McGuinty government proposes to revamp Ontario Heritage Act

The Government of Ontario is introducing significant changes to the Ontario Heritage Act. Minister of Culture Madeleine Meilleur announced today that “Each year in Ontario, unique heritage buildings and sites fall victim to the bulldozer or wrecker’s ball and we pay the price in lost economic potential and the erosion of the cultural identity that defines and enriches the quality of life in our province." For the first time since the Ontario Heritage Act was introduced in 1975, the government is proposing comprehensive amendments to bring Ontario’s heritage legislation in line with leading jurisdictions in Canada and around the world. If passed, the proposed amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act would:

-Giving the province and municipalities new powers not only to delay but to stop demolition of heritage sites. Enhanced demolition controls would be balanced with an appeals process to respect the rights of property owners.

-Expand the province’s ability to identify and designate sites of provincial heritage significance.

-Provide clear standards and guidelines for the preservation of provincial heritage properties.

-Enhance protection of heritage conservation districts, marine heritage sites and archaeological resources.

In Ontario communities, heritage is reflected in landmark buildings, small town main streets, historic neighbourhoods, scenic landscapes, archaeological sites, special cultural places, including Aboriginal sites, and such unique structures as lighthouses, mills and barns. These heritage resources are irreplaceable. If passed, proposed amendments would allow municipalities to prevent demolition of heritage sites and provide property owners who have been refused consent to demolish designated heritage property with a right of appeal.

Improvements to municipal designation process include: a standardized designation criteria, allowing municipal councils to delegate approvals for alterations to designated heritage properties; setting minimum maintenance standards for designated sites and easily update designation by-laws; shortening newspaper notice requirements for designations and requiring public notice of all de-designations

Strengthened protection for heritage conservation districts would include: requiring that districts have a plan and guidelines, extending district controls to cover heritage property features as well as buildings; allowing minor alterations to be exempted from approvals; enabling interim controls for up to a year for districts being considered for designation and requiring district designation by-laws be registered on title.