During its August 9 session, Russell Township council reviewed a proposal for Heritage Conservation Designation (HCD) of the Village of Russell. The proposal included two options.
The options were to reduce the area for heritage designation or set up a heritage designation pilot project so that residents could see what the heritage conservation site (HCS) would be like. The report also recommended that council hold an information session at the Russell Arena to combat the spread of misinformation by the ‘Say No to Heritage District’ movement.
Many councilors considered the information session essential after receiving questions from residents about alleged restrictions on what they could do with their property. Some of the rumours councilors reported hearing from residents included changing building exteriors to match the heritage aesthetic, special exemptions for some property owners, and huge increases to property taxes.
Another recommendation was creating a Heritage Committee that included volunteer members from the community. The committee would provide recommendations to council on major permit applications and be involved in the process of approving minor permit applications.
Councilor Mike Tarnowski then proposed cancelling the HCD altogether. He indicated that all the village heritage features the HCD would protect were not endangered.
“The river, the bridge, Main Street, none of them are going to disappear,” Tarnowski said, “unless someone does something to make them.”
Councilor André Brisson seconded the motion, saying that the HCD regulations are too strict for homeowners. He added that people will adhere to the heritage aesthetic even without the designation, citing Russell House as an example of a property renovated without the designation.
“Look how nice it is.” Brisson said, “It still fits the aesthetic. Anyone who wants to build will try to fit the same style.”
Councilor Cindy Saucier disagreed with cancelling the HCD proposal, adding that was naïve to think developers might not demolish the heritage properties or go against the village’s heritage style. She agreed that the natural features were not in any danger but said the same might not be true for properties and the countryside.
“They’re talking about putting fences up along the river, and there are houses opposite Russell High School that are coming down for a rowhouse (development),” she said, “People have already had developers come knock on their door and ask when they’re going to sell.”
Mayor Pierre Leroux also voted against cancelling the HCD. He asked Dominique Tremblay, director of planning, building and economic development, to clarify several points.
Tremblay noted that the community does not have the tools necessary to protect the village from projects that go against the architectural and aesthetic style. Without heritage designation, she told council, any development project that meets the zoning bylaw requirements will go forward, regardless of council ruling or resident restraint.
The mayor asked if it was possible for individual property owners to apply for heritage status. Tremblay said it was but added that this would not afford to same protections to the surrounding public property as the HCD.
The matter was brought to a vote, which passed 3-2. The HCD was cancelled, though council could consider a motion in future to revive the issue.