Downtown Councillor Jason Farr is responding to City staff using their delegated authority for minor heritage alterations to allow the demolition of heritage buildings without any public hearings or public input.
Bylaw 05-364 was created to allow staff to approve minor alterations to heritage buildings, such as replacement of siding, roof repairs, and other routine maintenance.
Under the Heritage Act, any and all work to the heritage features of a designated building requires approval of the Council of the municipality the building is located within.
The delegated authority streamlined the process and ensured owners of heritage buildings were not tied into red-tape every time they conducted routine maintenance.#### The James Baptist “Minor Alteration”
The delegated authority worked well since 2005, until this year when City staff used this bylaw to declare that any demolition of a designated heritage can be classified as a minor alteration provided some piece of the original structure remains – the new 99% of less demolition rule.
City staff prevented public hearing into the demolition of James Street Baptist Church, after informing the public they could not speak at the permit review sub-committee but instead public input would be allowed at Planning Committee. Once the issue was approved by permit review, staff declared the demolition to be a minor alteration, cancelled the public hearings, and issued a partial demolition permit.
The result: all of Hamilton’s designated heritage buildings are more vulnerable to demolition than non-designated buildings.
Changing the definition will not change the fate of James Baptist – the “minor alteration” demolition cannot be reversed by Council.
New GM Jason Thorne Could Make This Mute Exercise
On Monday (May 26), the City’s definition of minor alteration may change. A new General Manager takes over Planning and Economic Development. The GM decides how to define minor alteration, and all indications are that Jason Thorne will not consider 99% demolitions to be minor alterations.
Council will still need to act, to prevent future demolitions by delegated authority.
There is concern at City Hall that a private citizen may take the City to court over the definition of minor alteration. While it doesn’t appear this will happen, Councillors will thread lightly on the topic when they debate it in two weeks at the June 3rd Planning Committee.