Ward 1 - 2018 London Municipal Election Candidate Survey

ACO Heritage Matters.jpg

Architectural Conservancy Ontario - London Region (ACO London) sent an online survey on heritage issues to candidates running for City Council in the upcoming municipal election. The survey asked candidates about their thoughts on issues such as heritage conservation, ‘demolition by neglect’, and adaptive re-use of older buildings. This is the second time ACO London has surveyed local municipal election candidates, the first was for the 2014 election.

Responses received: Melanie O'Brien, Michael van Holst
No response received: Bud Polhill


Melanie O'Brien

Would you consider designating a property with heritage or cultural value against the owner’s wishes? Do you support municipal property tax breaks for heritage properties? Do you support financial assistance and advice to those who seek to conserve, restore, and maintain their heritage properties? Do you support funding, by-laws, and policies that encourage heritage conservation? Please specify any initiatives that you would propose.

I believe that there is a way to work with folks in regards to the designation of heritage or cultural value. The best method would be to work with each other to determine the best course of action when it comes to designation. Ultimately, if there is a protest, and the project is very valuable to the community and will benefit from it, there may have to be a designation input without the owner's wishes if it is in the best interest of the community. I feel that would be a last resort as if there is a forceful designation, this will not guarantee the upkeep and maintenance of the property; therefore, we will all lose in this case.

I do support the municipal property tax breaks for the heritage properties, as long as the properties are properly maintaining, as this is what the break is intended for.

The financial assistance is in place with the property tax breaks, and I believe that there are grants available as well to qualify for. I do feel that there should be advice available for folks in this situation, so that the owners and communities investment in the heritage property are kept to the best possible standards. By-laws, and policies that encourage heritage conservation are very important to protect the investment in these properties.

How would you deal with the issue of ‘demolition by neglect’? Are you in favour of the City enforcing property and building standards for all heritage structures, including allowing city by-law inspectors to legally enter empty buildings on a frequent and regular basis to ensure that property and building standards are being upheld? Would you support issuing fines to property owners and developers who allow buildings to be destroyed by non-accidental fire, illegal demolition, or other acts of negligent destruction? Do you agree London should adopt a Heritage Building Protection Plan initiative such as other municipalities have implemented that would require property owners and developers to submit and implement plans to maintain and secure heritage structures throughout development approval processes?

Designated heritage buildings should be protected, as this is an investment to enrich the lives of all people, especially those in the community. With such an investment, we should be able to have an enforcement to allow city by-law inspectors to legally enter empty buildings on a frequent and regular basis to ensure that the property and building standards are being upheld. If the buildings are empty, perhaps the owner should be responsible for having the property inspected on a regular basis with a report being given to the city, more than once per year. This should be the case for empty buildings period, as it is a safety issue for the community, and our investments. Fines should be allowed in the case of non-compliance.

Perhaps the current Heritage Building Plan, that includes provincial legislation, and municipal by-laws, should be expanded to include the requirement for property owners and developers to submit and implement plans to maintain and secure heritage structures throughout the development approval process.

How would you balance development pressures against the community’s desire to conserve heritage structures and neighbourhoods? How would you encourage the adaptive reuse of London’s built heritage when its original uses are no longer feasible? Do you support, in principle, neighbourhood-specific moratoriums on demolitions while an area is being studied as a potential Heritage Conservation District?

This is a very important question, as it is a fine balance to ensure that the community continues to thrive, at the same time as conserving heritage.

London is full of creative people, and they are getting more into the re-use and re-purposing of things, including buildings. It is evident in the new businesses popping up all over the city. I would like to see some kind of incentive to go forward for investors to re-purpose a building to save us from yet another empty building

I do support, in principle, neighborhood-specific moratoriums on demolitions while and area is being studied; however, this must be timely as a long drawn-out study is costly, discouraging, and not productive with the chance of losing investment.

What steps would you champion as a member of Council to ensure that the London Plan’s provisions to protect heritage properties along the BRT routes are implemented?

Currently, I am not in support of the BRT as it is being presented. I feel that it would be a terrible situation to lose heritage properties for the plan that is currently in place. I feel that we need to take a better look at transit, and ensure that it is the best plan for all Londoners, and should take into consideration heritage properties that might be effected.

