Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Council has agreed to let stand facade improvements to a heritage building in the downtown that were completed without the necessary approval, but the city will review its permit process in the hopes of preventing a similar situation from happening again in the future.
The work at 22 Ontario St. consisted of new second storey windows and the addition of guardrails. It required consent from Heritage Stratford, the committee which advises the city on heritage properties in the city, since the building falls within the Heritage Conservation District.
“I truly did not know I was out of line,” the building’s co-owner, Jillian Chambers, told councillors Monday evening, noting as a new downtown building owner she wasn’t aware a special permit was required. And once she was, she said she found the process to be overly long and complicated.
When she learned the heritage committee had denied her application, Chambers said she was told by city staff the group did not have enough members present for a quorum, and decided to go ahead with the work in the hope it would be approved at a later date.
The motion to keep the improvements was put forward by Coun. Keith Culliton, who suggested the owners might have been frustrated by the lack of a quorum.
“They wanted to proceed and they did. It’s a done deal.”
Chambers said she still is not aware why the improvements were rejected, but the city’s director of engineering and public works, George Bowa, said he believed the committee objected to the proliferation of guardrails.
While not all councillors found common ground as to a course of action, they seemed to be in agreement over the quality of the work done.
Coun. George Brown said the facade looked better than it did before and noted he would like to see all buildings in the core look as good.
Coun. Frank Mark said he couldn’t understand the heritage committee’s reasoning given there are other buildings in the core with similar guardrails and windows that don’t match the heritage regulations.
But Coun. Paul Nickel, while acknowledging the work has improved the building’s facade, said council was missing the point, and that it would be setting a precedent if it does nothing.
“We’re encouraging somebody to go ahead and build without a permit,” he added, “so the next contractor that comes along will say, ‘Well, she didn’t get a permit so why should I?’”
Voting against the motion, Coun. Tom Clifford similarly stated he felt allowing the improvements “is a huge mistake and a slippery slope, and I think it’s going to hurt us down the road.”
Mayor Dan Mathieson concluded the city is partly at fault for what happened and suggested the city look for improvements within its Heritage Conservation District bylaw and its permit procedure.
At the same time, he recommended staff look into whether there are any provisions that would allow the city to impose a fine in such instances, adding, “contractors and building owners must take responsibility and follow the rules.”