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Despite numerous impassioned pleas to spare Stratford’s first public hospital from the wrecking ball – and a methodical rebuttal of many of those arguments by Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance officials – Stratford councillors have asked staff to seek legal advice before deciding whether they will – or even can – grant heritage status to Avon Crest.
Stratford’s previous council had opted to file a motion from the Heritage Stratford advisory committee last year to designate the 1891-built Avon Crest hospital under the Ontario Heritage Act – effectively deciding not to designate, but Coun. Cody Sebben brought that same motion back at Monday’s city meeting to give the new slate of councillors an opportunity to consider the recommendation before the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance’s planned demolition of the main Avon Crest building later this year.
While those who gathered on both sides of the public debate were eager for a clear decision about the requested heritage designation, which, if granted, would have paused the demolition to give city and the hospital group officials time to consider other adaptive reuse options for the building, Coun. Brad Beatty instead introduced a motion to have staff seek a legal opinion on how new Heritage Act provisions might impact council’s ability to actually designate the property at this point in the process.
“I appreciate all the comments from the delegations we had here today, and I think what’s important here, though, is a question that we need to ask ourselves,” Beatty said. “So perhaps I’m looking to make a referral motion (to) direct staff … to seek legal advice on the amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act as a result of Bill 23 and whether the city can issue a notice of intent to designate the property.”
According to changes made to the Ontario Heritage Act in Bill 23, Ontario’s More Homes Built Faster Act, a municipality may only issue a notice of intent to designate a particular property if it is already listed in a registry of non-designated properties that a municipal council believes to have cultural heritage value or interest on the date of a prescribed event. While the term, “prescribed event,” will be defined by regulation, McMillan LLP, an international business law firm that serves public, private and not-for-profit clients across Canada and around the world, said in an article on Bill 23 posted to its website last November the term likely refers to the submission of development applications, such as official plan, zoning and minor variance amendments.
While the future of Avon Crest is still up in the air, the passion around this issue was on full display Monday as members of Save Avon Crest and other local heritage and environmental advocates begged council for the designation they believed would at very least slow down or pause demolition to provide a chance to investigate all the options.
Even yesterday’s announcement by the healthcare alliance that it was looking to partner with Revera Living Canada to build a brand new 128-bed nursing home on the Avon Crest property once the building was demolished, replacing Revera’s aging Hillside Manor nursing home in Perth East, didn’t deter local advocates from their mission.
“It is frustrating that (the healthcare alliance) strategically announced a new development with no details hours before the meeting,” architectural historian and Save Avon Crest member Howard Shubert told the Beacon Herald Tuesday after being one of nine people to speak against Avon Crest’s demolition at Monday’s meeting. “Perhaps without that Hail Mary, council would have voted to designate without hesitation, but I interpret their wish to investigate further as a positive sign that they understand the seriousness of the consequences (of) demolition.”
While Shubert is concerned the recent changes to the Ontario Heritage Act introduced in Bill 23 might impede any attempt by the city to designate the property, he said he remains hopeful.
Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance CEO Andrew Williams, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting as the 10th delegation on the Avon Crest debate, said he fully understands and respects that council and city staff must do their due diligence before settling this particular heritage question once and for all.
“I think it’s the right thing for them to do to make sure, legally, they’re fully aware of where things stand, particularly with some of this new legislation that’s come out, which is new to all of us,” Williams said. “It was the absolute right decision from their perspective and we appreciated the opportunity to, again, come before council and reinforce why we feel the course of action, the path that we’re on is the right one for this community. We have acknowledged all along the importance of heritage and this specific decision should not take away from that because it’s a much bigger issue than one building.
“We’re ultimately going to continue down the road that we’re on. It was an exciting announcement yesterday for us. It relates to further strengthening long-term care access in the region, which is a huge issue for all of us and we’re excited to be part of that solution.”