Grimsby adopts proposal that requires developers to preserve town heritage on Main Street East

Grimsby Town Council has voted to approve a study that it will use to preserve the town’s heritage along a 4km strip on Main Street East. It is designed to stop developers from building properties that do not blend with the town’s historic look and charm.

Ron Schroder, co-founder of Save Grimsby’s Main Street, presenting to council said, “Tonight, the future of Main Street is in your hands. You are about to make a decision that will seal the future of our historic town. Only two years ago, when you knocked at your neighbours doors asking to be elected, they asked you to stop the development train wreck and maintain intensification of the old town.”

Save Grimsby’s Main Street is a community organization with a mission to preserve Grimsby’s unique small town feel and historical character.

Heritage Study Proposed

Schroder asked the council to implement a Heritage Conservation District Study (HCD) for Grimsby’s Main Street East. An HCD is a tool provided by the province that allows cities and towns to put in place strict restrictions that protect aspects of a community’s cultural heritage. This includes setting forth regulations within specific boundaries that preserve estate homes, historic buildings, and landscapes with mature trees.

proposed Grimsby HCD
Map of the proposed HCD Study in Grimsby

The notice of motion was prompted by Councillor Dorothy Bothwell, who also sits on the town’s Heritage Advisory Committee. She is responsible for facilitating communication between the committee and Grimsby town council.

In September, Grimsby town council greenlit a project by developer Homes by DeSantis for a condominium building in Grimsby’s downtown after two years of back and forth negotiation. Schroder also referenced another Grimsby development DeSantis wants to build at Nelles and Main St. E.

“Our cultural heritage is not protected unless it is part of an HCD. Some councillors have said they want a Secondary Plan for Main Steet. However, a Secondary Plan, no matter its stated goals, does not cap development,” said Schroder.

A Secondary Plan is a land-use plan for a particular area of a municipality that is prepared as an amendment to an official plan. Typically, a secondary plan will provide more detailed policies for the area it covers, such as public spaces, parks, and urban design.

The Ontario Planning Act, which sets out ground rules for land use planning in the province, allows developers the ability to make amendments to their project, using the Secondary Plan process, after two years. That means they can override limits for height, size, setbacks, and land use through a provincial arbitration process.

Development proposals that go to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), which is the tribunal that hears cases in relation to a range of land use matters, heritage conservation, and municipal governance. LPAT considers land-use policies along transit corridors rather than considering if a development fits within the historical concept of the area.

“When Secondary Plans are implemented heritage takes a back seat…conservation strategies under a secondary plan are impossible to enforce long term,” Schroder told the council.

Schroder also used the example of the generous land setbacks currently held by many properties on Main Street. These could easily be overtaken by developer expansions.

When a town has an HCD in place it does not deter developments. Instead, it sets forth clear and enforceable rules. It binds future councils to objectives set forth in the plan. It also prevails over LPAT decisions. An HCD for Grimsby means the town can protect the cultural character of Grimsby for generations to come.

Grimsby Ward map and councillors and mayor
Grimsby Ward map showing councillors by ward and Grimsby’s mayor

Councillor Kevin Ritchie and Councillor John Dunstall were among those concerned with moving forward with the HCD Study.

Dunstall said he was uneasy and didn’t want to make a rushed decision on the issue. “I’ve been asked to vote on this tonight without a staff report,” he said. “I feel we are using heritage to weaponize the prevention of development at this time.”

Ritchie brought up similar concerns. “I would not be fulfilling my duty to the public if I were to just put a stamp on this Heritage Conservation District Study. I am not pro-development or anti-heritage. What I am is looking for transparency and accountability to the constituents that I represent,” he said.

Ritchie said every property owner in a zone governed by an HCD has the right to appeal it. If that happens, the protected area could be left unprotected for up to three years. “Has the town of Grimsby staff been consulted (with regard to) the HCD? In the passing of this bylaw tonight we would be in contradiction of the act,” asked Ritchie.

Antonietta Minichillo, Director of Planning for the Town of Grimsby, agreed that HCDs work when the property owners in a zone affected by an HCD are aligned. She also said that if the study is rushed it puts the town in a vulnerable position. If one appeal is successful, a municipality cannot pass another bylaw for three years. “There is an opportunity to do additional due diligence. These are all items we can look at for council and present a holistic picture,” said Minichillo.

Minichillo advocated on behalf of town staff asking for more time to do their homework so they could present a more comprehensive plan to the council. However, when the Heritage Grimsby Advisory Committee had made the original recommendation on Oct. 6, they had requested the staff comment on the draft before the meeting.

Bothwell, Freake, and Vardy emphasized the immediacy of having a HCD in place to protect the heritage culture right away.

A Town Priority

“This is a town priority and has been for a long time. There are threats to our cultural heritage…we are protecting what’s important to the citizens of the community,” said Bothwell.

Councillor Lianne Vardy agreed. “This is one of our priorities yet we’ve put no resources to it. I’m afraid that if we push it aside we will have less control over the kinds of developments that are actually being planned for, like Main St. East right now, which is way more than the community wants.”

Councillor Reg Freake did too. “I think there is a fear that developers will rush in,” he said.

The town made a further point that individual designation is available immediately. Specific buildings can be protected right away while more research is conducted. The town said this would give staff more time to do their due diligence.

Bothwell proposed a friendly amendment to have the staff comment only on the heritage district and then brought back to the committee of the whole for Nov. 2. The dissenting councillors wanted staff to provide information on the heritage district and the other options available, like the cultural heritage landscape and the Secondary Plan. Those latter options were ruled out by Bothwell and the Save Grimsby’s Main Street group.

Councillor Ritchie, the seconder on the motion, did not agree and the motion was not adopted. Council voted on the Heritage Grimsby Advisory Committee endorsement package and it was approved.

Council votes 5-3 in favor

Voting yes was Bothwell, Freake, Councillor Dave Kadwell, Vardy, and Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan. Voting no was Dunstall, Ritchie, and Councillor Randy Vaine. Councillor Dave Sharpe abstained due to a conflict of interest because his parents live on Main Street East within the study area.

The motion to move forward with the HCD Study was carried.

It is scheduled to be ratified and approved by Council on Nov 2. at its next meeting.

Once approved, the study will include an interim control bylaw that will not allow any building permits on Main Street East for a one year period.

The bylaw can be appealed by property owners. That is likely given the area is approximately 4 km end to end. There are 186 properties in the proposed area, many of which are not heritage.

Once the study is approved by Council, it will be put out for tender. Consultants will come back with scope and cost. A budget of $100,000 has been allocated in the existing town budget for that.

Learn More:

Read the heritage study proposal (PDF)