Sunday, February 26, 2006

Heritage tyranny

According to the London Free Press, the city will soon give formal notice that it intends to designate the Locust Mount property as a heritage property. This designation, under recent amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act by the Liberal government, would allow the city to:

  • prohibit demolition of Locust Mount until the owner has obtained an unlikely permit for a replacement building, issued at the discretion of the same city that issued a moratorium in the first place;
  • increase the maximum fine from $250,000 to $1 million for illegally demolishing the property;
  • allow the city to recover the costs of restoring the property if illegally altered; and,
  • enforce property standards to end so-called demolition by neglect.
The Free Press reports that the city does not immediately intend to forward a bylaw to the effect of designating the property as it still hopes to maintain the fiction of governing with consent by obtaining the approval of the site's owner, Drewlo Holdings. Drewlo had previously applied for permission to demolish the structure at 661 Talbot St. to make way for new developments. City staff had recommended that the city designate the property without the owner's consent, but council is holding out the bribe of offering Drewlo Holdings consideration for bonus zoning or extra density for the rest of the property.

Heritage bylaws are simply nothing other than the appropriation by the municipal government of others' property rights without having to go to the trouble of actually acquiring the property. They are poorly rationalized by an apparent heritage "value" that can neither be measured nor well described, but that is certainly not an attribute that is held in common.

The 147-year-old home of former mayor Elijah Leonard has been unheated since a fire gutted the building in 2000, and holes in the roof and open windows allow the weather and animals inside. Prior to the city's interest in the site's heritage, Locust Mount had attracted no attention to the majority of Londoners who had not even heard of it. A google image search of "locus mount" results in precisely one picture of the building, burning to the right. How does such a decrepit and unheard of property become the focus of the city's attention to the exercise of its authority? Because it can…
"If the developer can't make a return on investment with it, we shouldn't be forcing him to preserve it," [Coun. Roger] Caranci said. "I say let those who want it preserved step forward and pay for it. I love the building, but it's just too far gone."
Unlike force advocates like Couns. Joni Baechler and Judy Bryant, Caranci at least has it almost right, except that he omits to consider that the developer's return on investment or the condition of the building shouldn't be of concern to the city at all. Property taxes have, however, made it inevitable that investments are the city's concern as their revenue depends on the rate applied to the assessed values of properties — this piggy-backing of state interest on individual interests has led to many other violations or manipulations of property rights, no less egregious or arbitrary than heritage bylaws. Whether heritage bylaws are any worse than eminent domain abuses, or whether or not council avails itself of its power to force Drewlo Holdings into maintaining Locust Mount, are less worrisome questions than the fact that the city has such control over private property and private interests in the first place. Zoning bylaws, smoking bylaws, pesticide bylaws and numerous other arbitrary powers have turned local governments into "battlegrounds where ideology and politics are the only basis for decision-making" [Terence Corcoran].

1 Comment:

Jeremy Greenway said...

Thank you for the attention you gave to Locust Mount on February 26th of this year. I am trying to make Londoners aware of its value and importance...it amazes me to no end that such a conservative city populus would turn such a blind eye to the heritage problem. You say "heritage" in this city and you get a response of "Oh, yes. I visited Eldon House once."

Feel free to read my editorial on Locust Mount and the "heritage headache" at http://www.jeremygreenway.com/locustmount2.html

Spread the word if you feel so inclined.

Fondest regards,

Jeremy Greenway