Special Report: Heritage

Update from Councillor Farr on Gore Properties

In consideration of everything that has played out to date, to turn the tables and stray from the commitments made by both sides would be disingenuous at this stage.

By Jason Farr
Published August 11, 2013

With respect to the suggestion that City Council should step up and designate 18-28 King Street East under the Ontario Heritage Act, I would share that it has been through a series of meetings and compromises and community input over many months that we have reached this point with the building's owners.

Throughout, many of my colleagues are often asking me for progress reports, offering their thoughts and supporting Councillor Brian McHattie and me on the issue. They are regularly apprised and sympathetic to this difficult issue.

We began with a desire from the owners to tear everything down. Then, after my pleas representing the desires of many, the owners agreed to keep the Kerr building (18-22) up and demolish 24 and 28.

More recently, discussions have resulted in maintaining the historical facade elements of all existing addresses and building modern behind, as part of a future bigger development plan that includes building on a current surface parking lot behind as another phase.

This discussion continues to evolve amicably and includes staff from Economic Development, Urban Renewal, Building, the City Manager's office and most importantly, Heritage Planning.

While, as Councillor McHattie has noted, this may not be the optimal outcome, it is one that may still see the heritage designation on all facades, while also achieving the owner's development desires for residential commercial development.

From the articles and comments in Raise the Hammer and a series of emails to our Ward 2 office, I am well aware this is an unsatisfactory objective to some and must admit it would be spectacular if these developers and others throughout our core and city would always move toward a full-fledged approach to designation and restoration. Absolutely.

However, as compromise in this case we are working together to achieve both preservation of our Gore wall while also bringing more investment to our core.

While this issue has publicly played out, Council has made some significant progress on the downtown built heritage issue. We have begun the public conversation on our heritage inventory with two workshops at LIUNA Station.

This input will make up part of the downtown inventory report coming to Council in the fourth quarter of this year and comes as a result of Council's request to do so.

Also, a few weeks ago we put all the Gore buildings that met at least one of the four heritage criteria on the city's register of properties of cultural heritage value or interest. This comes well in advance of the report due by year's end and again, as requested by Council.

Gore property owners have been notified of this. As the Gore properties are concerned, for future, there will not be a repeat of the current issue as now we will see a 60-day commenting period and Council comment before a demolition permit is (or is not) issued, instead of the 20 days otherwise.

Back to the issue at hand. These conversations have been primarily on good faith from both sides. We are headed in a direction where it will be more than that.

As part of the community input on the issue, it has become very clear that we need more than just ideas and table napkin drawings, given the significance of area as it relates to our city's great character. Clear and definitive outlines are on the way.

The building owners have said the site plan proposal for 18-28 is progressing and they will be meeting again soon with Heritage Planning staff to officially put the documents together that will allow for heritage designation of all the facade elements worthy as determined by Heritage Planning.

The conversation continues to involve a designation process very similar to that of the Thomas Building north of Lister, where the heritage elements are dismantled, labeled, stored in a secure/heated environment and then re-fastened once the build is good to go. All parties have a profound desire to do this in an expeditious fashion.

All of this said, and in consideration of everything that has played out to date, to turn the tables and stray from the commitments made by both sides and formulating a Council motion for something other would be, in my view, disingenuous at this stage.

Again, I am well aware that this is not the optimum outcome as some heritage advocates are concerned. However, as a compromise and in consideration of what could have been when the demolition permits were lawfully applied for and received, it is at least better than what was originally planned for.

Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time in communicating your thoughts and concerns on this important issue.

Jason Farr is the councillor for Ward 2.

19 Comments

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By KieranC.Dickson (registered) | Posted August 11, 2013 at 17:13:09

Councillor Farr,

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, there is a public process for the designation of built heritage. The Act contains requirements for consultation and public notice. On a municipal designation, any by-law for designation must be addressed as a motion, providing an opportunity for public delegations, the public presentation of staff recommendations, and an open forum for discussion and debate. This open and transparent process is intended to result in informed decisions which are based on the merits after taking into account the many and perhaps competing considerations.

