Kingston agonizes over development in old Pittsburgh township.
The City of Kingston has given approval for a new assisted housing development which will be constructed on an old pasture bordering on the historic village of Barriefield.
The site is poorly served by public transport and is located far from major amenities. Significant economic incentives in the form of a bargain land deal and promised government grants seem to have persuaded Kingston Council. Many Barriefield residents opposed the plan. Unfortunately, this has prompted insults from the usual morons who seem to lie in wait to drag any sensible debate into the gutter. It has been insinuated that Barriefield defenders are secret snobs with a grudge against anybody living on social assistance.
The real problem is that there is weak provision in Ontario at present to encourage preservation of early architecture and heritage districts. Municipal heritage committees have little power, and it is mostly left to enthusiastic private citizens to purchase, restore and preserve built heritage. Municipal grants are few, small, and often come with strings attached. Maintaining heritage properties is expensive.
The community gains significantly from the investment of sympathetic owners of heritage properties. In addition to providing landmarks which enhance our recognition of neighbourhoods and encourage a feeling of respect and belonging, built heritage contributes to the uniqueness of municipalities. History and heritage enter corporate decisions when it comes to establishing new offices, but more important, history and heritage are significant generators of tourism income.
Cities like Toronto, which have the misfortune to look like any city in North America, are forced to continually generate and maintain events to convince visitors to spend time there. Cities with significant amounts of built heritage have the luxury of using events as enhancements, as (assuming that the heritage assets are known) visitors will come anyway.
In the case of Barriefield, we are asking property owners to preserve a rare asset — a village of the 1830’s with streetscapes little changed from Upper Canadian days.
In theory, assisted housing should not be a threat to Barriefield village, but Barriefield residents are to be forgiven if they worry that something might effect ultimate property values, leaving them without resources to recover their investment. It is unfortunate that the silly accusations of snobbery could not be tossed out to permit a rational discussion of this concern.
September 8th: Kingston City Council turned down the Barriefield Village Assisted Housing project (by one vote). Council was persuaded by a Staff report which showed that millions of dollars of investment in infrastructure would be required before the site would be ready for the project. (Duh!) I was very pleased by this decision, but I was even more happy to hear that Council has directed staff to look at alternative sites closer to central services. Kingston needs more assisted (and senior assisted) housing. (JB)