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Looking back to see the future

City council considers heritage designation for Woodbridge

PAST AND PRESENT: The city is considering designating an area in Woodbridge -- including Woodbridge Ave., above -- a heritage conservation district. The new rules would protect older properties and guide new development in the neighbourhood. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

Protecting Woodbridge’s past will secure the village’s future.

That’s the idea behind the city’s move to create the Woodbridge Heritage Conservation District, Vaughan’s fourth after Thornhill, Maple and Kleinburg-Nashville.

At city hall last Monday, councillors agreed in principle to create the heritage district, which will set out new rules for the preservation of historically and architecturally significant buildings, and govern new development.

“I think it’s important to recognize it’s not just protection of heritage buildings, which of course is very important to me and a lot of people,” said Woodbridge resident and community activist Jamie Maynard. “It’s also about the future of the community. It’s an opportunity to build a framework for a really great neighbourhood.”

According a city staff report, more than 130 heritage buildings and several significant landscapes, monuments and bridges remain within the boundaries of the proposed heritage district. Relative to the three already established conservation districts, Woodbridge has the greatest number of heritage buildings.

Under the heritage district plan, developers and homeowners looking to renovate would be guided by rules meant to maintain the neighbourhood’s character.

On Kipling Ave., for example, new buildings will be capped at three storeys, be set back from the front property line by at least three metres and have a residential character in keeping with neighbouring structures.

Plans to renovate a heritage home will be reviewed by the city’s cultural services staff, who will also be available to provide advice for renovators.

Support for the Woodbridge heritage district was not unanimous.

“There are certainly some historical homes in the village of Woodbridge that I think should be looked after,” Kipling Ave. resident Chris Andrews told councillors. “Unfortunately, I think this is 20 years too late.

“We’ve lost so much of our history in Woodbridge and there’s a huge amount that used to be there that’s gone.”

It’s an argument Maynard has encountered before.

“We’ve heard from experts at many of these discussions that the point Woodbridge is at is at the very point where heritage conservation districts come into play,” he said. “It’s at the point where people are recognizing that now’s the time when we have to act boldly and preserve things.”

Andrews voiced the concern that the designation of a heritage district in Woodbridge would negatively affect property values.

“I see that the report states that the real estate industry suggests that designating a historical district increases the values of the homes generally,” he said. “I’ve done myself an individual survey through real estate agents. They all disagree with that. They say the values most often drop and you don’t gain back what you have.”

Real estate agent Claudio Campoli disagreed.

“I’ve dealt with people that have bought heritage and they definitely look for heritage homes,” he said.

The loudest voice of dissent belonged to Mayor Linda Jackson, who was unhappy with the southern border of the proposed heritage district. She said she supports the plan but was concerned that some homes on Abell, Cheltenham and Burwick Aves. were left outside the boundaries.

“We need to be fair,” Jackson said. “It’s either all in or it’s all out.

“I think we need to come back and come up with a boundary that we all can be happy with.”

John Zipay, the city’s commissioner of planning, cautioned against reopening the issue of boundaries.

“We could be quibbling about where the line’s drawn for weeks,” he said.

As a compromise, Councillor Tony Carella asked staff to consider the concerns raised and report back before May 5, the date council will vote on the creation of the Woodbridge Heritage Conservation District.

“I know from every observation that I’ve ever made that this is a positive step and I think we can all be very proud of what we do today,” Carella said.

Vaughan Today
In print: May 1, 2009, page 5
Online: May 4, 2009 [link]