New proposal presented for Centre Wellington heritage building

ELORA – A heritage building in Elora could be given new life.

There are big plans underfoot for the former Baptist church, circa 1863, at 33 Henderson Street in Elora.

In a public meeting on May 29, senior planner Mariana Iglesias explained that property owners, Sam and Anna Brough, are requesting that the zoning be changed from R1 residential to C3 neighbourhood commercial.

“The owners propose to restore the existing protected heritage building, which is currently in serious need of stabilization and repair as it has been vacant for several years,” Iglesias said.

Further, the Broughs would like to provide limited commercial uses in the former church as well as in a second building on the property. They also propose an accessory apartment on the second floor of the second building. This second building would help bring in revenue to pay for the restoration. However, apartments are not permitted in accessory buildings on residential lots and the work is not minor, so a minor variance would not suffice.

“Staff has been meeting with the owners and applicants for some time to reach an acceptable proposal for the property that would meet the intention of the official plan policies concerning heritage conservation and neighbourhood compatibility,” Iglesias said.

The plan is to restore the church building, which was designated under part four of the Ontario Heritage Act on May 30, 2016, remove the current accessory building (which is not designated),  construct a replacement and eventually construct a residential addition onto the north side, at the vestibule, that will be no higher or wider than the church, where the Broughs would live.

Architect Daniel Hill explained that the team would first make the church building structurally sound.

“We’re going to dig down and repoint and waterproof the marble stone foundation,” he said.

Hill added that they would install new windows and sills with the same style and proportions of the original, but with modern thermal benefits. The roof will be replaced and a new addition will be built on the northside of the building with a barrier free washroom and an accessible entrance.

“I think it can take a village to raise a child and in this case I think it takes a village to restore a church,” Hill said. “We’re getting a lot of care and concern… about what this building is going to become and I certainly appreciate all of that.”

The church building itself will not be divided up with walls, it will remain open with the hopes that it can become an artist studio or gallery.

One of the major concerns  neighbour Beverly Cairns voiced at the public meeting was that any commercial business will be able to come onto the lot, if the Broughs decide to sell the property.

“There are many things that are allowed in this C3 zoning that would be very undesirable in this building,” Cairns said. “So if it’s zoned C3 and then it’s sold again, how would we know that it’s not going to be a laundromat or a drive thru … or an automobile wash?

“I mean it’s not likely but that is what’s permitted by this C3 zoning.”

Iglasias assured her that the permit would outline the list of potential uses, which all fit under home-occupation-style uses, including: art gallery, artisan studio, business or professional office, church, commercial school or studio, daycare centre, day nursery or personal services shop.

“Those are the only uses permitted or anything similar to those but anything else that you listed there would not be permitted on this site,” Iglesias said.

If a new owner wanted to change the use they’d have to stick to the site specific restrictions or begin the rezoning process again.

Cairns was also concerned that rezoning the lot as commercial would impact the ability for the area to become a heritage district.

“We feel that this is a slippery slope, that as we begin to add commercial in this heritage area then it could be so easy for other buildings on the street,” she said.

However, Cairns said she has no problem with any of the proposed uses of the land, it’s just the commercial designation.

“I think it’s important first and foremost to find a use for the building, not to let it sit vacant for many more years. I mean it wouldn’t last that long anyway, and heritage protection and designation is more about the physical aspects of the building and the properties rather than the use,” Iglesias clarified.

“So the use definitely does impact the properties but I think as long as it … is one that is compatible with the neighbourhood, is not impacting the property negatively or those surrounding it, whether it’s commercial or residential doesn’t have a bearing on heritage per se.”

Councillor Ian MacRae asked whether it was possible to adapt the residential zoning to fit the needs of the Broughs.

“I hear that from the individuals who are living within the heritage district and all the work that has gone into getting it to the point where it’s ready to be designated, which personally I would like to see happen, is there some way we can have some sort of a residential designation that doesn’t say the commercial that will satisfy residents?” he asked.

Iglesias said it doesn’t matter if it’s commercial or residential, both are permitted under the official plan.

“It comes down to the regulations… and the site specific number that goes on that property,” she said. “We don’t have a mixed use zoning per se and that’s the challenge here, is that we have to try to fit it in within a box where really it doesn’t fit neatly so we have to do the site specific exception.”

The planners chose the commercial designation because it is proposed that the ground floor of each building be used as commercial space.

Mayor Kelly Linton said he doesn’t think anybody should be spending more money if the designation isn’t an impediment on the future heritage district.

Resident Colin Fox thanked the Broughs for their commitment to the restoration and the methods proposed to fund the work with rental space.

“My feeling is more sympathetic towards the C3 than insisting that it be purely within the heritage neighbourhood,” he said.

“I don’t think it would harm the heritage neighbourhood in having the kind of activities such as an art gallery… or anything that falls within the perimeters that have just been revealed.”

Fox continued, “Anyone who knows… the unexpected expenses that arise, can sympathize with the difficulties that are going to be facing them in bringing this building up to its restored state.”

Staff will return to council with a full report about the rezoning at a later date.

Before any construction can occur the Broughs will need to go through the site approval process as well.