Heritage advocates troubled by bigger picture of development proposal in downtown Elora

·3 min read

ELORA – Centre Wellington heritage advocates are concerned about the impacts of a building proposal in Elora’s designated heritage area.

A minor variance hearing is set for April 15 for an application to build a three-storey stacked townhouse building at 27 Moir St. just off Geddes Street in downtown Elora.

The property is part of a larger redevelopment concept of three buildings including a six-storey mixed-use building fronting on Geddes Street.

Heritage advocate Bob Jackson is a bit alarmed at this proposal which is in a designated heritage area.

No applications have been submitted for the six-storey building and the minor variance is to allow residential units on the bottom floor of the proposed townhouse.

“What they call a minor variance is really phase one of two phases in a larger project,” Jackson said. “You can’t look at phase one without considering the impacts of phase two.”

He said he and other advocates don’t think the six-storey building fits in with the character of Elora’s heritage area as there are no buildings that height in the area.

Beverly Cairns, Centre Wellington representative for Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, regularly corresponds with Jackson on heritage matters and is aligned with him on this issue.

There are the right places to put such a building in Elora but Cairns said heritage area is not one of them.

“It would tower over any other building on Geddes Street,” Cairns said. “The height is inappropriate. We have known that there is going to be a building for some time but this is the first time we’ve actually seen a proposal.”

This short notice is a point of concern for Jackson and Cairns as well. Comments on the minor variance application are due to the township by April 6.

The minor variance application notes the three-storey building is in line with all zoning requirements besides the request for flexibility to allow ground-floor residential.

Jackson acknowledged this but said in his view good planning involves looking at the bigger picture.

“You can’t carve off a piece of a big picture then use it as a lever to say ‘you approved one, why don’t we approve the other,’” Jackson said. “Good planning involves looking at the whole project in the context of provincial policy, legislation and township official plan.”

The Township of Centre Wellington Official Plan notes in a section for development and redevelopment in heritage areas that any proposal in these areas will be encouraged to be designed in a manner that is compatible, sensitive and sympathetic to any existing heritage buildings.

“Development projects requiring planning approval, which are of a size, scale or character not in keeping with the surrounding heritage resources, should not be allowed,” the township official plan reads.

Overall, he’s concerned with how the loss of heritage would impact the town’s unique economy where heritage resources drive visitors.

“We have a lot of people in Southern Ontario that have visited Elora and Fergus and they visited because they like it,” Jackson said.

“They like the natural heritage resources and the cultural heritage, they like the small town. They like the low-rise, they’re trying to get out of Mississauga and Brampton.”

There is a place for high-rises in Centre Wellington, but Jackson said it’s not in the heritage districts.

“I’m not saying you can’t do a high-rise in Elora ... you shouldn’t do it in the Elora heritage area because it’s inappropriate and doesn’t comply with legislation,” Jackson said.

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com