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The clock is ticking for some Windsor heritage building set to fall off protection registry | CBC News


Right now, more than 1,200 culturally significant buildings in Windsor are protected by the city’s heritage registry. 

But the clock is ticking for many, and the majority may not be protected for much longer.

A provision of the 2022 More Homes Built Faster Act means that 884 buildings deemed will be removed from the city’s heritage registry. 

In effect, it removes the only protection these buildings have from demolition. 

“A significant change to the Ontario Heritage Act requires that properties ‘listed’ on a Municipal Heritage Register be removed from the register if council does not issue a notice of intention to designate the property by Jan. 1, 2025,” staff said in a report to the city’s development and heritage committee on Tuesday night. 

“Once removed, the property cannot be ‘listed’ again on the register for a period of five years.”

Decision affects ‘listed’ not ‘designated’ heritage buildings

The provision does not affect designated heritage buildings. Instead, it applies to heritage “listed” buildings. Listed buildings cannot be demolished but have not been officially designated as heritage properties.

Windsor city staff told committee members they understand the move as a way to remove red tape on properties that might sit on a heritage list for years. the buildings won’t be protected from demolition, they noted. 

It also means the city now needs to look at a suite of strategies, presented by staff, to take action on the hundreds of buildings listed on the heritage registry. 

Coun. Fred Francis, who sits on the heritage committee, said it was “frustrating” as an elected official. 

“When I read this, it literally comes to the differing priorities between the province and in this case, the city, with respect to what is being asked for us: a rush to build, build, build. 

“But now we have…  make sure that we’re not destroying any heritage properties that we don’t want to destroy.

Fred Francis standing along the railing at the Detroit River.
Windsor city councillor Fred Francis in a May 2023 file photo. (Jason Viau/CBC)

“I just wonder (if) in … 10 years from now, 15 years from now we wish we may have slammed the brakes on a little bit earlier. That’s my concern.”

Coun. Kieran McKenzie said the province needed to be made aware of the issue now facing Windsor and the province’s other municipalities. 

“Frankly I think the province needs to be a partner to us in addressing some of these challenges,” McKenzie said. 

“Given that it’s their initiatives and their political focus and their legislative focus, I think there’s an onus on the province to be a better partner for municipalities in the City of Windsor at least in particular to get through these designations.”

Staff recommend options for considering heritage designations

Staff recommended a suite of options to deal with this pending change. One of those strategies is to continue moving forward with the Walkerville Heritage Conservation District study, for which the city is currently looking for a consultant. 

About 34 per cent of the city’s listed heritage homes are in that area, staff said in their report. While the outcome of that study is not yet determined, staff said that as many as 300 listed homes could be protected through that process. 

“The study will evaluate whether that area is worthy of a heritage district type designation. There will be a whole process for consultation and defining what exactly would be the boundary for the local heritage conservation district,” said Kristina Tang, the city’s heritage planner. 

The city could also considering “batch-designating” homes and buildings that share similar heritage characteristics.

Tang said the city’s priority would be starting in the Walkerville study area because of the large number of homes that can be protected. There is an appeals process for a heritage designation, and staff will consult with owners. 

Architectural Conservancy warns of ‘raining buildings’ when protections removed

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) has spoken out against the change, warning in December it will be “raining buildings” once listed properties lose their protections. 

“There is no evidence that heritage conservation frustrates housing provision, and plenty of evidence that when an unprotected community landmark is demolished, the public reaction is swift and unforgiving, with extreme frustration at the loss of both cultural and environmental value and material,” the conservancy wrote in a December 2022 letter to Premier Doug Ford. 

The Georgian facade of the 225 year old Duff-Baby House in Windsor.
The 225-year-old “Duff Baby House” is the oldest house in Windsor-Essex and is listed as a designated heritage building on the city’s municipal registry. (Josiah Sinanan / CBC)

Representatives from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing did not return a request for comment by publication time. 

Many municipalities only designate a handful of properties a year because of the research process involved, said Tammy Dewhirst, chair of the ACO Windsor-Essex branch. 

“It is a massive task. It is not something that they can do within the short period of time, ” said Dewhirst. 

“So as was suggested in their report, they are focusing on central heritage areas.”

Dewhirst said the city taking a more proactive approach likely won’t please everyone, because there are “myths” that persist about owning a heritage building. But, she said, it will help protect buildings.

“We as the ACO have been working quite diligently to try to work with municipalities to protect as many buildings as we can.”

The city’s heritage committee endorsed the recommendations, with an additional from Coun. McKenzie that council send a letter to the premier’s office, relevant ministries and local MPPs alerting them to the issue of heritage listings. The report will be considered by council at its September meeting. 


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