City breaking its own heritage rules: councillor

Daniel MacEachern
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Decision on property owner’s windows latest rejection of committee recommendation

Allowing exceptions to St. John’s heritage guidelines will make it harder to preserve the city’s history, say the heritage committee chairmen.

St. John’s city council Monday rejected the city’s heritage committee’s recommendation that the owner of 133 Gower Street (the house on the right) should replace the building’s windows with ones that match other houses in the area, instead of ones that are similar to the windows already in place, which is what the owner prefers. The co-chairman of the advisory committee say making exceptions to the city’s heritage guidelines weaken the city’s ability to protect St. John’s heritage. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

Committee co-chairman Coun. Sandy Hickman — following council’s decision Monday to allow a Gower Street homeowner to replace and  install windows that are different from what the heritage guidelines would allow — said Tuesday the city is breaking its own rules.

“I’m not sure that all councillors understand the gravity of the heritage of the city. That it is something that’s different from whether or not you put a 10-storey building in one area or allow a certain type of siding on Elizabeth Avenue or something different in Cowan Heights,” said Hickman.

“There is a responsibility for us as city council of this city to ensure that we maintain the character.”

It’s the latest recommendation of the heritage committee to be rejected — in March, council rejected heritage status for two downtown Salvation Army buildings scheduled for demolition and rebuilding, and earlier this year, council found itself debating whether it could allow an exception for windows at a local convent that didn’t fit guidelines, but were easier for older nuns to open.

Coun. Dave Lane, the heritage committee’s other chairman, said allowing exceptions piecemeal makes it more difficult for the city to enforce the guidelines it has established to preserve the city’s heritage, and allowing exceptions weakens the overall purpose.

“We’re trying to advocate on behalf of the overall principles of retaining a heritage district in our city,” he said, adding that making ad-hoc exceptions will only prompt more people in the future to appeal the city’s decisions.

“Every time we make a one-off allowance, it makes the regulations weaker, and it reduces the value of the regulations we have, and it reduces the effectiveness of them.”

But Coun. Jonathan Galgay, who spoke Monday night in favour of allowing the Gower Street property owner to replace the windows with identical ones, rather than installing costlier committee-approved ones, said councillors are elected to make those decisions.

“They are there to shape policy,” said Galgay. “Sometimes policy has been written in the past by previous councils, like any type of government, and they have a role to ensure there’s a balance. What I do, any time I get a call, I review it. I ask questions and I’ll make a decision based on the best interests of the resident and the city.”

In this case, the committee’s recommendation would have proven much costlier to the owner, said Galgay, who added as it’s a rental property, he feared the cost would have been off-loaded onto the tenant.

And rather than getting too bogged down in targeting the siding or windows of someone who’s maintaining his or her property, he said, the heritage committee should first target areas and properties that aren’t being looked after.

“You drive around the downtown, and you can see homes that are in deplorable condition,” he said.

“For a heritage committee to be in place, and to be targeting people who are trying to do good on a property versus other property owners who just have disregard to any type of maintenance on a home, I have a problem with that.”

Hickman says the city should look at providing a small fund that heritage property owners could draw on if — as in this case — the guidelines would require the owner to spend more money on renovations than he or she is planning.

That costs money, argued Galgay.

“We can’t even regulate our own snowclearing, let alone develop a fund to offset some costs associated with private dwelling,” he said. “It sounds good, but where are you going to come up with the money?”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Salvation Army

Geographic location: Gower Street, Elizabeth Avenue, Cowan Heights

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Recent comments

  • gb
    July 31, 2014 - 05:47

    Not to put down these homes but where's the heritage with these houses? They're not Victorian or even architecturally significant. Just plain wooden boxes with different colors of paint. Council heritage rules are doing nothing to improve the look of our city. Yes by the look of the windows on the other houses are really part of our heritage alright. Let the owner do whatever he wants..anything would be an improvement over the heritage rules.