The described alternative of having behind-closed-doors dealings with the property owner is not satisfactory, in several respects.

First, by shutting out the public and the media, there are limits on accountability. The public cannot, for example, assess whether any concessions on the part of the City have taken into account the Downtown Master Plan or reflect the direction of the Gore Heritage Design Study. Were the persons in attendance even aware of these documents? Were the City representatives aware of the tools at their disposal to protect built heritage? Was appropriate regard had to the architectural and heritage merits? The public cannot know the answers to these questions because the meetings were in camera and, to my understanding, resulted in neither publicly-available minutes nor other documentation.

The second concern is that you are depriving the public of the opportunity to provide input. This email chain is no proxy for proper public consultation -- which should of course include the opportunity for citizens to make a delegation request when the matter is under consideration.

Finally, choosing to have exclusive meetings with an influential property owner may lead to public cynicism and perpetuate concerns that different processes apply to different persons.

While I appreciate that changing course from the closed-door dealings with the property owner and initiating an open public process may, as you put it, “turn the tables,” it is critical that this be done to restore public confidence. I understand that there is now some willingness on Council to support a motion for designation and I urge you to support this.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 03:32:17 in reply to Comment 90786

Absolutely essential that public confidence be addressed. This backroom deal involves giving out heritage money for brand new buildings and demolishing the heritage buildings.

It just smells bad.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 07:57:38 in reply to Comment 90836

No, it doesn't. At least bot accrediting t the YourHamiltonBiz article I quoted below. Public input is part of the heritage designation process.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 13, 2013 at 08:22:47 in reply to Comment 90838

This entire process has been a shambles from the start. Councillor McHattie introduced a motion to the heritage committee last November calling for 18-28 to be added to the City's Register of properties of cultural heritage value or interest, but Council rejected it.

Even that would only have mandated a 60-day period before demolition for Council to decide whether to take action. As it happens, Council has had 8 months to take action but has not.

The 'amicable discussions' between McHattie, Farr, the property owners and some city staff have been conducted entirely behind closed doors, but the real issue is that Farr and McHattie have no real leverage. If Council supported heritage, Farr and McHattie could say to Blanchard, "Preserve these buildings or we'll slap a heritage designation on them."

Instead, we get the following "compromise": the property owner gets to demolish the buildings completely - which is actually worse than the earlier compromise that would have retained the front one-third of 18-22 - but save some "heritage elements" from facades that it will attach to the front of "whatever" ends up being built.

What we've seen from other such promises, like the promise to incorporate heritage elements from the old Thistle Club into the City Square development, is that these promises are easy to make but hard to enforce.

Make no mistake: the "compromise" agreement with Blanchard is not heritage preservation by any meaningful definition of the term. The fact that we're actually going to give the property owner heritage grants to demolish his heritage buildings is utterly outrageous.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 09:11:08 in reply to Comment 90840

So when Miles says, "The heritage designation is a four-month process, Miles said, including historical review and gathering public input. After that process, the company can apply for all of the heritage programs. "

What does that mean?

What exactly is "historical review". Who does this review, and what are the consequences of it?

Also, what influences does the "gathering of public input" have in this process?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 13, 2013 at 11:07:52 in reply to Comment 90842

I have no doubt there will be public consultation and input all all that lovely stuff. My point is that demolishing these buildings and then giving a heritage designation to the "historical facade elements" that get bolted onto a new development (if it happens) is a quintessential case of putting lipstick on a pig and calling it a beauty queen.

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By taxed (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 14:51:51 in reply to Comment 90844

...and making taxpayers foot the bill.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 03:22:11 in reply to Comment 90786

"Representatives from Wilson Blanchard met Friday with City of Hamilton staff from the building and urban renewal departments, as well as Councillor Jason Farr to review downtown loan/grant and heritage incentive programs. They also planned for another meeting with heritage planning staff to lay the groundwork for heritage designation of the facades....

