Take the battle over 591 Maitland Street for example. On the one side, a homeowner's right to do as she pleases with her own house, including tear it down and start afresh. On the other hand, the community's right to protect our shared built heritage from destruction.
A lot of nonsense has been spouted by both sides in this debate. Members of the Woodfield Community Association are being portrayed as elite impractical snobs trying to force a young couple to live in a shack. Heritage conservationists, on the other hand, talk as though this cookie-cutter home built in 1884 actually has great architectural merit somewhere under its aluminum siding. It doesn't. Even Yours Truly, Roaming Heritage Reporter, hasn't trudged over to Maitland Street to snap a pic. It's not worth braving the cold November wind.
Nevertheless, there's a good reason why this building shouldn't be demolished. It's in the West Woodfield Heritage Conservation District which makes it a designated building under the Ontario Heritage Act. Of course it can still be torn down with the permission of City Council. Several buildings have been torn down in West Woodfield already. But this case is grabbing lots of media attention. Many Londoners are watching the FP with bated breath for the next thrilling installment of the War In West Woodfield.
That means this case could set a notable precedent. Once it's been established that it's acceptable to tear down a house in an HCD, developers (or their children) can tear down another. And another. And another. And next thing you know it's not an HCD anymore. Demolitions have defeated the purpose.
So let's train potential buyers to research an older home before buying it. Get them to take along a checklist that includes questions like:
- Is this house too small for my growing family?
- Are the cracks in the foundation widening as I watch?
- Will a strong wind blow it down?
- Is it in a Heritage Conservation District?
- If I volunteer to knock it down does the neighbourhood become a heritage combat zone?