Votes show Kitchener’s heritage policies are at risk

When the mayor and six councillors reject a move to protect and preserve historic inner-city buildings, I fret about the future health of Kitchener’s heritage policies.
That’s what happened at our final council meeting when 12 of 48 core properties were refused listing status as heritage buildings in a series of identical 7-4 votes. The status was rejected despite solid recommendations made by the city’s heritage staff and committee.
The properties were not protected because owners expressed concern the heritage listings might affect future development possibilities for their buildings. This despite repeated explanations that listing a property does little more than delay demolition by a few months.
In the council debate, I said the listing process is not the terrifying boogie man some councillors make it out to be. I also said that, based on past heritage vote patterns, a few councillors seem intent on demolishing heritage buildings, undermining heritage neighbourhoods and diluting city policies designed to protect older properties.
I was glad to see that 36 properties where owners did not object to heritage status were placed on the city’s list of carefully selected buildings in need of special care. Kitchener now have 186 properties listed on a municipal register, the first step in recognizing the cultural heritage value of 484 properties that have been evaluated in the past year.
As council’s sole representative on the heritage committee and someone who has always been committed to preservation of historic buildings, it troubles me when a majority of council members ignore provincial laws that require municipalities to list heritage buildings.
Those vote results came as an unpleasant surprise.
They were particularly distasteful because outgoing Mayor Carl Zehr along with two councillors who are mayoralty candidates in the Oct. 27 municipal election were among the seven voting against listing the 12 properties.
Which left me wondering what could happen in coming years if and when a truly historic building finds itself in the way of some inner-city development project within reach of the Light Rail Transit route.
A building similar to the one that will always illustrate Kitchener’s most atrocious example of heritage carelessness in favour of downtown development — the 1973 demolition of our old city hall that once stood proudly at King, Frederick, Duke and Scott Streets.

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