Council approves Heritage Kingston changes

On Tuesday night, members of Kingston City Council voted to enact changes put forward by the Heritage Kingston Review Working Group. Screen captured image.

During its meeting on Tuesday night, Dec. 6, 2022, Kingston City Council voted to approve substantial changes to the City’s Heritage Committee, changes recommended by the Heritage Kingston Review Working Group. Once the changes come into full effect, Heritage Kingston will be split into two separate committees: one focused on preserving heritage properties, and the other focused on heritage programming.

The mandate of the Kingston Heritage Properties Committee will be to “address the broad array of issues, opportunities and projects related to the planning and property-based aspects of Kingston’s cultural heritage,” as noted in a report from Heritage Kingston. The committee will serve in an advisory and consultative position.

Meanwhile, the Kingston Heritage Programs Committee will assume responsibility for matters related to the City’s cultural programming, including its museums, public artifacts, and City Hall. According to the Working Group, “The Kingston Heritage Programs Committee will provide advisory and consultative support to City-led cultural heritage initiatives and is involved in educating and informing the community at large about matters related to Kingston’s cultural heritage.”

The changes to Heritage Kingston will also see the introduction of a new three-stream approval process for heritage permit applications, in accordance with the Ontario Heritage Act. Stream One approvals largely cover minor applications for heritage permits, such as “changes that have no significant impact on the property’s heritage attributes.” Under this first stream, minor heritage applications will fall under the sole purview of the City’s heritage planning staff; they will then provide recommendations to the Director of Heritage Services, who will approve or deny the request as a delegated authority assigned by Council.

Meanwhile, more significant applications are to be incorporated into the second stream, which covers “alterations that could significantly affect the heritage attributes of the designated heritage property.” Projects in Stream Two will be subject to informal review by a newly formed Heritage Roundtable before proceeding to the Heritage Properties Committee. 

Lastly, applications that seek to “erect, demolish or remove any building or structure on the property” are covered under Stream Three. These applications will be sent to City Council for consideration after the Heritage Properties Committee provides its recommendations. 

These changes were first brought forward in October to the previous City Council, which elected to defer its decision in order to give Heritage Kingston an opportunity to review the changes and support the Working Group’s recommendations. Based on a letter submitted by several members of the working group, the heritage committee recommended that Council direct staff to prepare a review of the list of alterations that may be granted by the Director of Heritage Services under a delegated authority assigned by Council.

On Tuesday night, members of Council had an opportunity to question City staff on the proposed changes. Sydenham Councillor Conny Glenn asked how the proposed changes would “better support heritage property owners.”

Jennifer Campbell, Director of Heritage Services for the City of Kingston, responded, “The proposal is [meant] to help property owners in a number of ways, one of which is to streamline the delegated authority process, so that homeowners can get decisions out of committees, and the support of the committee, faster.”

Jeff McLaren, Councillor for Meadowbrook-Strathcona, questioned the qualifications of City staff with respect to making decisions on heritage matters, asking, “[Are] the City staff that will be handling this credentialed and experienced enough in heritage matters to be able to have this be professionalized and effectively taken out of our hands?”

Paige Agnew, Commissioner of City Services, defended the expertise of heritage staff. “There has certainly been some opinion that’s been expressed by members of the community, for whatever reason, about the credentialing of our staff. Within our staff group, we have Dr. Campbell, who’s a PhD specialist in this area of study, and the staff that work underneath her all have detailed planning expertise and expertise in heritage. So we have very credentialed staff.”

The Working Group recommendations ultimately passed by a unanimous vote from Council, ending a process that had been underway for over three years. The two new committees will be in place by Mar. 1, 2023, while the three-stream approval process will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

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