Cumberland is considering a density bonus to encourage preservation of heritage sites in the community.
The bonus is a more recent addition to a report council has been considering about ways to save more historical buildings. As the staff report says, local governments could offer additional density to developers in return for heritage protection in the downtown core or other amenities such as affordable housing units.
The idea was one on a list of eight steps as part of an updated version of the report. It was first presented to council at a committee of the whole meeting in April 2020.
“This report summarizes the different heritage protection tools that local governments have,” senior planner Karin Albert told council. “There was a number of next steps included in the report to the committee of the whole.”
Albert told council the density bonus for developers could be a way not only to promote heritage preservation but promote affordable housing and that staff would present some options to council to consider. The plan is now to get feedback from the village’s heritage committee, as council passed a motion to refer the report to to its committee for comment.
Much of the report contains steps council is already considering, such as the goal of adding to the community heritage register with statements of significance, though this would require some funding.
“That’s an ongoing goal of the heritage committee,” Albert said.
Other steps include creating an online brochure of tools concerning heritage preservation, contacting owners about protecting heritage and informing them of options, recruiting professionals such as planners and architects to the heritage committee and at the same time provide training for heritage committee members to review designs by giving them more background.
‘They’re very knowledgeable people. At the same time, they would really appreciate … a better understanding of how you value architectural design,” Albert said.
A couple of other steps focus more on the long term and would be part of the official community plan review. These include adding further conservation areas and reviewing the design guidelines for heritage properties.
Coun. Vickey Brown wondered about some buildings like the Masonic Hall not being on the list. Albert responded that the criteria include immediate threats to a building. Adding to the list also poses logistical issues such as staff time. COVID-19 also presented some challenges in 2020, for example, because there was no university student working on a practicum to help the village expand the list.
“I think we’re in better shape for 2021 to get a few done,” Albert told council.
Heritage is an important part of Cumberland’s identity. Mayor Leslie Baird said the sale of the Cumberland Hotel last year stressed the importance of heritage to the community’s core but that local government had limits on power to preserve old buildings.
“Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” she said, adding that they should talk with the province to expand powers to protect sites.
As far as the ideas in the report, Coun. Gwyn Sproule said, “There seem to be a lot of tools in the toolbox for preserving heritage, and that’s reassuring.”
However, she did wonder about the potential for demolition when someone buys a building. Albert responded that local government’s ability is limited in terms of prevention, beyond moves such as bringing in a stay to review the significance of the building, but these come with time limits. Ultimately, the community could have to compensate an owner to prevent demolition if the owner does not wish to preserve a site.