Bill 118 Heritage Property Act – presentation to Law Amendments

Honorable Members,
It is a great pleasure to be here in our historic legislature to discuss the proposed amendments under bill 118. I am Waye Mason, here today speaking in my capacity as a Councillor for District 7, Halifax South Downtown, the home of Halifax’s only proclaimed heritage conservation district, and the hopefully site of three or four more.

Heritage policy is important to Halifax, and a key component of our Regional Plan. We have woven our heritage preservation efforts, as defined by the Heritage Property Act, through our planning strategies and cultural policy. Changes to this act are important to Halifax because they can impact our efforts on many levels

Today I want to cover briefly three issues –

1 who and what is registered, nature of registration
2 tax lift, infill and grants process
3 heritage conservation districts

Registration & Deregistration
There are 475 or so registered heritage properties in HRM. There are a further 25 properties that are not registered but protected by Heritage Conservation Districts. Of these registrations, built up over decades, there are two, and only two, that were done involuntarily. These were very controversial at the time. For the rest, over 99% of the registrations are done voluntarily by owners who seek both the cache of a heritage designation and the potential access to grants.

Theoretically the act now can allow the registration of properties against the owners will, in practice this is simply not how it is done. The municipality works with property owners to ensure the registration is voluntary and to make sure that the property owners desire the value that comes with heritage registration.

The process of registration is transparent. Property owners are notified and have an opportunity to be heard at Regional Council. Council can then decide whether to register or not.

The municipal heritage conservation standards were recently brought in line Federal guidelines. Heritage Planners and the Heritage Advisory Committee use these standards in evaluation of proposed registration, de-registration and substantial alterations and modifications.

It has been proposed to allow deregistration based on financial hardship. This is a cause for concern on many levels, but simply put people register voluntarily, get benefits both in terms of cache and cold hard cash.

The existing processes allow for substantial alterations and deregistration, even after a denial of demolition, after a three year wait. I feel that there is adequate allowance in the act as it is currently written and that the financial hardship argument is not required. I urge you not to include this provision in the act.

Tax lift, grants process
Heritage controls are not about stopping growth or change, far from it. The preservation and adaptive reuse of heritage buildings can add tremendous value to a community.

The impact of this is measurable. A study in 2012 showed that heritage conservation districts in the City of Victoria created significant value. Building assessment increased between 100-500% for heritage buildings that were sensitively renovated and provide tax incentives to be rehabilitated and the city benefited.

HCD are about recognizing two things – one, that these historic buildings can sometimes cost a lot of money to renovate, more than is easily economically recoverable, so the municipality can and should have some role in supporting these rehabilitations especially given the tax implications

The second is that contiguous heritage districts with lots of preserved and rehabilitated heritage in one place has a kind of halo effect, where the entire body of heritage buildings together helps to increase the value and desirability collectively.

This is why HRM has a grants program for the Barrington HCD that started with $5 million dollars, and why we will have to provide a new source of funding for the new HCDs when they are proclaimed. But part of what makes this a responsible use of taxpayers money, and why it is good planning, is to make sure that the municipality continues to have the ability to control and preserve buildings in HCDs. While the act says that HCDs may continue to have the power to protect heritage buildings permanently through regulation, I urge you to consider leaving 19 B(1)(b) in the Act, to continue to explicitly give municipalities the ability to control demolition through legislation, rather than regulation.

Heritage Conservations Districts and Planning
Halifax has only one proclaimed heritage conservation district, the Barrington Street HCD. This area was created as a part of the HRM by Design process that resulted in a new downtown plan. Currently, the Barrington south is under consideration, as is Schmidtville. When these are done, work will start on the Historic Properties HCD and one around the Ochterloney area in Dartmouth

The call for these HCDs came during the HRM By Design process that resulted in our award winning, successful downtown plan. The streamlined development process, the consistency and predictability for height, and the predictability of design have helped usher in an era of unheard of growth in downtown.

Part of how this was able to be achieved was an explicit trade off. The municipality allowed significant new rights and heights in downtown but promised to protect these three key heritage areas. It is very important to the balance of this successful plan that HRM be able to control and deny demolition in our HCDs. Without this control, our compromise that allowed HRM By Design to be so successful would be at risk.

Again I urge you to consider continuing to explicitly give municipalities the ability to control demolition through legislation, rather than regulation.

Again, it has been delightful to be here, I can’t think of a better room to talk about Heritage conservation in then the Red Room. Thank you for your time.

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