  • violet
    July 30, 2014 - 16:08

    my oh my ...the city breaking its own rules ...if no pays attention they do it ALL THE TIME...they won't let people fill in wet lands or as they call it buffer water Zones but yet they did it in the Goulds...if no one noticed the SOCCER FIELD WAS THE flood plan/buffer water zone ...THE city NEEDED IT APPARENTLY SO THEY FILLED IT IN...not worrying about the IMPACT IT WOULD HAVE ON THE RACE TRACK and Surrounding area..BUT THEY DID IT ANYWAYS...OR as they are known to say IT WAS AN OVER SITE ....LOOK AROUND PEOPLE THEY CHANGE THE RULES FOR THEMSELVES AND CERTAIN PEOPLE ALL THE TIME ...KEEP AN EYE OUT AND YOU'LL SEE

  • Andrea
    July 30, 2014 - 15:01

    So where exactly do you draw the line, Councillor Galgay? If you don't like Council's rules, change them. Don't just continue to break them as you personally see fit. As for the Georgetown café. I've never heard of a business that doesn't want anyone who would have to drive to get there. What an interesting business plan they must have. It's going to be a nightmare there. I feel for the residents.

  • Miranda
    July 30, 2014 - 13:18

    The council do not enforce any of the laws that are in place. I find that even when you call and point them in the direction of a problem they still do not follow through and nothing is ever done. Lack of enforcement !!!

  • Cheap & Dirty
    July 30, 2014 - 12:28

    Ah... heritage, shmeritage. Let's all go for the cheapest possible. Who cares if it's ugly?- what's wrong with living in an ugly city? The tourists will get used to it, and who needs tourism anyway? We live here and if we want it to look like a trailer park, so what? Forget windows at all - slap a piece of plywood over the window, I say. The owner can pass the savings on to his/her tenant. While we're at it, let's trash the building code regulations too. They cost me far too much when I did renovations. If I want to own a firetrap I should be allowed to. It's cheaper.

  • JAY
    July 30, 2014 - 11:07

    This council has got to go. Rules were meant to be broken and they are doing it city-wide. The crisis in Quidi Vidi was created by Council's decision to allow a restaurant w/out parking. They are allowing new construction throughout the village, its outrageous that they didn't have the foresight to keep this unique fishing village in the heart of the city as it was. Now its becoming suburbia. Another cafe in the Georgetown area. Galgay says he had staff look at parking in the area, obviously he doesn't go to the bakery much, particularly in winter.....good luck with that. As for this building, if the rules say when upgrading to change to heritage codes, then it needs to happen. How can you change rules for one and not another. Shame on this are creating havoc in this city.

  • QuidiVidi
    July 30, 2014 - 08:24

    Funny how they talk about heritage when they have approved the destruction of Quidi Vidi Village.

  • Michael Wallack
    July 30, 2014 - 07:39

    Councillor Lane's dissent would be more convincing if he had not voted to approve a Restaurant for Georgestown which ignores the Development Regulation requirement for four parking spaces-- he voted for to allow this requirement to be reduced to zero. Councillor Galgay has clearly has shifted to the "rules are made to be broken" camp from his previous critique of the previous Council for doing what he now supports at every opportunity. His motto seems to be "you have to go along to get along upalong". Councillor Lane can't expect a "happy cities" mantra to be a substitute for principle without getting shafted on his environmental and heritage issues when his commitment to principle is governed by expediency and wishful thinking.

    • JP
      July 30, 2014 - 08:45

      Parking spots have nothing to do with heritage. It's possible for Mr. Lane to be in favour of strict heritage rules and in opposition to outdated parking rules.

  • J
    July 30, 2014 - 05:40

    I'm not from St. John's but next door but I think that the city should not be able to dictate to anyone about Heritage unless the city it footing the bill. It's kinda ironic that this city pushes heritage status and dictates on people yet they work in a concrete bunker in the middle of the oldest city in North America. Where were the Heritage requirements when City Hall was being built? Kinda different when your spending your own money isn't it?