Russell Township held its final public meeting on the proposed heritage district last Tuesday. If approved, the district would cover the “old village” core of Russell, and would include both residential and commercial areas on both sides of the Castor River. According to a proposal document, the district’s creation would help with “protecting key views, streetscapes and first impressions when entering this part of the village”.
Township staff and consultants fielded questions from both residents and business owners inside the proposed zone on a range of topics, including the possibility of rate rises, extra permit fees, and how much freedom an individual property owner would have to renovate under the plan.
While responding to questions about potential tax increases, MTBA principal Mark Brandt, who helped prepare the report, said there were no plans to deliberately raise rates for properties inside the heritage conservation district. But he said property values, and subsequently taxes on the buildings, could rise if the heritage designation was seen to add value to the area in the real estate market.
Brandt said development pressures from neighbouring Ottawa meant a heritage district would protect some of the village values and guide planning decisions. He said the district was a “management tool” rather than a way of preventing growth and changes to individual properties.
“You could allow the development pressures to happen, and not do things like heritage conservation districts, and let your community get overrun and become very plain and be one of those places you could find anywhere with no unique character,” Brandt said. “We want to encourage organic evolution of the village, much like it’s happened traditionally over well over 100 years, but at the same time, do it in a way that protects the value.”
Resident also asked whether there would be additional fees for heritage permits or applications. Planning and Building and Economic Development director Dominique Tremblay said the decision would be made by the council, but other municipalities in Eastern Ontario with heritage conservation districts either did not charge or had a small fees.
“It’s something we’ll have to evaluate, the amount of time we’re spending on reviewing,” she said. “Usually when we have fees that are implemented, we compare ourselves with other municipalities that have an HCD, and if they have no fee or a minimal fee, I’m comfortable with that as well.”
Residents living inside the district, if approved, were encouraged to speak to council staff before undertaking major projects or submitting a permit, in order to determine whether any further information was required. The completed report on the heritage district is expected to be presented to the township’s council and voted on during one of its regular meetings this month.