Kitchener council makes controversial decision on heritage home project
KITCHENER -- The new owners of one of Waterloo Region’s oldest homes wants to return the building to its former glory.
The home’s heritage status is making that process a more complicated and potentially expensive dream, but a controversial decision by Kitchener council is keeping the restoration project moving forward.
The home, on Shirk Place in Kitchener, was built in the 1840’s.
“As soon as we drove up the driveway we said this is our property, we have to buy it.”
Brodie Barth and Emily Schuurmans, a real estate and restoration team, have big dreams for the 180-year-old property.
“All we are keeping is essentially the brick, inside we need a full gut in every unit,” says Schuurmans.
“We were throwing around the number $500,000 to $700,000,” says Barth. “That number will likely increase.”
The pair knew that replacing the 45 windows would be costly.
The home’s heritage status means wooden frames are the preferred option, and would need approvals from city hall.
But the cost -- $150,000 -- made them pause.
“When the cost of one component is as much as maybe you had factored in for an entire unit, or the entire exterior,” says Barth.
They asked the City of Kitchener if they could use replica vinyl windows instead, for a total cost of $35,000. After some debate, council decided to allow it.
Victoria Grohn, the city’s heritage planner says in this case, the look outweighs the material.
“From my perspective, I think in some instances that vinyl is a suitable alternative, especially in instances where an exact replica of an existing feature can be recreated.”
But others in the heritage community say the decision was a mistake.
“Anytime you replace an older element with modern elements the heritage value goes down,” says Gail Pool of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario North Waterloo. “I am sure the financial elements of the building would also go down.”
He says in his experience, when it comes to windows, wood is the gold standard.
“I don’t see how a vinyl window can replace a wood window in any way. I’ve seen lots of them.”
Kitchener City Council sided with the property owners, saying home owners with honest intentions of restoring heritage buildings should be given some flexibility.
“This property would be many, many times what the applicants paid for it if they let the property deteriorate,” says councilor Scott Davey. “Developers could really care less about the historical value and it’s in their best interest and tremendous financial interest because they can redevelop it.”
The property owners are happy to be able to push ahead with their passion project.
“Our whole goal was to work with the city and with the heritage to bring it back to life,” says Schuurmans. “Right now it’s kind of an eye sore.”
Waterloo Region has a heritage advisory committee that inventories purpose-built public buildings constructed prior to 1951. They've recorded more than 200 structures, including post offices, hospitals, city halls, police and fire stations, and court houses.
Under the Ontario Heritage Act, municipalities can designate all or part of a community as a Heritage Conservation District. The region's website says that designation protects properties or neighbourhoods with "special character." Information on applying for heritage designations, along with listings and permits, is available on the region's website.
There are also four Historic Countryside Tours that offer routes in the Townships of North Dumfries, Woolwich, Wilmot and Wellesley.