Monday, August 10, 2009

Heritage Conservation Districts Work !

August 10, 2009
Heritage Conservation Districts Work!
Waterloo, Ontario
A year long study that examined over 30 of Ontario’s 90 plus Heritage Conservation Districts concludes that as a planning tool to manage change in our most historic neighbourhoods, they work.

Conservation Districts are created by municipalities under the Ontario Heritage Act as a way to direct development in ways that saves the best qualities of the Province’s character areas while allowing for appropriate growth and change. The 32 Districts that have been in existence since before 1992 were included in the study because it takes a number of years for the results of District designation to become evident.

Funded by a grant from the Trillium Foundation the project was a joint effort by the Architectural Conservation of Ontario, Community Heritage Ontario and a number of local historical societies in places such as Ottawa and Huron County. The research was coordinated with the assistance of the Heritage Resources Centre at the University of Waterloo.

“I've always preferred to get my facts straight from the horse's mouth,” wrote Globe & Mail columnist Dave LeBlanc on July 18th, “especially in areas involving doubt or controversy, such as the idea that (shocker alert) Heritage Conservation Districts can actually be good for neighbourhoods, owner morale and real estate values.” LeBlanc went on to say, “I'm happy to have in my hands a recently released report titled Heritage Districts Work… Admittedly, the report is a bunch of statistical data. But it's based on a straightforward questionnaire delivered to property owners in 32 HCDs…”

In spite of being seen by many planners as the preferred way to manage character areas in both urban and rural areas HCDs are still opposed by some people. The study set out to answer their concerns. Are HCDs overly restrictive and bureaucratic? Apparently not since most applications for alterations were allowed and the process usually took less than a month to complete. Are people happy with living and owning properties in Districts? It seems that most are. Of the 681 people interviewed, 318 were very satisfied and 193 were satisfied. That’s a 75% approval rating. Only 9 individuals were very dissatisfied.

One of the big perennial questions about heritage Conservation Districts is property values. The study used GeoWarehouse software which records all real estate transactions. Comparing 2,500 properties within the subject HCDs to their surrounding neighbourhoods a number of interesting fact emerged. For one thing only 481 properties had more than two sales. Of those 190 had sales histories that were above the average trend while 175 had histories that matched the average. Only 94 were below average. That means that 75% of properties with HCDs perform at or above the average of the market. Many of the properties with districts also resisted downturns in the ambient market, rising in value when the average sale price was falling.

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