historical Society has two members on the committee as of right.  One of those two is Jim Clemens, the current chair.  One might ask: If the Historical Society becomes unhappy with the direction Heritage Committee chair Jim Clemens is taking, might the committee remove him as the Historical Society member and thus see him out as chair?  Just asking.

The Committee has gone through some very tough times.  It found itself with a mandated job to do and little in the way of support from the community.  It had to work with the Burlington Historical Society, a volunteer association that has no ties to city hall other than a couple of seats on Heritage Burlington.  The Historical Society plus is that they have the interests of preserving history as their mandate.   Then there was the Burlington Property Owner’s Association made up of people opposed to the idea that city hall, or anyone for that matter, could tell them what they could or could not do to their homes.  That group has a very boisterous membership.

Add to that there is a Planning Department led by one of the better planners in the province, who is as cultured an individual as you’re going to find in Burlington – but for some reason the Planning staff come across as heavy handed and dictatorial.  The tone and the language used in their web site presence and the regulations they post just doesn’t come out sounding helpful – it tends to put backs up and causing people to decide not to work with them.

On the Heritage Burlington web site there is a statement: “A heritage property may be designated by a by-law passed by City Council according to procedures defined in the Ontario Heritage Act. Designation provides a measure of protection against demolition and damaging alterations.

“Renovations and alterations to the exterior must be approved by Heritage Burlington or City Council. Interior features are usually not included in the designation, and may be altered without any approval process. Heritage Burlington assists property owners during the designation process, prepares a designation report, and advises Council on the reasons for designation.”

Every word is true – but the tone and the intention are just a little too much for many property owners who don’t trust city hall and don’t think anyone has the right to tell them what to do with property they own.  And when property owners read about some of the emotionally based, completely irrational decisions made by their council members – well that’s where the deeply rooted differences of opinion set in.

And then there is THE Registry – a list of homes and properties that is misunderstood and badly managed.  The previous council, that is the rascals who sat from 2006 to 2010, confused residents with some of the information they put out.  The situation was allowed to get out of hand, partly because there was no leadership from Council.  Jane Irwin, a member of the Historical Society who can usually be relied upon for a cogent, well informed comment, once explained to Council much of the background on registration and designation.  The Council, for the most part, did more harm than good – it was this crew that totally failed on the saving of the Freeman Station.  Councillors Taylor, Craven, Dennison and Goldring were all part of that Council and they let the funding they had in hand to move and repair the Freeman Station get away while the station begins to rot beside the Fire Station on Plains Road.  To add injury to insult the fire chief recently got council to go along with an upgrade to the fire station that was well over $250,000

Clearly heritage and the history of the city doesn’t have much traction and that is perhaps the biggest task ahead of everyone.  That task is going to take years.

With the recommendations from the Heritage Workshop in hand Mayor Goldring was able to take the next step and have Heritage Burlington review the consultants report and then provide direction in a number of very specific areas.   Heritage Burlington took that Direction and boiled them down to four tasks that were assigned to the committee members with very specific reporting dates and tight time lines.

The Staff Direction asked Heritage Burlington to set out a definition of heritage and then detail what the value of heritage is to the community.   This one should be interesting.

Morgan Warren  and  Randy McLaughlin are expected to lead this one – loads of contention here.

The premises they intend to work from are:  What does heritage mean for the residents of Burlington. How is this represented and defined?  What is or should be the cultural significance supporting the designation of existing and future heritage properties? Discuss the “why” behind heritage conservation.  How do we best celebrate and showcase Burlington’s heritage?  How do we develop a variety of opportunities and options for preserving, and promoting  heritage and culture in the city?

The second task in the work plan is the process and procedure behind the listing of heritage properties.  This one is also going to be led by McLaughlin with deep support from Geoff Cliffe-Phillips.  They will be guided by questions like: What is the process for placing and removing properties on the municipal register and what is the criteria for designation?  What should the city be doing about alterations, demolitions and restorations to buildings that are deemed to be historically significant. This is to include the Heritage clearance and permit process.

Should the designation of a heritage properties be voluntary or enforced?  Who participates in this decision-making process?  What are the criteria for heritage determination? What already exists and how might this be modified to reflect better the needs and wishes of residents and stakeholders and still maintain a heritage conservation process that can successfully managed by the city?  How does the current listing process function? What works? What doesn’t?

