For the past 5 years, Russell Township’s Planning Department has been proposing a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) in the Russell Village core. The intent was not to prevent change or development in the HCD area but to provide the township with a planning tool to help manage change and to preserve the heritage look and feel of the older buildings and the majestic streetscapes. They hired MTBA heritage consultants and brought forward many excellent reports on the significant heritage value of each of the buildings in the proposed district. There were approximately 180 properties in the study area and were categorized based on their contribution to the heritage value of the façade of the buildings.
The final study was available in March 2019 and the Final Plan and Guidelines were completed in May 2020. There were three in-person public meetings (2018-2019), and due to COVID restrictions an online public meeting in May 2020 and an online survey with many opportunities for the residents to provide comments. Several letters were sent to each of the residences involved in the proposed HCD during this time with very few responses.
In June 2021, after many thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent on the consultants and the staff time, a resolution was proposed to township council to accept the final plan and guidelines and to add this tool to the township planning process. It was obvious during the discussion that at least three of the four councillors were not going to pass it and the resolution was tabled to the next council meeting in August.
So, what happened in the past 5 years? Some of the properties have changed hands and the new owners said they were not notified of this proposal. The councillors who are now hesitant to pass the final resolution, voted to fund the study during each of the annual budget meetings and are now ready to the pull the plug on this project at the last minute. There are rumours that developers are planning to tear down and construct condos within or adjacent to the village core and these new regulations will affect their plans.
On Sat., Sept 11 at the 2021 Heritage Festival, the Russell Historical Society is planning an historical walking tour through the Russell Village core to highlight some of the heritage homes and to tell the rich history of our village. There is a rumour that there may be some historical characters roaming the streets on that day!
What a shame if the HCD is not implemented and we lose the heritage value of our beautiful village core!
The reports on the proposed HCD can all be found on the township website: https://www.russell.ca/en/your-township/heritage-conservation-district.aspx.