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Heritage study to look at covered bridge protections

Two studies have deemed the area around the West Montrose covered bridge to be historically significant. Now a third will decide if the environment is to be designated a cultural heritage landscape.

If this week’s council meeting is any indication, the process will be more turbulent than the water flowing under the landmark structure.

In a split vote Tuesday night, council opted to launch the formal study and public consultations needed under the Planning and Heritage acts to consider protecting the area surrounding the bridge. The township will also draft an interim control bylaw to prevent any development while the year-long process is underway. That would likely put on hold the Capital Paving application for a gravel pit near the bridge.

The bylaw is expected to be discussed by council Feb. 9.

While the prospect of a cultural heritage landscape (CHL) designation has been under discussion since a Region of Waterloo study in 2006, the application for a gravel pit license has brought the process to a head. For director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley, the question of whether or not the area gets the CHL label must be answered before the aggregate operation can be properly assessed.

“[Under] the circumstances that confront us in West Montrose, I believe that it is a must – it flows from the provincial policy statements indicating that significant cultural heritage landscapes should be conserved,” he said of the need for a study.

Not all councillors were in agreement, however. Mayor Bill Strauss and Coun. Ruby Weber opposed going down the CHL road, seeing it as another delay in the township’s review of the gravel pit.

Strauss added that public input he’s received so far indicates most of the residents are opposed to the restrictions they see coming with a heritage designation.

But Coun. Mark Bauman argued the matter needs to be resolved formally, not just dismissed out of hand.

“We need to look at this … either go down that road or put the issue to rest, one way or the other. We need some answers.”

Both Kennaley and chief administrative officer David Brenneman indicated failing to deal with the CHL issue could complicate the gravel pit issue, either at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing or in court should legal action be instigated by any of the interested parties.

Given the push for quick action from Capital Paving – the company’s lawyer attended the meeting, calling for a deferral on the CHL study – and the divide in public opinion, a legal challenge remains a strong possibility.

The division among West Montrose residents was evident in the presentations to council Tuesday night.

Nathan Hallman, a member of the West Montrose residents’ association known as the Bridge Keepers, pressed for the CHL designation, noting the region has already lost a number of historic buildings and sites over the years.

Meanwhile, longtime resident Les Bauman challenged the need for any heritage designation, saying there are enough measures in place to protect the bridge and its surroundings.

“Why would we want another level of controls and restrictions imposed on our homes and properties?”

He and other residents chafed at the idea of a municipal body having a say over any changes – additions, remodeling and the like – they may want to make to their homes.

Just what restrictions might apply in the event of a CHL designation, however, remains an unknown factor.

Kennaley said the extent of heritage protection, if any, would be determined through the process, with the wording ultimately decided by council.

Confusion about the subject appears to be the order of the day, added Bauman, calling for extensive public consultation and dialogue.

“If I was a resident of that area, I would want to know specifically what restrictions – be they from an interim control bylaw or a cultural heritage designation – that will have on my property.”

His comments were echoed by Coun. Sandy Shantz, who stressed the CHL process predates the Capital Paving application and needs to be resolved before a decision on the gravel pit.

“There’s a lot of black and white out there, but really there a lot of shades of gray, and I think that’s we have to define, and that’s what this study will do.”

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