Council to vote on revised heritage work plan

On Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023, Kingston city councillors will vote on a staff recommendation which could see the City pause most of its heritage policy work as staff complete a provincially mandated 18-month review of 312 ‘listed properties.’ Kingstonist file photo.

On Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023, Kingston City Council will vote on two proposals regarding heritage designation and policy work in the City of Kingston.

A staff report circulating in advance of Tuesday’s meeting outlines a number of changes made to the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) through the provincial government’s new Bill 23 — changes which have forced the City to re-evaluate its heritage priorities over the next 18 months.

In December 2022, Council passed a motion publicly opposing the provincial government’s controversial Bill 23 or the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2023, including the bill’s impact on the municipality’s ability to fund growth through development charges, as well as its changes to the role of conservation authorities in the province. 

Now councillors are also learning that the bill puts forward “significant changes” to the OHA, which will impact the ways municipalities are able to identify and conserve designated heritage properties. The staff report provides Council with two key recommendations regarding the designation of heritage properties in the city, including the need to review 312 “listed properties” by the start of 2025.

The staff report states that, currently, the OHA requires municipalities to keep “a register of properties within its jurisdiction that are of cultural value and interest.” Under the “municipal heritage register” there are three categories of properties: properties of cultural heritage value and/or interest, heritage conservation districts, and “any other properties that are considered to have cultural heritage value or interest but are not individually designated.” According to the report, it is the third category, often referred to as “listed properties,” that will be of particular importance over the next 18 months.

By listing a property, the municipality recognizes and protects the site’s heritage value, while giving staff more time to complete a review of whether the property should be put forward for heritage designation. Listed properties enjoy certain heritage protections, such as a requirement for owners to give Council 60 days’ notice prior to any intended demolition of the property. 

The report notes the City of Kingston currently has 312 listed properties. The New Homes Built Faster Act significantly changes the ways municipalities can move properties from the listed stage to official heritage designation under the OHA, including a provision that all properties currently “listed” by the municipality must either be designated or de-listed by January 1, 2025. 

Under Bill 23, once a property becomes de-listed, it cannot be added back to the municipal heritage register for at least five years. For a property to be eligible for designation, it must also now meet at least two of the nine criteria included in Ontario Regulation 9/06; previously, eligible properties only had to meet one of three criteria. The criteria include rare or unique design value, a high degree of craftsmanship, evidence of technical or scientific achievement, and “direct associations” with an event or person. Properties that yield “information that contributes to an understanding of a community or culture,” may also be eligible, as would properties deemed to be important to “defining, maintaining, or supporting the character of an area.” 

In addition to the more stringent eligibility threshold, newly listed properties added to the register after January 1, 2023, can only remain listed for two years, after which the City must move the property forward for designation or remove it from the register for a minimum of five years. 

With Bill 23 significantly impacting the City of Kingston’s role with respect to listed properties, staff have come up with a revised work plan to ensure all 312 listed properties are fully evaluated before the January 1, 2025 deadline. According to the report, 269 of the 312 properties meet at least two of the nine eligibility criteria. To properly vet all properties, City staff are proposing to divide the currently listed properties into four work blocks: 

  1. Properties that have already been extensively researched and meet more than one of the eligibility criteria;
  2. Properties that have already been researched, but need to be revisited to “validate attributes and ensure that two of nine 9/06 criteria have been met”;
  3. Properties which have not yet been well researched, but have a “high level of public visibility”; and
  4. Properties that have been researched, but fail to meet at least two of the nine eligibility criteria.

According to staff, properties that fall under the fourth block are not expected to move forward to designation and will effectively be dropped from the municipal register. Due to the deadline imposed by the provincial government, City staff will have around 18 months to complete reviews of all 312 properties, which staff anticipate will become a “labour-intensive process.” As a result of the new timelines, staff are also proposing a moratorium on “new heritage policy work,” aside from projects which are already near completion.

With staff pausing additional heritage work to focus on the 312 listed properties, the report also recommends that Council approve the deferral of a review of the Procedural Bylaw For Heritage, a review originally meant to be completed in 2023. This review, first recommended by the Heritage Kingston Review Committee, was intended to review the list of heritage property alterations which can be granted under the designated authority assigned by City Council to the Director of Heritage Services.

“There are not enough Heritage planning staff at the City to support the review process, while continuing to process record-high volumes of permits and advancing the designations required due to the changes in effect under [Bill 23],” the report reads. “Given the volume of similar work happening across municipalities in Ontario, there is an added challenge in seeking support from professional consultants and independent heritage researchers who are themselves a scarce resource in increasingly high demand.”

Staff are now recommending the review be included as part of the City’s 2025 work plan.

On Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023, Council will receive the report as members debate and vote on the recommendations regarding listed properties and the delay of the procedural bylaw review. The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers, will be open to the public and can also be streamed online through the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

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