Port Stanley heritage district axed by 'unorthodox' council vote

·3 min read

A proposal to make most of central Port Stanley a heritage conservation district was scrapped after a contentious public meeting about the future of the Lake Erie village.

At a special meeting Wednesday night, Central Elgin council voted 4-3 to abandon and cancel the proposal after mounting public pushback against it. As part of the decision, the matter can’t resurface for the rest of council’s term that ends in 2022.

“The overwhelming majority of people who spoke to us are against this,” Deputy Mayor Tom Marks said at the meeting. “We need to listen.”

But coming to the decision wasn’t straightforward.

Just two days prior, at Monday’s regular Central Elgin council meeting, a similar motion to shoot down the plan failed to pass.

Coun. Fiona Wynn brought forward a nearly identical motion to axe the plan that night and cancel Wednesday night’s special public meeting, but the vote failed 4-3.

After hearing from residents virtually for three hours Wednesday — almost all strongly against the plan — Marks resurfaced the motion to strike down the project just after 10 p.m.

He said the entire process had “gone off the tracks” and was negatively affecting Port Stanley residents during an already tumultuous time.

Wynn seconded the motion, with councillors Dennis Crevits and Karen Cook also voting in favour. Cook was the lone vote switch from Monday night’s decision.

Mayor Sally Martyn and councillors Bill Fehr and Colleen Row were opposed.

“This only works if there’s 100 per cent buy-in from the property owners,” Cook said during Wednesday’s meeting.

“This just doesn’t need to be on anyone’s radar right now,” Wynn said.

“It’s hard to keep supporting something when there’s so much negativity,” Crevitz added.

While chief administrator Paul Shipway acknowledged bringing forward a motion at a special public meeting that was intended as an information session only was “unorthodox procedurally,” he said it was within municipal policies to do so.

“I think it’s inappropriate to make a decision tonight,” Fehr said. “It’s more than unorthodox, it’s borderline in deceit.”

“I certainly think it’s wrong to abandon this,” Martyn said during the meeting, adding the plan could be amended to address residents’ concerns.

It’s the third time in about a decade the heritage conservation district idea has been soundly rejected by local residents.

The updated plan — affecting about 180 properties — would have covered most of the downtown including Main, Colborne and Bridge streets, along with properties west of the harbour on Maud, Bessie and William streets.

The designation would have placed restrictions on properties that would require permits and approval for the renovation of walls, windows, doors and roofs, as well as for additions, demolitions and new builds.

There are 134 heritage conservation bylaws in Ontario.

The Ontario Heritage Act gives municipalities the ability to designate heritage conservation districts in areas whose cultural heritage value contributes to a “sense of place.”

Council’s decision to stop the plan brought a wave of relief to many in the beachside community.

Teresa McLellan, whose family owns a cottage on Bessie Street, had created a digital petition opposing the heritage designation and garnered more than 350 signatures.

“We are grateful to the councillors that listened to and heard our concerns,” she said. “It’s a huge relief to know this particular stressor is gone, and we can focus back on our daily lives and getting through COVID.”

maxmartin@postmedia.com

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press