Our second Council meeting last this week was held on Tuesday, with Special Public Hearings to hear from the public on two Bylaw changes related to the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area, and our ongoing efforts to improve the policy.
Zoning Amendment (Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area: Bylaw for Incentives to be Implemented in the Short Term) Bylaw No. 8024, 2018
The City committed, when implementing a Heritage Conservation Area (HCA) to also add some incentives to provide better positive benefits for those who investing heritage conservation. Although ideally we would have done this at the same time as introducing the HCA, the statutory limits to the Heritage Protection Period and intensive community conversation and policy work that went into getting the HCA right and rolled out on time simple left us with limited resources to do the incentives work. This work has now been done, and a first phase of incentives are ready to be implemented.
We have had quite a bit of conversation about this, and I talked about some of it in my May 14 Council Report. Through these conversations, the proposed incentives were pared down to three groups: those to be implemented immediately, those that need more policy work, which should be implemented within the next year, and those that either are longer-term or more City-wide, and will take yet more work to bring about. This Zoning Amendment is to support a couple of those “immediate” incentives, those that require an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw.
In short, we will permit a slightly larger house on protected properties than is generally permitted in single family residential zones (FSR 0.7 instead of a usual 0.5), and will allow homeowners to “shift” some of this density (if they don’t want to improve their principle residence) over to a laneway of carriage house, as long as that secondary building does not exceed 958 square feet.
There is a bit of nuance in this. First off, the maximum allowable site coverage (that is the amount of a lot covered by buildings as opposed to lawn or garden) is not going to go up, so this should not result in a big change in the amount of green space. There is also some detail in how we count attic and basement space towards FSR that may be too complex for this quick summary. This incentive structure should provide the most flexibility to homeowners to maximize their living space, and add secondary rental suites.
We had a bit of correspondence on this item, about a dozen written submissions, almost all in support, and we had about a dozen people come to speak at the public hearing, again generally in favour. Some concerns were raised in regards to loss of green space (which I think will still be protected by the limit on site coverage), and some delegates are still irritated by the concept of the HCA, but I go the sense that the public understand and appreciate the incentives offered so far.
Council gave this Zoning Bylaw Amendment third reading and adoption: it is now the law of the land.
Official Community Plan Amendment (To remove Heritage Conservation Area Related Protection from Phase 1 Special Limited Category Study Properties) Bylaw No. 8025, 2018
When the HCA was put in, all residential properties in the Queens Park were put into one of three categories: Advanced (meaning they are fully protected, due to age and inferred heritage value), Limited (meaning they are not protected against demolition, as they are not old enough to constitute heritage), and Special Limited, which was somewhere in the middle, partly because their heritage value was uncertain, and partly because the nature of the residence may have created an unreasonable burden to the homeowner if they were fully protected. At the time, it was acknowledged that further analysis of these 85 “in the middle” properties would be required before eventually re-classifying them to one or the other category.
As moving properties between categories requires an Official Community Plan Amendment, staff recognized that doing these by groups will be easier than doing each individually. They created a phased screening approach to this, and the first phase is currently complete. As a result, 35 properties were recommended to be moved from Special Limited to Limited, essentially reducing the protection on the properties.
This first screening was done by the City with the help of consultants. The screening was a desktop exercise where the age and heritage value of the property was evaluated at a very basic level, as was the potential for the homeowner to achieve their zoning entitlement while still protecting the intact residence. Of the 85 Special Limited properties, 35 were found to have a combination of low heritage value and severe infringement of zoning entitlements such that removing them from protection made sense. Each of these homeowners was contacted to let them know that staff would be recommending removing their protection. They were given an opportunity to “opt in” to Advanced protection, if they wished to avail themselves of incentives (discussed above).
This leaves 50 other properties of the original 85. Four of those properties already had higher levels of protection than the HCA (they were “Designated” already), 4 were owned by people who specifically asked to have their property put into the Advanced Protection category, and 42 others that will go through a more detailed screening process as part of a Phase 2 study. This table from the Staff report explains that all:
As a complication, one of the 35 property owners being exempted requested (too late to get into this OCP Amendment Bylaw) that their protection be increased instead of reduced, so Council tacked on a motion asking staff to fast-track their individual shift from Limited to Advanced protection, after this omnibus shift of properties to Limited.
Again, we received about 20 pieces of correspondence on the OCP Amendment, almost all in favour. We also had about a dozen delegates, mostly in favour. Council moved to give this OCP Amendment Third Reading and Adoption.
The entire HCA process has been a challenge. The call of some level of protection for the Queens Park neighbourhood led to the previous Council appointing a community working group, who put together some recommendations for this Council. The temporary Heritage Protection Period that was necessary to prevent demolitions put a tight deadline on the development of an HCA, and a lot of policy work and consultation with the community resulted in a suite of measures that will bring reasonable protection to the heritage assets of Queens Park, but will still allow the neighbourhood to grow and evolve, so it can still be a vibrant neighbourhood with a variety of housing. There is more work to go yet, but I am happy with the approach we have taken. Many thanks need to go to the staff for putting this challenging program together, and to the community for continuing to be engaged in this program and providing valuable feedback that is making the policy stronger.