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CHL study helps us take stock of what’s important

The list of 10 candidates for cultural heritage landscape (CHL) consideration are simply a starting point, of course.

Compiled with the help of public input, the University of Waterloo study reflects sites in Woolwich and Wellesley that residents deem significant when pondering what makes the area what it is, what makes it unique. That some, let alone all of them, end up as designated areas is far from a foregone conclusion.

What the Heritage Resource Centre report does do, however, is put spots on the radar for consideration by planners in both townships. More study and more consultation will have to follow if such designations are contemplated.

Woolwich has gone through this process, having designated the area around the West Montrose covered bridge as a landscape worth preserving. While that location also grappled with the potential impacts of a gravel pit operation proposed for a location close to the bridge, there were concerns raised that will likely be repeated at some of the 10 sites identified in the study.

Residents will be leery of the process, worried they’ll face restrictions on what they can do with their own properties, for instance. Though the CHL process differs from the much more rigorous and restrictive cultural heritage district designation, most people aren’t familiar with the nuances of historic labels. Making the ins and outs clear to residents would be part of any designation bid.

If township councils opts to extend the limited protections of the CHL label to one or more sites, they would recognize that the landscapes’ fundamental character would be threatened by major development, much like the gravel pit debate in West Montrose.

Would a CHL designation stop residents building an addition to their homes, for instance? Or force them to undertake expensive, time-consuming studies in order to make improvements?

The short answer is ‘no.’

The goal is to find a balance between appropriate and inappropriate development. Allowing people to go about their regular business of homeownership or farming, while making sure any significant changes are vetted through a cultural heritage impact study. Ultimately, the wording will be decided by elected officials following consultation with the public.

Still, there’s an overarching argument to be made for protecting the heritage areas of the township. Not only the early settler and Mennonite historical context, but the overall rural flavour present in the townships, generally recognized in the countryside line drawn between the rural parts of the region and its cities.

Where CHLs would provide some measure of protection for significant sites from development within the townships, regional and provincial regulations aim to prevent urban sprawl from spilling over into rural areas, primarily as a protection for farmland. See, for instance, the province’s bid to extend the Greenbelt beyond the GTA and into the region.

But the record is fairly spotty, as hard divisions are fairly few … and not always as solid as they would appear, given both legal challenges by developers and the right kind of political donations.

Through policies such as urban intensification, transit schemes and punitive taxes, officials try to channel human behaviour into patterns they deem less harmful to mitigate sprawl. Measures to slow growth and to encourage more liveable cities will do more for us, but anything that reduces the flow of cash into government coffers is always dismissed.

 

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