Citizens’ committee makes huge progress on heritage; culture next

Video: Interview with Brian Klodt, downtown heritage owner, restoring his heritage home; and the support he has received through the Burlington Heritage Committee.

At the beginning of this term of council, the relationship between the city and owners of heritage properties was in tatters. Downtown residents had just gone through a bruising debate over a proposed Heritage Conservation District in the St. Luke’s neighbourhood West of Brant. Property owners felt the city was taking a heavy-handed approach; residents were concerned about losing more heritage buildings. We’ve come a long way – largely due to the efforts of our residents.

Hits & The Road Ahead: Early in the term, council agreed to my motion not to demolish the Freeman Station, but allow the community to save it. Myself and Councillor Lancaster helped set up the Friends of Freeman Station, now an incorporated, registered charity with a volunteer board of citizens that has found a new home for the station and is well on the way to restoring this historic gem.

Village SquareCouncil agreed to commission a special study of Village Square, to determine the heritage value of three properties in the Square, and a second study to determine the overall historic value of the Square in a rapidly modernizing downtown. I’ve met with the owners to advocate keeping this unique part of downtown, and have offered my help, working with the Burlington Downtown Business Association and the Burlington Economic Development Corporation, to lease up the space. The property is now off the market, to focus on restoring it to a vibrant Village. The work is ongoing.

freeman stationAs council representative on the Heritage Burlington committee, I’ve had the privilege to work with a diverse group of residents on a “carrot-not-stick” approach to heritage preservation. These residents have put in hundreds of hours to develop A New Approach to Heritage, which calls for working with property owners through incentives, rather than imposed legislation. The New Approach, approved in principle by council, calls for a property tax rebate for designated homes, setting up a trust to provide grants and loans for historic (but not designated) homes, and a website devoted to “telling Burlington stories,” among other initiatives.

This committee is a model for how the city can access the time and expertise of residents to deliver results neither could accomplish alone. I’m hoping the Heritage Committee becomes a template for other city committees, including one on Culture.

The city has recently completed a Cultural Action Plan, to connect and promote cultural groups and activities in the city. Council increased our cultural staff from half-time to full time.  I will continue to advocate that we establish a citizen’s committee on culture (in place of adding a full-time staff member, as requested in the 2014 budget). A citizen’s committee on culture has the potential to do for culture what Heritage Burlington has done for heritage. I also support grants or other programs that will allow cultural groups to use the Burlington Performing Arts Centre, rather than pouring more money into the centre which is still cost-prohibitive for some local groups.