Ottawa

Property owners demand to be kept off heritage list

Some two dozen residents turned up at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday to demand their properties not be added to the city's heritage register.

Hundreds of homes in Glebe, rural Ottawa added to city's official register

This brutalist office building at 130 Albert St. shouldn't be listed on the City of Ottawa's heritage register, lawyer Michael Polowin argued on Tuesday. (City of Ottawa)

Some two dozen residents turned up at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday to demand their properties not be added to the city's heritage register.

The city's built heritage subcommittee was considering adding 2,345 more properties to the register. The list includes everything from private homes to highrises to churches, built anywhere from the 1790s to 1978 and located across the city.

You want to put restrictions on my property. I don't want it. I don't want anything to do with heritage.- Stephen Smith, Greely resident

But residents who have been unwillingly recruited to the heritage club fear being added to the register will restrict what they're allowed to do to their own homes, and could diminish their property value as a result.

Stephen Smith, whose home in rural Greely was added to the register, told the committee he's not interested.

"I got a letter in the mail saying you're going to put my house on a list. You want to put restrictions on my property. I don't want it. I don't want anything to do with heritage," Smith said.

Some two dozen residents turned up at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday to demand their properties not be added to the city's heritage register. Steven Smith from Greely was one of them. 3:47

"Who is going to buy a property that is under the heritage list?" asked Charles Ma, deacon of the Chinese Christian Church of Ottawa in Chinatown. "We're at the mercy of city hall that decides our fate."

'Why pick me?'

Yolande Tarnowski said it's ludicrous her California ranch-style house in the city's east end is considered a heritage property.

"Every house is unique in Rothwell Heights. Why pick me?" Tarnowski demanded.

Almost every speaker said they worried about the effect the heritage listing would have on their property. Lawyer Michael Polowin and David Flemming, the former president of Heritage Ottawa, disagreed on whether the designation would act as a "trip wire." 2:09

Staff and city councillors on the subcommittee spent the bulk of Tuesday's meeting trying to reassure worried homeowners that being added to the list won't prevent them from performing renovations. 

They will, however, have to give 60 days written notice if they want to demolish a property on the register, as opposed to the usual 30 days.

The city is required by law to maintain a register. It's not seeking to give the properties a full designation under the Ontario Heritage Act, staff explained, but simply to get them on the record as having cultural heritage value or interest.

Staff have spent the past few years compiling a full inventory of homes across Ottawa. The addition of nearly 600 properties in Lowertown, Sandy Hill, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South already proved contentious in 2017.

The inventory currently up for approval involves 2,345 properties including more than 700 in the Glebe and 460 in rural areas. Staff expect to finish a report on homes in areas affected by this spring's flooding or last fall's tornadoes by this fall.

Demolition notice a 'trip wire'

But lawyer Michael Polowin, speaking on behalf of clients, argued being listed on the register is "not as benign as it has been portrayed."

Polowin argued the 60-day demolition notice will allow the city time to seek full heritage protection for a property whose owner wants to knock it down.

Coun. Scott Moffatt says the register gives homeowners and the city a 60-day 'reprieve' to consider whether the property needs to be officially listed as a heritage building. 1:02

Among the properties whose addition to the register Polowin challenged is a mid-century concrete office building on Albert Street and a handful of homes in the downtown core.

He argued any risk of formal heritage designation will have a "chilling effect" on potential purchasers or lenders.

'Heritage matters'

Councillors on the subcommittee disagreed with Polowin's assessment, however.

"Heritage matters," said Coun. Scott Moffatt. "What we can do is provide a little bit of reprieve so in the case that a building is being proposed to be demolished, we can at least look at it and say, 'Should that be saved, or should that be let go?'"

Since the register began in 2016, the city has received 10 applications to demolish a listed property. It granted each one and did not seek official heritage designation in any of those cases.

The new additions to the heritage register require the approval of city council later this month.

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