Friday, February 27, 2015

Good heritage stats are hard to find!

Or is it that hard heritage stats are good to find?

Good heritage policy starts with good information about what is really happening out there.  Too much of what we see is anecdotal -- interesting, even useful, but not a sound basis for making policy choices.

For policy-making at both the provincial level and the local level there is no substitute for solid statistics about the use of existing heritage tools in the OHA and other legislation.  Here are some key ones, courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which seems to be doing a better job about tracking these things.

As of January 1, 2015, there were (unofficial figures):
  • 115 Heritage Conservation Districts in effect
  • 38 new HCDs (incorporating 6,200 properties) that have come into effect since the 2005 OHA amendments
  • 9 new HCD designation by-laws appealed to the OMB and not yet in effect
  • Over 1,200 properties protected under Part IV of the OHA since the 2005 amendments
  • Over 6,700 properties individually protected under Part IV from 1975 to the present
  • Over 19,100 properties protected as part of an HCD under Part V from 1975 to the present
  • 42 municipalities that have passed a by-law enabling them to provide heritage property tax relief (HPTR)
  • 27 municipalities that actually reported providing heritage property tax rebates in 2013 (most recent data available)
  • $4.48 million in HPTR paid out province-wide in 2013, of which $1.86 million came from the province
  • $16.42 million in HPTR paid out province-wide from 2002-1013, of which about $7.39 million came from the province
  • 152 municipal heritage committees
These numbers continue to shift of course.  I understand the 116th HCD (congrats to Meaford!) just came into effect, so that bumps the first two numbers up one and the third down one.

The HPTR amounts, by the way, come from the annual Financial Information Returns municipalities are required to submit to MMAH. According to MTCS, the HPTR numbers have been inaccurately reported (or not reported at all by some municipalities) so they’ve been attempting to correct them by going to individual municipalities and asking. They are reasonably confident they are close to right now.

Designation trends?  A little hard to say.  MTCS says last year (2014) seems to have been a low point in individual designation activity, with only 78 new by-laws passed (as reported to the Ontario Heritage Trust). The previous low was 2005, when 74 by-laws were passed.  (The reason for that undoubtedly had to do with the passage that year of OHA amendments and resulting uncertainty about what was required.)  2008 was the highest year in the past decade, with 155 designation by-laws passed.

A clearer picture with HCDs. HCD activity appears to be on the upswing as communities increasingly choose a more comprehensive approach to protecting their streetscapes and neighbourhoods.  While encouraging, this is coming at a bit of a price.  Most new HCD designations are being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, almost certainly the result of the much stronger HCD controls introduced in 2005 — the higher stakes mean those affected may be more likely to balk and to closely scrutinize the HCD planning process.

But MCTS also notes that a number of municipalities (including Goderich, Kingston and Mississauga) have recently updated their old HCDs without OMB appeals of the updated by-laws. Many more with antiquated HCD provisions — like Stratford’s, for instance — need to jump on that bandwagon!

Next time: a closer look at HPTR activity.