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Heritage designation fails to sway council

Dilapidated house on Thornton Road North sparks debate pitting landowner rights versus cultural value

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A dilapidated home on Thornton Road recently led to a debate in council chambers pitting the rights of landowners versus the value of heritage.

The house in question sits at 344 Thornton Road North, in between Adelaide Avenue West and Rossland Road West.

The current owners, one of whose family has had the house for more than 150 years, are looking to sell the property.

A potential buyer hopes to demolish the home and create a new development on the lot.

However, Heritage Oshawa, an advisory committee to council, recommended the property be designated as having cultural heritage significance under the Ontario Heritage Act.

At its May 21 meeting, council heard both sides of the argument and eventually turned down Heritage Oshawa’s recommendation by a vote of seven to four.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey, Ward 1 regional councillor John Neal, Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst, and Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson were in favour.

Emilio Zingone spoke on behalf of the owners at the meeting.

He said despite the history of the house, the owners do not feel any “sentiment” towards it, and furthermore, they cannot afford to fix it.

Designating it would severely affect their owners’ ability to sell the property, Zingone said.

“Why should the City of Oshawa cause such hardship on residents [from a family] who have been here for 150 years,” he asked. “They are taxpayers of the public and private owners of land. And when you start going against private ownership you are going on a slippery slope against what our country was built on.”

Zingone suggested if there is indeed heritage value to the home itself, the city could purchase it and do what they want with the building.

Noting the property had been on the registry of properties pegged for possible designation since 2001, Zingone wondered why the decision was being made now.

“It’s only come to light when somebody decided to sell it. You’ve had 18 years to follow up,” he said.

George Lysyk is the potential buyer of the property. He is proposing to demolish the house, and place four new single-detached homes with a reduced lot area, lot frontage, and front yard depth.

Lysyk clashed with McConkey, who had posted about the issue on her Facebook page, questioning why there hadn’t been public consultation.

“I wish people, especially on council, would know the process. At a minimum, you should know how the development process works,” Lysyk said, specifically telling McConkey “you don’t understand the process of how things work at city hall.”

Mayor Dan Carter eventually stepped in and asked: “everyone to take a step back.”

Hurst, council’s representative on Heritage Oshawa, said the entire episode had touched a nerve with her.

“It’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth how quickly the process has come together,” she said.

While she believes Lysyk approached the issue “very respectfully,” to her, it had spun out of control.

She said the building is one of few the city has left standing from the era, and Oshawa hasn’t historically “done a very good job” of protecting its heritage.

“I’m asking for some respect for heritage and some respect for process,” Hurst stated.

Giberson said he had received numerous calls from residents who are worried about the building being torn down.

He did concede it was unfortunate the house has been on the registry for 18 years and “nothing happened.”

However, he stated while private ownership is a factor to be considered, it doesn’t afford landowners “carte blanche to do whatever you want.”

Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson said the entire conversation had been “all wrong,” and the only issue was whether Heritage Oshawa had made a sufficient argument to support designation.

“Everything else is irrelevant,” he said.