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Toronto Star: Severance or Weston HCD?
Alex Mckeen | November 18, 2017

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A Weston homeowner wants to split his large lot and build two houses. Many of his neighbours want to stop him

From Issue No. 263 | November 20, 2017

A development proposal to knock down an old house and put up two new ones is part of a larger conflict between heritage and intensification.

Dave Bennett and Cherri Hurst are part of a group trying to broaden the boundaries of a Weston heritage conservation district, which places additional restrictions on what can be built or demolished within the district boundaries

Alino Lopes thought the lot he bought in Weston could be a place for him and his daughter to live side by side.

Instead, they're finding the aging house they're hoping to tear down and replace with two new ones is becoming the centre of a conflict between those who want to preserve the neighbourhood's eclectic character, and provincial plans that favour intensification.

Im not doing anything modern, square. Im doing the old fashioned style, Lopes told the Star. Ive talked to my neighbours, Ive explained what Im doing and the architect says it seems very good. The lot he wants to sever is 16.15 metres wide, or 53 feet.

The application hasnt yet been considered by the committee of adjustment  the group of residents appointed by city council to assess applications for building projects that diverge from what is allowed in city bylaws.

Even so, the proposal has garnered the attention of the Weston Historical Society, the group of residents who have spent more than a decade fighting to make the area a heritage conservation district.

The concern is the city really seems to be bent on intensification, said Cherri Hurst, president of the Weston Historical Society & Conservation District. Im trying to find out if thats going to trump conservation districts.

The whole idea (of a conservation district) is not to stifle people or anything, she said, but to make sure that the development happening in the neighbourhood is consistent with Westons character.

Hurst was one of the original proponents of a Weston conservation district in 2004, an idea that neighbours formed in response to a development proposal on Fern Ave. that Hurst called destructive.

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A small section on the west side of the neighbourhood was declared a heritage conservation district by the city two years later, placing additional restrictions on what can be built or demolished within the district boundaries.

Now the group is trying to broaden the boundaries to include what they call phase two, an area that includes Lopess property on John St.

Were asking for developers and people not just to look at the surface of things, to realize that just because a house has a bad roof or looks bad doesn't mean its not savable, Hurst said.

There are 24 heritage conservation districts in the city of Toronto, and 37 nominated areas. Of the 37, 11 have been authorized for planning by city council, and 13 are under study.

Westons phase two is one of the 17 nominated areas that has been nominated but isnt under study.

The purpose of a district is to ensure that the significance and character of areas with cultural heritage value are protected and conserved in the long term, the citys website says. To do this the districts come up with plans that must be taken into account by the city when development proposals come in.

Heritage conservation districts are often a really good mechanism for addressing development in residential neighbourhoods, said Michael McClelland, the founding principal of ERA Architects, who specializes in heritage planning.

If theyre done poorly or if the objectives arent clear its very possible they can be used by the (not-in-my-backyard) community or by the citys own policy people to discourage development, McClelland said.

The key, he said, is to make sure that a district implements restrictions on development only in furtherance of heritage aims, and leaves room for intensification strategies and community renewal.

Hurst believes heritage designation can also be a way to increase property values and improve community safety.

Amber Stewart, the lawyer who submitted Lopess application to the committee of adjustment, said she wasnt surprised to learn that some residents had reservations about the proposal.

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