After two weeks of seeking clarity from the Town of Collingwood, Jesse and Val Hamilton have launched a Change.org petition to put pressure on council to reverse its decision regarding the couple’s heritage home.
Following council’s decision on Nov. 15 to deny permits for some renovations the couple had already made to their 12 Fourth St. W. home since purchasing earlier this spring, the town sent the Hamiltons a letter on Nov. 26 officially stating which portion of their heritage permit application was denied. However, the couple said they still don't understand what enforcement actions will be taken.
“It’s absolute craziness,” Jesse Hamilton told CollingwoodToday.ca this week. “They’ve just left it unclear again.”
The couple now faces enforcement proceedings which could result in a possible $30,000 bill to remove paint they applied to their exterior, and the possibility of a lien being placed on their home until they complete the removal.
“Due to your failure to obtain a heritage permit prior to undertaking alterations, the town is considering enforcement actions regarding the masonry painting, which may include a charge under the Ontario Heritage Act,” wrote Community Planner Justin Teakle in the letter.
In the letter, Teakle informed the Hamiltons that they have until Dec. 29 to appeal the decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal.
“There was no other information about timelines, no expectations. But, what they made very clear in the communication was that they are considering charging us,” Hamilton said.
“What does that mean? What are they charging us with? It’s actually quite frightening,” said Hamilton. “We’re not planners. We bought a 1,000 square-foot home. We never thought we were going to have to hire lawyers or planners. It feels like another threat.”
The Hamiltons contend that while they were told they were purchasing in a heritage district, they were not aware they were required to get permits for any work done to the exterior.
When a bylaw officer visited their home midway through the work being completed in July, they say they were informed then they needed to apply for a permit, however were still not informed they needed to stop work.
During the Nov. 15 regular meeting of council, councillors ratified a recommendation from the Heritage Committee to grant permits for removal of the chimney and painting the window frames, soffit and fascia of the home. But council refuses retroactive permits for the remainder of the works which included painting masonry on the foundation, stonework, window sills, and brickwork and removal of the front entrance eyebrow roof, noting that it had already been removed.
The 12 Fourth St. W. home was built in 1930, and it within the boundaries of the Collingwood Heritage District. 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.
Teakle told CollingwoodToday.ca this week that he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the Fourth St. property as it’s an open investigation, however enforcement options under the Ontario Heritage Act available to the municipality could include fines or undertaking restoration works at the owner’s expense. Moving forward, he said the town is working on ways to improve the system.
“The properties that are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, that’s registered on title,” said Teakle. “That’s the primary mechanism that is flagged, but there’s always more we can do to make it easier for purchasers to understand their obligations.”
Teakle said the planning department is updating their letter to new property owners regarding property taxes to add information on the rules of properties in the heritage district, and has reached out to the local real estate association to provide them with additional information to give to new and prospective homeowners in the area.
“I have seen some of the commentary that is out there, but staff stand behind the recommendation that we made to council, and council has made their decision,” said Teakle.
During the Nov. 22 meeting of council, a motion put forward by Coun. Deb. Doherty was passed by council calling on staff to investigate and report back on the preparation and implementation of a bylaw that would permit the application of stop-work orders on heritage-related activities. Coun. Yvonne Hamlin asked at that time whether it might make sense to have a member of council on the heritage committee moving forward.
Hamilton says the admittance that there is a problem with the existing system, while still voting to uphold that system, is confusing to him as a resident.
“This is another example of things not working at the town and the only ones left suffering here are our family. We have heard from hundreds of residents who disagree with what has happened and received over 120 signatures to a petition [in 12 hours],” he said. “We are hopeful that the collective voices of Collingwood's community will result in council revisiting their decision and doing what is fair and reasonable instead of threatening our family and making an example of our mistake.”
As of now, the Hamiltons are still waiting to find out what the town’s bylaw enforcement measures will be, while considering their options.
“We hope to appeal but we are worried about trying to navigate that process ourselves,” said Hamilton. “Again, we are a small family, not land developers, and with only 30 days to sort it out, and the holidays getting in the way, we are very worried that the town hasn’t given us a reasonable amount of time to do so.”