Wellington Heritage Conservation District Plan met with opposition

(Gazette file photo)



During the last Committee of the Whole Meeting, Prince Edward County Council received a report from the Development Services Department regarding the Wellington Heritage Conservation District Plan. While staff recommended adoption of the plan, given the amount of public opposition to the plan in its current form, COTW directed staff to return with a report that would incorporate public consultation and amendments.

The Wellington HCD Plan was created by Bray Heritage (BH).

The plan in question is the final step prior to a heritage district being declared in Wellington. As noted in the BH report, the towns, villages and hamlets of Prince Edward County are “heritage assets appreciated by residents and visitors alike”.

The best method for preserving the heritage charm of Wellington, as per BH, is to by using the tools in the Ontario Heritage Act to create a Heritage Conservation District.

The report brought before council contained several sections, including: Conserving and Enhancing District Character, Conservation Goals and Objectives, Conservation and Development Policies, Conservation and Development Guidelines and Implementation Process.

Several members of the public spoke to COTW expressing concern about the prohibitive nature of the guidelines and policies contained within the plan.

Elissa Lee, founder of Big Lake Arts Festival, was among those concerned. Lee also owns commercial property in Wellington.

“I’m a perfect example of somebody who invested in Wellington quite recently in a commercial property. I don’t have a business here but have invested in a festival called Big Lake Arts,” said Lee. “It is important to me and this is what I want to bring to the community. We bought the building because it will be a part of that.”

Lee described an instance where she asked for advice from friends who are developers as to whether she should purchase a property in Wellington. Their response, she commented, was unequivocally, “no way” and that Lee would not make enough money from her investment to make it worthwhile.

“I bought an expensive property and I’m putting a lot into it, but I’m not going to get much out of it,” said Lee. “In order to make this happen, I need to have the flexibility to build upon this property to make it viable. Currently, the way I understand this plan, that flexibility isn’t there.”

Councillor John Hirsch. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Conversely, Simon Fish of Wellington offered his support for the plan.

“This proposal deserves proper recognition for the thoughtful, deliberate, inclusive objective and even -handed process you have followed,” he noted.

In speaking to COTW, Fish implored council to act in the interest of the whole rather than the few.

“It is now your duty, as councillors, to promote the wellbeing and act in the interests of the municipality as a whole. The interests of the municipality are the operative words, not my words but the words in the legislation that apply to all municipalities across this country. Everything you do must be in pursuit of this duty and you will fulfill that duty by approving the proposal that’s before you this afternoon,” Fish asserted. “To be clear, your duty is not to pander to the interests of the odd commercial developer motivated by their financial gain. Your duty is not to be concerned about the speculative concerns of the odd homeowner, your duty is not to give primacy to the individual property rights over the collective rights of the community and its not to be cowered by a lawyer’s letter.”

Speaking to fellow COTW, Councillor John Hirsch noted recent alterations to the plan would allow council to have more control about potential changes in the heritage district.

“A number of us worked over the weekend learning more about heritage….and have come up with some suggested alterations that leave ultimate control of certain things up to council,” said Hirsch.

Citing an issue with transparency, CAO Marcia Wallace stated a report from staff should be provided to both council and the public that explains the edits to the plan.

“From a transparency perspective, this is very technical information and is going to impact the livelihood of a lot of people,” said Wallace. “It shouldn’t be a motion with technical edits put on the floor now but a report should come back that explains the edits so the public can read it and understand exactly what is being proposed and perhaps any ideas that come forth as a result of all the comments provided here today.”

The report from staff will come back to council sometime during the summer.