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Frustrations on heritage voiced

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Both councillors and advocates of protecting Oshawa’s heritage are calling for better collaboration.

At the latest development services committee meeting, the agenda included locations recommended for designation by Heritage Oshawa, the city’s heritage advisory committee.

One of those properties is 1090 Townline Road North.

The owners of the property sent a strongly-worded letter to the city stating their opposition to the proposed designation.

“We opposed these actions in 2003, and we continue to oppose any actions by Heritage Oshawa or the City of Oshawa that affect the ownership and enjoyment of our property,” the owners of the property wrote.

The property owners noted they had not been contacted about the designation and were given notice at the “eleventh hour.”

They argue the home and property does not belong to “Oshawa’s citizens” but to their family.

“We have no interest in allowing Heritage Oshawa to dictate the use and maintenance of our home and property. It is doubtful that any citizen would,” the letter reads.

This didn’t sit well with Ward 3 city and regional councillor Bob Chapman.

“You went ahead with this meeting and didn’t notify these people you were talking about their property,” Chapman commented to Jane Clark, a Heritage Oshawa committee member.

Clark, who was delegating as a resident and not on behalf of the committee, said there is no requirement for them to notify property owners about designation.

However, Clark said that will soon change under Ontario’s Bill 108. In her view, it is needed.

“I agree with you, we should be speaking with these people,” she said.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey said the property owners had called her and were very upset.

She suggested Heritage Oshawa should apologize.

“I think the word ‘harassment’ came up in the conversation, unfortunately. They were upset,” McConkey said. “I think it would be good to mend some fences on this, and learn from what happened.”

Clark again stressed the committee is not obligated to contact owners of properties pegged for designation.

She explained committee members are not allowed to speak with property owners personally, as this could be considered as advocacy.

To her, there is a great deal of misconception about what exactly a heritage designation means. Clark said most developers have “zero interest” in heritage designations, and are allowed to share this view with owners of historical properties.

She adds simply sending a standard letter to residents won’t help to address any misinformation she claims is out there.

“My goal is to try to educate the property owners before they get hit with something like that…. it does not help us with the developers who are just razing our heritage,” Clark notes.

But Ward 5 city councillor John Gray said he would be “damn pissed” if he learned his property was being designated “at the last minute.”

Gray suggested Heritage Oshawa has been “a bit heavy-handed” in trying to educate the public.

“If you can take a softer, kinder, gentler approach to educating the public, maybe you can have more results, because I know you’ve been frustrated in the past,” he said.

Clark said she believes hammering the public over the head with education isn’t the answer, but education is key to clearing up what a heritage designation means.

“It’s not scary, and it is good for everybody. And I’m talking to everyone at this table, because I know there are misconceptions in your minds too.”

Heritage Oshawa also proposed designation for the former Harmony Public School at 149 Harmony Road South.

The owner of the property does not support designation, stating it would limit future development.

The development services committee voted unanimously to add the former school location to the city’s registry of non-designated list properties of cultural and heritage value.

Marg Wilkinson, a former member of Heritage Oshawa, was unhappy the report regarding the designation was only released last week.

Wilkinson says she’s been closely involved with efforts to have the property designated, and it left her little time to prepare for the committee meeting.

“I don’t think it’s fair for volunteers and citizens to have to rush to action for a very thick report not knowing it was coming,“ Wilkinson said. “It’s very disappointing there is such short notice. It’s not just for this report, but many reports. I’d really like to see that changed somehow.”

Clark said Heritage Oshawa members are frustrated as they often feel their efforts are “ignored.”

“What are we doing wrong?” she asked rhetorically.

Director of development services Warren Munro agreed communication between the city, Heritage Oshawa and the community could be improved.

“When everyone is all aligned, it’s a very smooth and seamless process,” he said.

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