...The heritage designation is a four-month process, Miles said, including historical review and gathering public input. After that process, the company can apply for all of the heritage programs. In the meantime, Miles said it would work on developing its site plan."

http://yourhamiltonbiz.com/preserving-historic-gore-facades-only-option-owner-says
YourHamiltonBiz.com
By Abigail Cukier

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 11, 2013 at 17:59:03

I guess the "heritage" elements won't be exposed to the elements, as they have been since the original construction.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2013 at 22:45:01

Too f#&%ing little, too f#&%ing late.

You talk about great progress in making sure things like this never happen again. We'll see about that. Let's see what happens, let's see what comes of this over the next three years.

I suspect it will be like many of the planned two way conversions, which were approved but then fell off of staff's agenda over the years.

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By Joanna (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2013 at 23:45:00

Not good enough. You had the opportunity to put this on the registry before the demolition permit was issued. You even asked for clarification on how many days it would take once the permit was applied for. Mysteriously and immediately following your decision to table all of the buildings as per the Heritage committee recommendations the permit was applied for during a gap or window of opportunity shall we say. You could have chosen to add these to the registry and merely table Sanford but after already having been talking with Blanchard for weeks prior to that Planning meeting you tabled it.
Bad move and making up for that mistake with façadism was a poor and desperate move.
Disappointed and more.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:03:34 in reply to Comment 90797

"You had the opportunity to put this on the registry before the demolition permit was issued." They TRIED to put it on the registry last November but council voted them down. Don't blame Jason or Brian, blame the people they need to convince to give a crap about the heart of the city.

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By Joanna (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 10:38:40 in reply to Comment 90811

'Mark my words I don't think were going to be looking at a gravel lot and nothing else there. At least not anytime soon. ' Dec 4 Planning meeting. (after admitting to being in talks about these buildings for weeks.)
'So, How many days as it stands now does it take to get a demolition permit?'
And if it's added to the registry can you clarify that for me Michelle.'
'Urban chickens, chuckle,thanks Michelle.'
Demo permit was applied for during the only time of the year when heritage committee was not meeting? 1+1=
I don't think Clr Farr realized how significant these buildings were until the ACO got involved around Christmas time.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:34:41 in reply to Comment 90811

Again, two wolves and a sheep deciding what to eat for dinner.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 00:49:12

"However, as compromise in this case we are working together to achieve both preservation of our Gore wall while also bringing more investment to our core."

Why you have my respect Mr. Farr, because that is exactly what should be done, the same as what was done on the Vranich development. A compromise between the developer's needs to make the building economically feasible and stable, and with preserving portions of the building. Just a shame judging by the posts so far that the later is blatantly ungrateful for your efforts.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 03:05:32 in reply to Comment 90798

"Efforts" ??

The deal is to give the developer 'heritage' funding to tear down the heritage buildings. There isn't much effort involved for Councillors to take money from taxpayers and give it to a developer to do what he was going to do anyway.

"Preservation of the Gore wall"??

Demolition is "preservation"?

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By nomenclature (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 08:33:46 in reply to Comment 90798

Blanchard is NOT a developer.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 06:43:26

Nostalgic plinth for a parkade.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted August 13, 2013 at 02:49:24

City Council made a horrible mistake by not designating all of these buildings for heritage preservation.

And now our best deal is a compromise that took us all the way from

'the developer wants to tear them all down' to 'the developer IS tearing them all down'.

Those six holes in the ground are going to haunt us.

https://www.heritagecanada.org/en/issues...

Heritage Canada Foundation 10 Most endangered heritage sites .....

Hamilton, Ont.—THREATENED DUE TO QUESTIONABLE CITY DEAL WITH DEVELOPER---City of Hamilton plays fast and loose with Victorian-era commercial buildings that are key components of historic Gore Park street wall.

Comment edited by grannysaga on 2013-08-13 02:52:13

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