Heritage Ottawa: Remarks on the Heritage Register

Monday, September 11, 2017

HERITAGE OTTAWA, By Leslie Maitland, Co-Chair

The Heritage Inventory Project is a priority for the City of Ottawa. The Inventory Project was created to develop a proper Heritage Register to replace the city’s out-of-date and highly inaccurate Heritage Reference List.  An up-to-date Heritage Register is a requirement of the Ontario Heritage Act (2005) which all Ontario municipalities are required to administer.

The Heritage Register exists to identify properties of potential heritage value, so that if a property owner seeks a demolition permit, the city has up to 60 days in which to decide to: a) grant the demolition order; b) move to designate the property under Section IV of the Ontario Heritage Act; or c) work with the owner to find another solution that protects the heritage values of the property.

The Register does not prevent demolition, nor are properties on the Register automatically headed for designation.

To populate the Register, city staff have been assigned to undertake neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood assessments based upon consistent criteria which evaluate buildings for their design qualities and their contribution to their neighbourhoods.

Until the Planning Committee (PC) meeting of August 2017 (at which the proposed Register entries for Old Ottawa South were presented), the roll-out of the inventory had been proceeding smoothly.  During the August meeting, a few property owners raised some concerns about perceived impacts to property values, and PC deferred passing Old Ottawa South until the September meeting when staff were asked to provide more information.

Report on the Planning Committee Meeting of September 12, 2017

PC Chair Jan Harder began the meeting by reviewing the background on this issue for the benefit of PC members and attendees, and noted the statutory requirement to have a Register.  Staff then made a presentation (which they had not done in August) providing background information on the Inventory, the purpose of the Register, timelines, public consultation process, etc.

Delegations supportive of the project made presentations.  Other delegations expressed concern about perceived negative impacts to property values; or questioned the criteria and their applicability to their own properties.  Some councillors spoke to the merits of the Register and others had reservations with respect to potential impacts to property values.  There was a general level of frustration that something which should be straightforward had confused many, including the councillors who were supposed to be voting on the issue.

On behalf of Heritage Ottawa, I had forwarded president David Jeanes’ letter of 5 September 2017 to PC, which reminded councillors of their requirement to create a Register and expressed Heritage Ottawa’s commitment to support this initiative.

My presentation on behalf of Heritage Ottawa to Planning Committee, delivered at its meeting of September 12, concentrated on two issues:

  1. Perceived impact to property values. A few years ago, the University of Waterloo did a survey of property values inside Heritage Conservation Districts (HCD) across the province, comparing property values inside HCDs with similar properties in close proximity. The report concluded that property values inside the HCDs were consistently higher than properties located outside the HCDs. No research has been done to assess whether this finding holds true for properties designated under Part IV of the OHA, and to date, only anecdotal observations have been made about property values being negatively impacted by designation. Without proper research, these observations should not be the basis upon which decisions are made.
  2. Poor public awareness. Heritage Ottawa offered to support better public awareness through its website and social media, Newsletter, and annual Heritage Forum. Heritage Ottawa has already been in contact with City staff with suggestions for changes to the City’s website to improve the presentation of information and clarity of the message, including the suggestion of a YouTube video.  

Other observations made by councillors and delegates who addressed the PC, in either opposition to or support of the Register:

  • Heritage is simply part of good planning.
  • Designation is no more of an infringement on property values or personal liberties than other by-law requirements, such as the by-law forbidding the building of fences in front yards.
  • A Register creates ambiguity; either designate or do not designate.
  • The real estate industry needs to be brought into the dialogue.
  • The city's free Planning Primer courses are popular; the city should add a Heritage Primer course to its offerings.

Others speaking in support of the Heritage Register included architectural historian Peter Coffman and John Calvert, a resident of Old Ottawa South involved with the Old Ottawa South History Project.  Carleton University Professor Mariana Esponda spoke in support of the proposal to add three buildings at Carleton University to the Register.

Next neighbourhoods to be reviewed and presented: Centretown, Glebe, and Kitchissippi.

Planning Committee Motion

Planning Committee passed the Heritage Registry entries for Old Ottawa South, with the proviso that those who wanted to have their properties re-examined for inclusion would have that opportunity; and that city staff would work with PC to come up with a service offer of less than 60 days to respond to demolition applications.