Thursday, February 4, 2010

Heritage roadblock?

A very recent article posted by the Niagara Advance, showing yet another opportunity for Niagara-on-the-Lake council and the District School Board of Niagara to play well together. Or not, as it may be.
At issue is a potential heritage designation for Laura Secord Public School, which is to close with the construction of a new building within St. Davids. NOTL council has begun the process of designated the school as a heritage property at the request of those who would like to ensure its relevant heritage features are preserved. This has drawn concern from the school board because heritage designations can impede the potential of a sale given not every developer is willing to maintain the designated features or spending the money to do so.
Jim Armstrong, president of the Queenston Residents Association (QRA), said the property has a rich, important history and jeopardizing the future of the site would mean "running the risk of losing a historical asset that connects us to our past."
Without designation, the property could be transformed into any number of uses, including housing.
"In order for a developer to have success on that site they would have to build on that property, meaning they could come in and do whatever they want," said Armstrong.
"Our group has a vision on what could happen to that property, but it would have to be kept in the public domain."
Here's the biggest thing about designation. It's easy (well, not that easy) with a few strokes of a pen to designate something, but what's it really worth? If council is truly interested in acting on its residents' requests to preserve the building, the only way it can guarantee that outcome is to purchase the building itself. Other options would be some sort of loan program-- some municipalities do this, however its murky ground because councils cannot "bonus" a private-sector business. Designation without any further commitment doesn't actually do much to really preserve a property. There's no real teeth on the property owner to maintain the property after it's been designated, and if they appeal the designation and win, those who wish to preserve built heritage end up losing out completely.
Hopefully the other irritants between the school board and this council don't impede some productive discussions on this issue so the residents are able to preserve the heritage features they value and the board isn't forced to hold onto an unsellable property.