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Heritage home issue points to ‘flaws in the system’: Councillor

Owner of home on Fourth Street admits he was confused about what was required for renovations to home in the heritage district; ‘We, in no way, believe this to be fair,’ he tells council
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Left, a photo of 12 Fourth St. W. taken in the fall of 2020. Right, a photo taken by bylaw enforcement staff on Aug. 3.

A series of miscommunications regarding a Fourth St. heritage home point to a broader issue with Collingwood’s heritage bylaws, says a Collingwood councillor.

During Monday night’s regular meeting of council, councillors heard a deputation from Jesse Hamilton, owner of a home at 12 Fourth Street West. Hamilton and his wife purchased the home earlier this year, and immediately started renovating. The couple contends that they were not informed by their realtor, their lawyer or the town that the home was considered a heritage property and would therefore require permits to proceed with any renovations prior to the work starting.

When a bylaw officer visited their home midway through the work being completed, they say they were informed then they needed to apply for a permit, however were still not informed they needed to stop work.

Now, the couple is looking at a possible $30,000 bill to remove paint they applied to the exterior, and the possibility of a lien being placed on their home until they complete the removal.

“I’m very disappointed in how this has all unfolded,” said Coun. Yvonne Hamlin. “I don’t think we can point fingers at anyone. Sometimes you get an example that comes forward that points out the flaws in the system.”

“There are two big flaws here. One, there’s no easy way for someone who buys a home in the heritage district to immediately understand what their obligations and responsibilities are,” she said. “The second is, we haven’t implemented a bylaw under the Heritage Act that would allow our staff to issue a stop-work order.”

The 12 Fourth St. W. home was built in 1930. According to the town, heritage designations are registered on the title of the home.

According to the Ontario Heritage District Act, no owner of a property situated in a heritage conservation district can alter any part of the property, other than the interior. For any exterior work, homeowners must first apply for a permit through the municipality.

Coun. Mariane McLeod asked Hamilton if he was contending that his realtor and lawyer did not inform him at any time that his home was in the heritage district, and there would be rules associated with that.

“No. We understood there was a heritage district. We thought our home did not have the heritage designation,” said Hamilton. “That is a very confusing space to exist in.”

According to the staff report, on July 22, town staff received a complaint about exterior masonry being painted at the property without a permit. Bylaw enforcement attended the site and provided the owner with planning staff contact information at that time.

Staff spoke with the owner on July 23 and confirmed that a permit is required before starting work including for the painting that was underway. Planning staff noted at that time that the chimney and the front entrance eyebrow roof/canopy had also been removed without a permit.

When Hamilton gave his deputation on Monday, he pled with council to not support the heritage committee’s recommendation to approve removal of the chimney and painting the window frames, soffit and fascia but refuse the remainder of the works, as it would cause his family hardship.

“We are open to discussing alternatives but we, in no way, believe this to be fair,” said Hamilton.

He told council that he didn’t realize when he started work he needed a permit because there are many homes along the same street and in Collingwood’s downtown that have been painted in the same way, with the same colours, however the town contends that these homes were painted prior to bylaws being put in place. Hamilton said it wasn’t an attempt to circumvent rules.

“From what we are learning, the concept of a heritage district is certainly not as well understood as the concept of a home with a heritage designation,” said Hamilton. “The town should not enforce rules with such negative outcomes if they are not committed to educating people about them.”

Hamilton said that when he and his wife provided a presentation to the Heritage committee regarding their permits, he said he felt “attacked” by the tone of comments and questions from the committee.

“This included raised voices and a line of questioning that was a clear attempt to support the opinion that we acted purposefully in ignoring the rules,” said Hamilton. “This is not true. The experience we had should not be considered appropriate behaviour for a volunteer board.”

Director of planning, building and economic development Summer Valentine said staff are currently looking at creating welcome packages for realtors to give new heritage homeowners that clearly outline the process required for any changes to their homes.

“I feel we should be using this problem not to set an example for others, but rather as a way to develop a better process so nobody else gets caught in this kind of situation,” said Hamlin.

“I have concerns about this situation,” said McLeod. “It strikes me, that in the last 18 months, we have had three circumstances where homeowners have come to us asking for relief in situations where they felt they had not been apprised of appropriately.”

McLeod referenced an incident in August where a landlord discovered a $2,000 overdue water bill left by his tenants of which he had not been informed.

“In these cases, council voted for, ‘buyer beware,’ where they did not find relief,” she said. “I am a fan of consistency. While my heart is sad for this family, I feel as though there has to be some responsibility that comes with purchasing. I am torn on this issue.”

Coun. Deb Doherty pointed out that the heritage bylaw has been inconsistently applied in the past, which has led to further confusion.

Council voted 5-2 in favour of approving the Hamiltons’ permits regarding the removal of the chimney, painting of window frames, soffit and fascia, but denying a permit for painting of the foundation, stonework, window sills, brickwork, replacement of the front door and removal of the front entrance eyebrow roof with Hamlin and Coun. Bob Madigan opposed. The motion included that council direct staff to issue notice of refusal within 90 days.

Coun. Tina Comi and Deputy Mayor Keith Hull were absent from the meeting.

For the paint to be removed under the heritage bylaw, the homeowner must apply for another heritage permit to ensure the paint is removed properly. Mayor Brian Saunderson clarified that if Hamilton doesn’t apply for a permit to remove the paint, he will be opening himself up to further enforcement proceedings.

“This has been a drawn-out and traumatic process that we don’t want to see happen in our community,” said Saunderson. “We do value our heritage district but we want to make sure the rules around it are extremely clear and that this type of situation does not happen again.”

At the end of the meeting, Coun. Deb Doherty put forward a separate notice of motion directing staff to draft a bylaw to aid bylaw officers in issuing stop-work orders for heritage properties, which will come forward for a council vote at a future meeting.