June 23rd - 2017

Three things REALTORS® should know about heritage properties

The township told the buyer that a rural property was safe to build on. A lawsuit ensued when the buyer later learned that a building permit was withheld because the land was located on a “no-build” buffer zone near a former dump site.

Stratford Heritage Conservation District

The township told the buyer that a rural property was safe to build on. A lawsuit ensued when the buyer later learned that a building permit was withheld because the land was located on a “no-build” buffer zone near a former dump site.

by Robert Hulley

“Whatever good things we build, end up building us.” Those words, by the late American entrepreneur Jim Rohn, certainly apply to architecture. Many beautiful buildings have stood the test of time, but not all communities value their heritage structures to the extent they could.

Closer to home, this has been true in our province. For instance, Eric Arthur, a distinguished professor of architecture at the University of Toronto, noted in 1964 that “Torontonians are curiously apathetic towards their history in terms of landmarks, street names, and the like. Indeed, surely no city in the world with a background of three hundred years does so little to make that background known.”

Arthur was referring to the fact that many historic buildings were being lost at that time to make way for a growing city. He and others like him had advocated for the preservation of heritage buildings for many years, but without success.

That all changed in 1975 when the Ontario legislature passed the Ontario Heritage Act (the Act). Since that time, more than 7,000 heritage properties have been designated and the number continues to grow. Some REALTORS® now see this as an important niche market. To help you understand the concepts better, I have listed three basic things you should know about heritage properties and the Act.

1. Properties Designated Under the Act

Providing municipalities with the authority to protect heritage properties was a giant step forward. When a municipal council decides to designate a heritage property, it is placed on the municipal heritage register and a bylaw is created setting out a statement of cultural heritage value. These values are prescribed under the Act and can be for any or all of the following reasons.

  • The property has design or physical value. It is rare, with a unique style expression and displays a high degree of craftsmanship and artistic merit.
  • The property has historic value. In other words, it is associated with a theme, event, belief, person, activity or organization significant to the community.
  • The property has contextual value. It is a landmark, historically linked to its surroundings. It is important in defining the character of the area.

The procedure for evaluating heritage properties has been continually updated and improved and usually includes consultation with the owner. Normally this is carried out by members of the Municipal Heritage Committee, staff or an independent specialist. Their conclusion and recommendations are then presented to the municipal council for consideration. Should the council vote to proceed with the designation, a notice of Intention to Designate is given to the owners, followed by a bylaw that is drafted and eventually enacted or amended.

There is always the possibility that an owner or prospective owner may consider the prospect of a designation under the Act to be unwarranted or detrimental to its value. In some instances, this may be true, particularly when a potential high rise or commercial site is involved. But in the majority of cases, studies have shown that a heritage designation can actually enhance the market value of a property and that such places have a better chance of retaining their value, even in depressed markets. The late James Biddle, a U.S. heritage conservationist president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wrote in his book, Built to Last. “In more and more cities, old downtown residential neighbourhoods are the ‘hot’ buys, not only as sound investments but also as convenient and attractive places to live.”

However, if the property owners continue to object to the proposed designation, they can make further representations to the municipality or request a hearing before the Conservation Review Board. The board is a tribunal that hears disputes relating to the Act. For further information about the board, click here. http://elto.gov.on.ca/crb/. For more details about the Act, click here. http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/heritage/heritage_act.shtml.

2. Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs)

A Heritage Conservation District (HCD) is an exciting preservation concept. It is quite different from a (heritage) listing or designation of an individual property. A HCD can involve parts of entire towns, villages or districts within municipalities. Currently there are 125 such districts across Ontario harbouring some 22,600 properties, and that number is growing. Toronto alone contains 20 HCDs, with slightly more than 5,000 properties.

An HCD can be made up of residential, commercial or industrial areas that feature land patterns that contribute to an understanding of the cultural identity of a community. They exemplify the character of a district, sometimes going beyond the built heritage to include important vistas and the diversity of people who live and work there. Most of Ontario’s HCDs are comprised of residential districts but many former small "Main Street" business districts are also included.

In some instances, these commercial heritage districts have become focal or destination areas for shopping, tourism, and business where unique restaurants and boutiques thrive and cater to fashion conscious shoppers. These districts are a relatively new and growing area of business activity for REALTORS® both in leasing and management as well as in traditional areas of real estate activity.

Unlike other forms of heritage designations, HCDs are only concerned with the exterior of properties within their boundaries. Many merchants however, emphasize the unique and interesting heritage features inside of their buildings for display and advertising purposes -- and to create an ambiance not found in modern shopping malls or big box stores. Many people seem to enjoy them and are willing to go miles out of their way just for the experience.

For a listing of HCD locations, types, composition and details, click here.


3. Municipal Register of Heritage Properties

The Act requires the clerk of every municipality to keep a publicly-accessible register of properties of cultural heritage value or interest. The register must list all properties situated within the municipality that are designated, plus those located in HCDs. The municipal registry must also include a map or description of the geographic area covered by the HCD.

The Act also allows a municipality to include in its municipal register, properties of cultural heritage value or interest, that have not been designated. The register’s inclusion of non-designated properties is a means of identifying properties that may be of cultural heritage value or interest to the community, but which have not, as yet, been designated.

The municipal register is an important tool for the conservation of heritage properties. It provides interim protection from demolition. Owners of these properties must give the local council at least 60 days’ written notice of their intention to demolish or remove a building or structure on the property. This allows time for the municipality to decide whether to begin the designation process.

Moreover, municipalities are not required to consult with the property owner or the public before including non-designated properties on their municipal register. It would therefore be a good idea for any REALTOR® dealing with a property that has the appearance or suggestion of possible heritage value or interest to check its status. Doing this research with the municipality will prevent any misunderstandings. For more details, click here. http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/heritage/municipal_register.shtml

Some municipalities have the register posted on their website. To see the Toronto register, visit www1.toronto.ca and type in Heritage Registry Interactive Map.

The Ontario Heritage Act is a paragon of excellence. It has been upgraded and improved over the years and has been very successful in changing overall attitudes and facilitating the preservation of important heritage properties. Many municipalities now offer various resources pertaining to heritage properties. These include educational programs combined with entrepreneurial talent, planning, financial grants and tax relief. Much has changed and there is much to learn, but for Realtors and their clients, there is also much to be gained.

For more information, click here.


PHOTO CAPTIONS: Heritage photos by Robert Hulley. 1 – A beautifully restored, large home set on well landscaped grounds in Port Hope; 2 – A symmetrical Georgian style home in Brampton; 3 – A unique restored former farmhouse in Norval; 4 – A rejuvenated commercial section of Ontario Street in Stratford, a commercial Heritage Conservation District; 5 – A restored miller’s cottage in Caledon.

Robert Hulley is a retired Realtor, Fellow of the Real Estate Institute of Canada, Accredited Appraiser, and Real Estate Counsellor. He is past president of the Credit-Humber branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.

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