Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Some heritage preservationists fear revisions to the city's Official Plan could lead to a less transparent process in the future when determining the fate of the Cooper site and the former CNR shops.
On Monday, council adopted an amendment to its land use planning policy to include new information like the city's vision statement and guiding principals, updated demographic data, 2011 annexed lands, and provincially mandated policies.
Section 4.11.3, which deals specifically with the commemoration and preservation of the Cooper site, was also updated and now lists demolition, partial preservation, rehabilitation and commemoration as all possibilities for the locally significant building.
What has those who wish to see the structure saved from the wrecking ball concerned is the omission of any mention of a public consultation process, something that was previously included in the section.
Speaking with local media following the council meeting, Roger Hilderley of the Grand Trunk Railway Site Heritage committee - a branch of the Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation – said he was "disappointed" the amendment passed in its current state, noting a true democratic process should involve opportunities for open public debate.
"I don't see that happening here," he added.
Rick Huband, president of the Stratford-Perth County branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, shared a similar sentiment in a letter to councillors dated May 27 – the day of the council meeting.
"It is, and always has been, the branch position that public input is of vital importance when making decisions regarding all heritage sites," Huband wrote. "The heritage value of this site to Stratford is indisputable."
According to Jeff Leunissen, the city's manager of development services, the Cooper site amendment is meant to better reflect where the city is at in its overall process of determining the fate of the site and old locomotive shops. Mention of public consultation was removed because council is yet to give direction on how it want to proceed procedurally, he noted.
Leunissen added, however, the Official Plan does not prevent council from deciding later on to seek further input from citizens on the matter.
"It just means you haven't committed yourself at this point," he said.
While the amendment was passed easily by council, it wasn't supported unanimously. Coun. Kerry McManus questioned the inclusion of the term "partial preservation" in light of the recommendation supported by the finance and labour subcommittee last week that asks staff to recommend development of public uses on the Cooper site, and that costings be obtained for an adaptive reuse of the structure and a new development.
That recommendation opens the door to the possibility of preserving the entire building, she said.
"I don't see a need to approve this tonight. I think we could address this after we're further in the process by way of amendment," she added.
Hilderley, of the Grand Trunk Heritage committee, also took exception to the wording of the amendment, which in a letter submitted to the city May 26 he called "inappropriate." He asked for further discussion on the proposed change, citing the Ontario Planning Act and Official Plan policies that could come into play when deciding the future of the site, as well as the finance subcommittee's recommendation.
"Many factors are simultaneously in flux on the Cooper site," Hilderley said. "It is wise and prudent to proceed cautiously and in the spirit of cooperation at this time."
Also speaking out against the amendment was former site owner Lawrence Ryan, who addressed members of council prior to them voting. He suggested the Official Plan as it relates to the Cooper site is missing key information and asked that the city complete a master plan process for the site before adopting the amendment.
He also shared information from a letter between lawyers involved in his ongoing litigation with the city over compensation for the site.
After the meeting, Ryan told reporters staff should have been asked to comment on his presentation and councillors given time to review the letter before voting on the amendment.
"What happened tonight was unreasonable," he said.