Is a much different looking Village Square on the Burlington horizon? Could heritage properties actually be demolished?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 13, 2013  The talk of Village Square being sold is not just idle chatter.  There was the view that the FOR SALE sign was to get a value of the property for tax and estate valuation purposes but there is a real buyer with a real interest who has had conversations with Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward and Heritage Burlington Advisory chair Jim Clemens.

Once the best attraction in the city, Village Square was a destination for tour buses. The management of the property wasn’t in tune with what commercial operators and retailers required and the location began to lose tenants and is currently seeing significant changes in tenants.

City council had asked Heritage Burlington to report on the historical value of three of the buildings on the property.  That report is in its second draft and Randy McLaughlin, a member of the advisory committee,  isn’t satisfied with the quality of the report, which he felt was basically a “boiler plate” document and he wanted it to go back and include the zoning implications and some guidance.  “I am disappointed with parts of this report” said McLaughlin. “They could do a better job”, he added

The Dickens Pub, one of three properties in the Village Square that are being looked at by a consulting firm hired by Heritage Burlington, a city Advisory committee.

The concern with the quality of the report and the time needed to get a document that satisfied Heritage Burlington mattered because at this point the three buildings at issue are not designated properties and as such owners of the property could ask for a demolition property and be given one within sixty days if the city did not take steps to designate and, even then if the owners of the property want those buildings to come down and are adamant about it – the city can’t really do very much to prevent demolition – other than delay the actual issuing of a permit to demolish.

Jim Clemens, who has met with the prospective buyers said “they are eager to work with us”, which is his impression.  There are good developers and not so good developers.  Because the public doesn’t know who they are – the public can’t make a decision.

If Meed Ward knows who the developers are then the rest of council knows.  The community activist the people of  ward 2 people voted into office would have been delegating to city hall and demanding to know who the developer was and what their plans were and when were they going to consult with the people in the community.

The meaning of transparency for the ward Councillor seems to have changed in the last two years.  Pity.

For the first time in our experience an Advisory committee went into closed session to discuss conversations that had taken place between the people who are the prospective buyers, the ward Councillor and the chair of Heritage Burlington.

Due to the different meeting schedules of city standing committees and the advisory committees there was some juggling of dates that Heritage Burlington would report to the Development and Infrastructure committee as to what their recommendation on the properties would be.  Meed Ward seemed to want to talk about the prospective buyers but wasn’t prepared to make their names public.

It isn’t completely clear if an Advisory Committee can go into closed session because none of the members of that committee are sworn and, there were a number of conflicts of interest in the room at the time.  That decision has the potential to get a little sticky.

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward told the committee chair that he could go into closed session but needed a motion to do so.  Chair Clemens got his motion and into closed session they went – which means a reporter has to leave the room.

Meed Ward has been cautioned in the past as to what she can and cannot do as a member of council. A concern with her advising and speaking for a resident in a committee of adjustment matter early in this term of council resulted in a memo from the city solicitor and the no, no’s in terms of where a council member could insert themselves.

So what we have is a report coming from an Advisory committee to a city council committee on the merits of designating three of the buildings that make up the Village Square.

Jim Clemens wasn’t entirely clear on what the city council committee was expecting of Heritage Burlington.  .  “What is council expecting”, he asked.  Meed Ward advised the committee that council would want a recommendation supported by reports from experts.  Council will want to know if the buildings are worthy of designation and if they are “of that class”

Getting a  report from the experts with that kind of information is proving difficult.

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4 comments to Is a much different looking Village Square on the Burlington horizon? Could heritage properties actually be demolished?

  • Joe Lamb

    A small amendment to my previous post is perhaps in order . I am not entirely sure of the relationship between the Historical society and the Heritage advisory Board ,so in my last paragraph near the end it maybe should have read ” Heritage Advisory Board” instead of “Historical Society”. I do not want to offend either group. Joe Lamb.
    Editors note: The Historical Society has a member on the Heritage Advisory Board; other than that there is no “relationship” or link.

  • Joe Lamb

    I am the President of the condominium at 430 Pearl which is nearly attached to Village Square so if this story is accurate we have a very vested interest in what goes with this property. Transparency as early as possible is important to us.This issue hardly seems to be one that matters a closed session but I don’t know all the facts.In recent months we have been in touch with the Mayor, our Councillor Meed Ward, the historical society and the planning department at the city . So far we have been kept pretty much in the dark even though we have asked to be kept in the loop.The only thing we hear are rumours.Hopefully this isn’t another situation where the fix is in before the public is aware of it. And who says the historical society are the only people in the city who care about historical things in the city. I have lived in Burlington for 61 years and along with many others have a viewpoint on these matters. To be excluded at this point could really upset a lot of people unless a proper explanation comes forth. Joe Lamb.

  • Penny Hersh

    My question is does the Developer not want the public to know it is interested in developing the property, or is it the City who does not want this information given to the public?

  • Perhaps they should have hired the firm that did the Heritage district plan.
    (Full disclosure I do consulting work for this firm.)