A third group is to focus on Property.  What are the rights and values attached to property?  Are there and should there be incentives and support for heritage preservation?   What exactly is the Legislative Responsibility?  What is the balance between heritage conservation as led by the City and the individual rights, roles, and responsibilities of property owners?

What is the property owner’s responsibility?  Is it a shared responsibility?  And what about the city, what is their responsibility?

Committee member John Vice is going to lead this group with loads of help from Sarah Thompson, Jacquie Johnson  Gardner and Randy McLaughlin.

The fourth work topic area is the decision making process.  How do decisions get made and what role does the  Planning Department play in all this?   What should be expected of city council and the Clerk’s Department and then what role does Heritage Burlington play? – realizing that this committee is bound by the Ontario Heritage Act.  Vice chair Kathleen White and committee member Randy McLaughlin are going to lead this group.

The deadline for getting all this done is tight and the city wants answers for a June meeting.   Council is not prepared to let this fester for much longer.

Getting the work done is just part of the task before this committee.  They then have to communicate with a diverse lot, including: Developers, Property Owners’ Association, Owners of Heritage Properties, Burlington Historical Society, Heritage Umbrella Group, Real Estate Companies, Heritage Workshop Participants and the general public.

What got the ball moving at Heritage was a layered thing.  The first layer, but just one of several was the very detailed report from Stephanie McCallum Roy of Dialogue Partners who was engaged by the city to hold the Workshop in November.  That three quarter day event pulled more than 100 people into the Mainway Arena where things got noisy from time to time and a number of people walked out in disgust with the comment that “nothing was going to change”. Mayor Goldring had prepared a Staff Direction for a meeting in January, but because the facilitator was unable to attend it was moved back to the next round several  weeks later.  So everything sat – but not before the Kilbride matter came and went.

When this building was removed from the Registry on a motion put forward by Councillor Taylor, it basically trashed the concept behind the Registry – it may not recover which will make some people happy but is a mistake from a heritage point of view.

2080 Kilbride Road is a house that is in a very dismal state of disrepair.  There are holes in the roof covered with blue tarpaulins.  The property is owned by two people who are in long term care homes which the family is finding very difficult to manage financially.  They wanted to sell their property but felt they would not get full value because the house was on the Registry.

Ward three Councillor John Taylor asked Council to take the house off the city operated registry of significant homes so that the owners could sell the property.  The argument was made that homes on the Registry do not bring the owners their full value.  For many it is a specious argument that is far from proven, but there are developers and real estate agents who will tell you, that if you are on the Registry you will get less for your property when you try to sell it.  Albert Facenda, a developer just appointed to Heritage,  delegated to a council committee with what he claimed was proof positive that property values decline when a house goes on the Registry.

Councillor Taylor took an overly emotional approach to a property matter in his Ward. He would have been livid if the Planning Department had allowed their feelings to creep into their work.

Councillor Taylor took a very emotional approach to this problem; one that he would have been livid about had staff been as emotional in their report. Taylor managed to convince his fellow Council members to go along with him and remove the property from the Registry so that it could be sold BUT they added that if the new owners came looking for a demolition permit, then the building would be designated as an historical property.

Should such a situation arrive – that is should someone apply for a demolition permit, the city has to issue one within ten days – and that could get problematical if a developer intent on tearing the house down chose to apply, say late on the Friday of a long weekend. The Mayor would have to call a Special Meeting of Council – before the ten day window expires – and should it be during the summer when a couple of Council members are away?  Well you can see the scramble that would take place.

Mayor Goldring was a little dumbstruck when Council voted to remove the Kilbride property from the Registry and asked his fellow Council members where the logic was in their decision.  Taylor had shown the city that Council is at times far from logical and all too often blatantly emotional in the decisions it makes.  Would that they had been as emotional about the Freeman railway station.  That was not one of their finest hours.

With that very regrettable decision behind them we can expect to see others who are on the Registry asking to be removed.

Add to the mix some refreshing but very surprising comments made by Jeff Fielding, the newly appointed city manager.  When asked if his staff would come back with some recommendations, he tells council staff isn’t going to touch this “with a ten foot poll”,  and then he goes on to tell council later in the meeting that Council has all the information they need and they should “just do their job”.  We haven’t heard language like that before.  Very refreshing.

Heritage has been vexing for Burlington.  It has been polarizing.  It is now going to get interesting.  We will keep you posted.
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