I won’t wade into the debate about façadism. But it’s interesting to look at how we treat façade retention in our approvals process.
Last time, we looked at an (alas, all-too-common) proposal for redevelopment of a row of designated heritage buildings on Hamilton’s Gore Park. Two of the buildings were to be completely demolished — and the owner submitted an application for demolition. The other two, by renowned architect William Thomas, were also to be torn down — except for one wall (the street façade) that would be retained and restored — and the owner submitted an alteration application.
Isn’t it kind of strange that a 100 per cent demolition and a 90+ per cent demolition would be treated differently?
Mostly this is owing to our bifurcated approvals process, an entrenched part, for good or ill, of Ontario’s heritage protection regime. Alteration to Part IV (individually) designated properties follows the procedures set out in section 33 of the OHA, while demolition/removal follows those in section 34. Before the 2005 amendments to the Act, as today, an application for alteration could be approved by municipal council, approved subject to terms and conditions, or refused.
An application for demolition/removal on the other hand could be approved or refused. But a refusal would start the clock ticking on a six-month “waiting period”, after which the applicant could merrily proceed with the demolition/removal. [Note 1]
As for appeals… since a municipality couldn’t ultimately stop a demolition, there was no need for an appeal from a refusal. Refusal to okay an alteration, however, could be “appealed” to the Conservation Review Board, which, as the name suggests, reviews the council’s decision and makes a recommendation back to the municipality as to whether the alteration should be approved, with the council making the final decision on the alteration.
Since 2005 municipalities have been able to effectively say no to demolition, but along with that power came the owner’s right to appeal (either a refusal to demolish or an approval of demolition subject to terms and conditions) to the Ontario Municipal Board.
The difference today between applications to alter and those to demolish is not so much what kind of decision really gets made in the first place but the kind of appeal you can make — on alterations, to the CRB for a recommendation and then back to council for a final decision or, on demolition, to the OMB for a binding decision.
Now, faced with a choice about which appeal route they’d prefer, most applicants would opt for the OMB. But there is no choice in practice — it’s either an alteration (CRB) or a demolition (OMB), right?
The OHA defines alter as “to change in any manner and includes to restore, renovate, repair or disturb and ‘alteration’ has a corresponding meaning.” Demolition, though, is not defined. This is presumably because it has a pretty straightforward meaning, such as, from one dictionary, “to destroy or ruin (a building or other structure), especially on purpose; tear down; raze.”
So, back to façadism, if a few feet of a side of a building are all that is kept, this is an alteration not a demolition. Or is it?