Worried the character of Lawrence Park and other neighbourhoods is being lost as residents tear down their homes and build bigger houses in their place, heritage advocates are dismayed the city won’t step in to protect three homes.
The city’s decision not to seek heritage designations for houses at 19 St. Leonard’s Ave., 102 Wanless Ave. and 105 Golfdale Rd., all in the Lawrence Park area, is “shocking and in our opinion cannot go unchallenged,” Geoff Kettel, chairperson of the North York Preservation Panel wrote in a letter.
There is a bigger issue than simply three homes, Kettel said.
Potential heritage homes in communities such as Lawrence Park, North Toronto, Don Mills, Leaside and the Beach are at risk of being torn down and replaced with larger houses, he said.
“Given their accessibility and adjacency to good transit and quality public services, these areas are facing tremendous development pressure for ‘massification’, if not intensification,” Kettel said.
“Single family houses in these areas are being demolished at a rapid rate and frequently reconstructed with houses with quite a different character.
“There is continuous erosion of the cultural heritage resources of these neighbourhoods as a result of developer-compliant committees of adjustment, lax demolition laws and variable OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) chairs.”
The issue has become particularly significant in Lawrence Park, with several homeowners battling heritage advocates at North York community council over the last few months.
Even if communities want their neighbourhoods to become heritage conservation districts to preserve historical homes, Kettel said many individual homes could be lost during the long process of establishing the areas.
But homeowners are upset the preservation panel has tried to have their homes designated as heritage houses against their wishes.
They argued they have a right to enjoy their properties without having a restrictive heritage designation hanging over their heads, adding the preservation panel has often based its findings on flimsy criteria.
“This is an insignificant nomination and this is not a heritage property,” Clint Becker, owner of 19 St. Leonard’s, told councillors at the June 13 community council meeting.
An architectural expert disagreed with the panel’s assessment of the house and the previous owners, who lived there for 40 years, oppose the heritage designation, he said.
In reports to council, Robert Freedman, director of urban design of the city’s planning division, said the three properties should not be included on the city’s inventory of heritage properties or designated under the Ontario Heritage Act because they don’t meet criteria.
In earlier reports, he also said nominations of the properties could not be completed at this time due to “current demands on limited resources of Heritage Preservation Services.”
“While HPS endeavors to be proactive on the identification and protection of heritage properties, there is currently a large backlog of properties to be evaluated and only a single staff person to undertake evaluations of individual properties for the entire city of Toronto,” Freedman said.
In addition, community preservation panels are expected to provide thorough historic research and documentation when nominating properties, which was not met for the three properties, he said.
Bill Aird, president of the North York Historical Society, is upset heritage properties may be lost due to a lack of city staff.