Tom Van Dusen
RUSSELL – The township plan to establish a Conservation District throughout most of the Russell Village core continues to unfold with consultation and refinements. An online survey on the issue is open on the township webpage until Dec. 6.
It came up for discussion during a recent meeting of the Russell and District Historical Society when member Harry Baker presented a short update and passed around a map of the village section the district intends to cover. Generally speaking, it’s Russell’s older central section including a few blocks on the south side of the Castor River.
Attending the meeting was councillor Cindy Saucier who emphasized the Conservation District is about preserving heritage buildings and preventing incompatible additions. Had it been in place, Saucier said dismantling of the historic Russell House Hotel wouldn’t have been permitted.
The main goal, Baker said, is to safeguard the street fronts formed by Russell’s inventory of older homes and commercial buildings. He mentioned distinguishing characteristics such as height, width and gingerbread trim. That dovetails with the township’s official position that the district isn’t to prevent development but to provide “tools to help appropriately manage change within an historic area.”
The study on potential implementation of a special district was launched at the end of July with a meeting of stakeholders. A second public meeting occurred Nov. 7, including a presentation on the history and evolution of Russell Village, study area features, streetscapes and boundary options.
Students have been conducting research and inquiring about homes and other buildings in the designated zone, including owners past and present. They contacted the historical society about possible photos.
Among buildings in the prescribed area is the Keith Boyd Community Museum, home of the historical society, consisting of relocated Baptist church and former fire hall. Some members noted that the municipality has suggested the damaged exterior of the church be replaced with vinyl siding, something that theoretically wouldn’t be permitted should the Conservation District be approved. The society will let township know vinyl doesn’t make sense on a public building reflecting early local history.
The next big step will be a public meeting in February to present a draft of the Conservation District study for review, comment and discussion.