A report that aspires to see blocks of the city's downtown core given heritage designation in the future has been endorsed by Fredericton city staff.
The report, by an independent consultant, calls on the city to engage Downtown Fredericton Inc. and property owners to have "intact blocks" of Queen, King and York streets given heritage status.
"Beyond the very recent designation of the Lemont House, and while some areas have been studied and proposed for designation, there have been no designations under the [heritage] bylaw in quite some time," said consultant Bill Hicks, in his report.
The report was presented Thursday to Fredericton's economic vitality committee, where Juan Estepa, the city's manager of heritage and urban design, said staff endorsed it and recommended the drafting of a one-year implementation plan.
Councillors on the committee voted to move the report on to general council for adoption at the next meeting.
Hicks's recommendation is one of several included in the report commissioned by the city as it looks to update its heritage bylaw, which is now more than 40 years old.
Heritage advocates have long criticized Fredericton for its piecemeal approach to heritage preservation, particularly in light of the demolition of some historically significant buildings in recent years.
The Fredericton Heritage Trust estimates there are about 2,000 such buildings currently standing in the city.
However, only about 300 structures — concentrated in the St. Anne's Point heritage area — actually have heritage designation, and by extension, protection under the city's bylaw.
Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers said with rapid development in the city, there's a need to update the heritage bylaw to ensure the protection of historically significant buildings.
"We need to ensure that we're protecting our heritage stock because that heritage stock really tells the story of who we are as a city and who we are as a capital city," Rogers said.
However, Rogers said any new heritage designation of downtown buildings won't happen without consulting owners.
"I would see us doing it in a collaborative way and potentially saying there's a real opportunity for downtown business if we embrace our heritage, and there are certainly lots of places that we can look to to guide any movement that we make in this area."
Bruce McCormack, general manager of Downtown Fredericton Inc., says he's open to discussions with the city.
But he adds that landlords need to feel comfortable with the restrictions that could potentially come with agreeing to grant heritage status to their buildings.
"And sometimes that's very difficult when you're dealing with a building code for 2022 or 2023 and we're dealing with a property that's [from the] 18 or early 1900s," McCormack said.
"So we need that discussion. We feel that there could be flexibility between the city, the building inspection, fire [department] and even the fire marshal to look at how we proceed from here and how we look at those buildings."
Incentives will be key, says advocate
Hicks, in his report, says heritage conservation must be seen as an opportunity, not just an obligation, which is where incentives can be useful.
He said those can include financial grants, cost-recovery grants, tax-based incentives and in-kind support, adding that property tax incentives have "great potential."
Fredericton Heritage Trust president Jeremy Mouat has been eager to see more buildings granted heritage status and thinks incentives are key to that happening.
Mouat said an example could include a property tax discount commensurate to every dollar spent maintaining or renovating a heritage building.
"I think there would have to be a quid pro quo, where a heritage building would be getting some tax break or some consideration from the city to encourage the property owner to keep the building in a good state of repair and to manage it as a unique place, a unique heritage building," he said.