GuelphToday received the following letter from Guelph resident Alex Smith, who expresses concerns with the recent decision to fast track the removal of the Shortreed farmhouse, 797 Victoria Street North, from the Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties (the Register) and demolish the building:
I am appalled by the conduct of Guelph City Council last week in fast tracking removal of the Shortreed farmhouse, 797 Victoria St. N., from the Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Properties (the Register) and approving the demolition of the building. The stone farmhouse was built circa 1840 and is one of the oldest still standing (as of today) in the City of Guelph.
We know very little about the circumstances that brought this issue to Council’s Sept. 27 agenda. We do not know what recommendations city staff may have offered, nor do we know what competing values council considered in reaching its decision to approve the demolition of one of the oldest buildings in the city. Virtually the entire process, except for the vote, occurred in camera.
Similarly, we know very little about the circumstances that caused the Mayor to call an emergency meeting of council on Sept. 30 to “reconsider” the resolutions passed by Council three days earlier. Before council moved in camera, councilor Caron put on the record that the issue involved a requirement in the Heritage Act and that council was “legislatively required to reopen this”. The mayor agree “that is the crux of the matter”, but said there were impacts and risks to the Corporation to be considered.
Comments made by various city official since last Thursday, including CAO Scott Stewart’s comments in GuelphToday on Oct. 1, confirm that council’s failure to consult Heritage Guelph before removing the Shortreed farmhouse from the Register, which Mr. Stewart called an “important step”, was the principal reason for the emergency meeting on Sept. 30.
In passing a resolution removing the Shortreed farmhouse from the registry, council purported to exercise a statutory authority provided in s.27 of the Heritage Act. The “important step” was council’s failure to consult the city’s municipal heritage committee (Heritage Guelph), which is a mandatory requirement in s 27(4) of the Heritage Act. That, in my submission, represents more than a mere procedural misstep. Rather it represents a fundamental failure to satisfy the requirements of the legislation and nullifies the validity of the resolution passed by council. It follows that if the resolution removing the Shortreed farmhouse from the Register is a nullity, councill’s additional resolutions, including the resolution approving the demolition of the farmhouse, are not lawful orders.
I have no way of knowing what advice council was given Sept. 30, but if council was told that the resolutions passed on Sept. 27 might be unlawful, how could any councilor reasonably fail to act to rectify their problem? It may be that council acted in good faith in passing the resolutions on Sept. 27 without complying with the legal requirements, but the failure of Council to rectify its misstep is much more troubling.
Scott Stewart asserts that the failure to consult with Heritage Guelph was not intentional. That may be, but it is clear that the city had corporate knowledge of the correct procedure. As it happened, I contacted the City’s Senior Heritage Planner on Sept. 27 with respect to another farmhouse that is suffering demolition by neglect, the Matthews farmhouse, at 895 York Rd. (old Reformatory lands). At the time, I had no idea that the matter of the Shortreed farmhouse was before council. Mr. Robinson responded to my inquiry the next day, Sept. 28, advising me that: “If a Heritage Register Review application for the building is to be taken to Council, Heritage Guelph would be asked to provide their comments and these would be included in the related staff report.”
If staff knew that a Heritage Register Review application required input from Heritage Guelph on Sept. 28, I would hazard a guess that they also knew it on Sept. 27. The inescapable conclusion is that either the city’s senior heritage planner was not asked for his advice on a heritage issue, or someone decided that council would not benefit from the advice of the Senior Heritage Planner. Either alternative suggests serious disfunction is entrenched in city hall.