Old Stone House

Heritage Status Explained

October 1, 2007

Filed under: Day to Day @ 9:43 am

Having spent 9 months taking a much needed break from renovating, we have embarked on another frustrating repair – completely upgrading the exterior of the rear of the house. (More to come on this hell in the following months) In mentioning this to my neighbour, he asked if the heritage board was going to let us make the changes we wanted, and proceeded to demonise the heritage board, pointing out their faults etc. In response to this, I’m going to clarify just what having a historical designation means.

Our home was designated as a historical landmark by our city counsel this past February. In awarding the historical status, they accepted the three major qualifying characteristics forwarded to them from the heritage planner, and as approved by the heritage committee. Our house achieved designation as a) its stone construction is indicative of the late 1800’s and is a building technique used not longer used present day, b) the construction includes architectural features known as Welsh arches (exclusive to our region), and finally, c) the house beautifies the surrounding area and contributes to its history.

The historical designation applies only to the designated exterior faces of the building. The rear of the house has several modern additions and therefore does not qualify for the historical designation. In practice, if we wish to make changes to the designated faces of the house, we should contact the heritage board for approval. We do not need approval for minor cosmetic changes such as paint or basic structural repairs; we do need aproval for the repair/replacement of windows, doors, trim etc. As well, the designated areas of the house cannot have additions made to them – front decks, attached garages, awnings, etc. In essence, what is old must stay as original as possible. In all cases, the heritage board will allow you to back-date a designated area if your renovations are in keeping with the original design of the home – such as removing a new steel exterior door and replacing it with an old wood door. I short; you can keep the old old, and make the new old again.

In all cases where you make efforts to restore original architectural elements, or back-date modern additions, you are eligible to apply for heritage funded subsidy which will cover 50% of all costs up to $5,000. You apply in advance of construction for this subsidy, and it is awarded before construction begins. An added benefit of this is that you can work closely with the board to make appropriate architectural choices, and the board will typically help research the archives for applicable information.

In review of these points, we enthusiastically sought out designation and are pleased that we have been awarded historical status. Despite this, the majority of people feel that it was a bad choice. Real-estate agents, renovators and neighbours all cast disparaging remarks when we mention the historical designation. When we ask why they view the designation so negatively, they flatly reply “because you can’t change anything”.

So it would seem that there is a gross misunderstanding of how our local heritage laws work – and I for one am pleased! The heritage planner told me that it was exciting to have a resident apply for designation as so few pursue it (obviously because of the aforementioned opinion), and that the heritage board always struggled at the end of each year to award enough grant money and exhaust the budget. Thus, until such time those other home owners clue in to the fact that there is a great monetary and information resource available to them, we will annually apply for grants and upgrade the house at 50% of the cost.

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