Barrie has ‘evaded responsibility’ on heritage preservation: community advocate

In Barrie, Bill Scott puts his money where his home is. 

The longtime member of the Allandale Neighbourhood Association and Barrie’s historical neighbourhoods strategy committee is calling on the city to do a better job of protecting its heritage properties — especially in the Allandale, Queen’s and Brock parks, downtown core, Kempenfelt Village and Tollendal areas.

There are currently 34 properties listed on the city’s heritage register — 18 have received designation status under the Ontario Heritage Act.

“The city’s approach is that only voluntarily will (properties) get put on the register,” he said, sitting in the living room of his Burton Avenue house, a building constructed in 1900 and once occupied by railway workers. “Council has really evaded its responsibility. It’s supposed to make that register, not invite people to put themselves on it. There should be several hundred properties (listed). One or two get added a year; that’s not enough to protect an area.”

Scott owns one of the first homes listed on the city’s register. Being added to the register does come with some restrictions, perhaps most notably a 60-day delay on the issuance of demolition permits for the property. However, it’s different from full designation status, which can be achieved only through a consultant’s report that identifies unique and historical characteristics on a property — stained glass, interior moulding or roof shape, for example. Once designation is achieved, those elements cannot be altered.

Owners can still do renovations to their property, regardless of the level of protection added, he said.

For example, Scott has completed thousands of dollars of work to his home and intends to rebuild an addition that was placed on the house decades ago.

“Don’t buy an old house if you don’t expect maintenance is a big part of it,” he said. “The soul of a city lies in its history. The historic fabric is the physical memory of what happened here before. If this area is redeveloped to be all modern houses, the history’s gone.”

Scott said St. George’s Anglican and Burton Avenue United churches and most houses on Burton should be listed.

And many of the city’s older neighbourhoods should be designated as historical districts, in a similar manner to the protections Innisfil put in place in Cookstown recently, he said.

“There are, no doubt, many properties — almost all homes — with historic value,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “But should they be listed without the owner’s consent? We’re trying to support heritage preservation through grants — carrots, not sticks.”

The next term of council will also need to address neighbourhood protection, he said.

City planning director Andrea Bourrie said municipal staff will present a heritage strategy to council in the fall. Heritage policies will also be explored while the city updates its official plan and zoning bylaws over the next few years.

“We don’t pursue designation without homeowner support,” she said. “So, the number of homes listed and designated is not entirely within the city’s control.”

Association members will blitz the Allandale area this summer, in an effort to convince more owners to list their properties, Scott said.