Tag Archives: heritage toronto
By Kathy Flaxman – Globe and Mail
On Sumach Street in the picturesque Cabbagetown enclave of Don Vale, the home of Rollo Myers and Linda Schultz is a feast for the eyes, with its lavish gingerbread trim and carefully preserved brickwork.
The house is among Toronto’s enviable stock of heritage properties, some of them officially designated as such and others simply listed as architecturally or historically significant. It is estimated that there are more than 8,000 structures in the two categories, including private homes, commercial buildings and landmarks such as Old City Hall.
Searching out these properties and going through the heritage-designation process is highly rewarding for some. Mr. Myers, for instance, has done it several times, and his experiences eventually prompted him to take a permanent job in the building preservation field. But for anyone who gains heritage status for their home, there are serious restrictions on what you can do to them. And a designation or listing may reduce the pool of potential buyers when it comes time to sell.
If a property is designated, it has a legal status that is part of the title. Simply listing a house does not carry quite the same legal implications. In both cases, however, should the owner wish to make alterations, the building permit application will be flagged and then reviewed by the city’s preservation staff. Renovations or changes must be appropriate to a property’s character, and demolitions are almost never allowed.
Catherine Nasmith, president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, is a lawyer who specializes in heritage properties. She takes on a number of unpaid and time-consuming roles to ensure that the city’s heritage buildings do not wind up as a pile of rubble in a landfill.
“A city can’t be treated as disposable,” Ms. Nasmith stresses. “There seems to be a notion that we have the right to demolish. But buildings should not be treated as garbage. People should keep in mind that a 20-foot [wide] building two or three stories high in a landfill is the equivalent of three million pop cans!”
The process of getting a house designated is initiated by the owner, or perhaps a member of the historical society or the city’s preservation staff. Grant money is often available for renovations once a home is given that status, a strong motivating factor for many owners to start the designation process. Although there is no money in Toronto’s coffers for these grants at the moment, new money will be available in 2008. (Houses that are only listed as architecturally significant are not eligible for grants.)
Mr. Myers’s experiences as an owner of historically important properties seem to indicate the process can be addictive. When he bought a house on Amelia Street in the 1960s, had it designated as a heritage property and then renovated it, he became fascinated with its architecture and design details. Other homes followed, culminating in he and his wife’s current showpiece.
His interest led him to take a job with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, where he is currently manager of its central office.
“I didn’t purposely set out to restore heritage homes,” he says. “I just had an amazing old house to work on. I then bought another home â€” a bigger, massive project. I saw what others were doing and I got advice on historical buildings.
“Old buildings can look dirty and unappealing, but once you begin to take away the grime and restore some of the beautiful features, the value of the work becomes clear. I did a lot of the work on my properties myself and I didn’t restore things to museum-like state, but I enjoyed delighting myself and my neighbours. I just wanted to do a nice job.”
While many agree that a heritage designation or listing make a property more valuable, some say these homes may be harder to sell.
“Being historically designated adds value to a property,” Marlene Auspitz of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd. says.
“People, at least in downtown Toronto where my partner Shantoo Patel and I work, are proud of a heritage designation,” Ms. Auspitz says. “It contributes to the betterment of a neighbourhood as well, especially if there are a number of surrounding houses with a historical label. More care is taken in restorations, and owners do not fear that someone will renovate or build a monstrosity.”
Ms. Nasmith concurs: “Heritage designation increases property values, stabilizes communities and ensures people make only positive changes.”
Not everyone totally agrees. Karen Davis, an agent with Sutton Group-Bayview Realty Inc., says: “Historical designation can detract from the value of a property as there are usually many restrictions on what you can do to renovate the property. You must be willing to get preapproval from the governing body for your home-improvement plans. Usually the best buyer for these homes is someone who wants to keep the original character intact. It does limit the number of appropriate buyers.”
But for people such as Mr. Myers, protecting heritage properties is a labour of love, and in his case, a calling. These days, he is not only championing Cabbagetown homes, but Old Fort York and Toronto’s Old Town (home of the first parliament buildings), to name just two of his causes.
And he’s passed this love on to his daughter, Amelia, who with her husband, Matt Cheval, is renovating an 1894 cottage blocks away from the Cathedral Church of St. James on Morse Street.
“This property was once a boys’ shelter,” Mr. Cheval notes. “Because I have a design/build business, we can take on a project like this.
“Both Amelia and I grew up in places that were old, needed fixing up and had a character you won’t find in any suburban new home.”Mr. Patel adds: “It is my feeling that heritage- or historical-designated properties act like a lamp post shedding light to many, and reminding us of what the pioneers and the people who came after the pioneers had gone through, whether hardships or opulence. These designations create a good base of appreciation and pride.”
The internet is an excellent place to investigate what’s involved in buying, owning or ogling a heritage property. Some good websites include:
www.toronto.ca/heritage-preservation (city of Toronto heritage preservation services)
www.culture.gov.on.ca/ (Ontario Ministry of Culture)
www.cabbagetownpa.ca (Cabbagetown Preservation Association)
www.arconserv.ca/preservation_works (The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario)
www.builtheritagenews.ca (Built Heritage News, published by Catherine Nasmith Architect)