My thoughts on Councils vote against demolition of 270 Buchan

At Council last week, there was a lengthy debate about an application to demolish a house in the Rockcliffe Park Heritage Conservation District (HCD) located at 270 Buchan Road. 

The staff report had recommended against permitting demolition on the basis that both the original HCD guidelines and the new HCD Plan, passed last year by City Council, had established clear policy direction against the demolition of homes that are deemed to have heritage value above an established threshold.

In the case of the new HCD Plan, that threshold is a score of 50 based on the individual heritage assessment forms that have been conducted for each building in Rockcliffe Park. The property in question was scored a 69.  All homes scoring above 50 are deemed grade 1 and cannot be demolished unless there are extraordinary circumstances at play.

Importantly, the HCD Plan had been subject to public feedback and consultation over the two year period when it was drafted by City heritage staff and community representatives of the Rockcliffe Park Residents’ Association (RPRA). That consultation included a well-attended public meeting in Rockcliffe Park itself, prior to Council’s unanimous approval of the plan in 2016.

I strongly supported the staff recommendation but many of my colleagues did not and the staff recommendation was overturned at Planning Committee after passing successfully through the Built Heritage Sub Committee, which I chair. Fortunately, thanks to the close coordination with the RPRA and the Mayor, we defended the HCD plan at Council and a majority of Councillors voted to support the staff recommendation, which passed by a close vote of 13-10. 

It’s important to note what that vote did and didn’t mean.

The vote did mean that Council was prepared to defend and uphold the plan that had been the product of an extensive and multi-year process involving the community. This was very important to me. When Council does not provide consistency on planning and heritage issues by supporting the plans and policies it establishes, we leave residents confused, disillusioned and frustrated.  

The vote didn’t mean that the homes of Rockcliffe Park – whether grade 1 or grade 2 - are immune from change. In fact in this year alone, Council has approved the demolition of three grade 2 homes in Rockcliffe Park. As well, many additions and modifications to existing grade 1 and 2 homes have been executed through staff delegated authority or through the Council approval process using the HCD Plan as policy guidance. 

The HCD plan, once finalized (the appeal will be heard by the Ontario Municipal Board in September) will provide an enforceable planning tool to manage change in Rockcliffe Park in a manner that respects its unique cultural heritage value without freezing the evolution of architecture and building design. 

Thank you to all of the residents who took such a keen interest in the file through their presence at Council or via their outreach by emails and phone calls.  The engagement shown is a testament to the importance of providing clear, predictable and consistent approaches to managing change in the field of urban planning and heritage conservation whether in Rockcliffe Park or any other neighbourhood in our ward and city.           

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