Do you plan to incorporate built heritage issues into your campaign platform? How? Please include any additional comments you would like to share.

At this time, I do not intend to incorporate built heritage issues into my campaign platform. This does not mean that the topic is not worthy of attention. I believe that heritage preservation is incredibly important, and enriches the lives of everyone in the community, as long as it is cared for and maintained properly.


Michael van Holst

Would you consider designating a property with heritage or cultural value against the owner’s wishes? Do you support municipal property tax breaks for heritage properties? Do you support financial assistance and advice to those who seek to conserve, restore, and maintain their heritage properties? Do you support funding, by-laws, and policies that encourage heritage conservation? Please specify any initiatives that you would propose.

Conserving a heritage property can be like performing a service for the municipality. This has a cost that should be recognized and subsidized in some cases. A first step is to try and quantify both the costs and benefits.

Though I have voted to designate properties when the owner was seeking demolition, I believe that this situation can be avoided if we are able to decide on as many property designations as possible in advance. I would invest human and financial resources into such an effort.

How would you deal with the issue of ‘demolition by neglect’? Are you in favour of the City enforcing property and building standards for all heritage structures, including allowing city by-law inspectors to legally enter empty buildings on a frequent and regular basis to ensure that property and building standards are being upheld? Would you support issuing fines to property owners and developers who allow buildings to be destroyed by non-accidental fire, illegal demolition, or other acts of negligent destruction? Do you agree London should adopt a Heritage Building Protection Plan initiative such as other municipalities have implemented that would require property owners and developers to submit and implement plans to maintain and secure heritage structures throughout development approval processes?

The demolition of a designated heritage property by neglect is not acceptable. Though I am not opposed to rules that prevent this, they do not really move things forward to an adaptive reuse. One problem with fines is that they can simply become the cost of doing business.

There is no point in forcing someone to mothball a structure forever, so if designating a property means that the city is essentially preventing an owner from ever developing their property then the city should be willing to purchase it from them. I think we need to consider having a heritage fund to do so.

An important question will always be, "What is the highest, best use for the property." If the city can create a context and policies that have heritage factor more into this question then we will see more preservation. More creative bonusing for heritage preservation may be a way to encourage speedy adaptive reuse, which may be the best resolution to these conflicts.

How would you balance development pressures against the community’s desire to conserve heritage structures and neighbourhoods? How would you encourage the adaptive reuse of London’s built heritage when its original uses are no longer feasible? Do you support, in principle, neighbourhood-specific moratoriums on demolitions while an area is being studied as a potential Heritage Conservation District?

The question of balance is important. The problem of its lack is well illustrated by the previous provincial Liberal government who have been described as fanatical, impractical and fiscally irresponsible about green energy. Now that the pendulum has swung the other way, their policies and their party are no more. The same thing could happen with heritage conservation if not balanced well with the pressures of development since are both important priorities of the community.

There is a spectrum of sacrificing the past for the future and sacrificing the future for the past.

Quantifying those sacrifices may help in discovering the optimal place to land.

One strategy for balance will be to demand that some quantum of preservation is always necessary, even if it is only a contribution to the heritage fund.

Another strategy for balance will be to demand 100% preservation only when 100% is absolutely necessary. To advocate for heritage in an uncompromising way is dangerous because if a person cannot be happy with any degree of compromise then there is no incentive to offer them anything at all.

Because balance implies compromise on both sides, finding it will likely mean that heritage enthusiasts will be much happier due to more instances of moderate preservation while heritage purists will be less happy because there will be fewer cases of 100% preservation.

It will help if we can create great examples of the future containing the past or the past containing the future.

When a heritage house couldn't be saved as a high-rise was being built, I suggested that the developers rebuild the entire structure inside the glass podium and make it into a restaurant. Everyone would still recognize the building, most would enjoy it much more, and the novelty of a heritage building inside a modern building would provide a tremendous marketing opportunity. Unfortunately, I had no tool at my disposal that was stronger than a suggestion, which gets back to the idea of more creative bonusing.

Like heritage properties, we should decide quickly which neighbourhoods should and shouldn't be heritage conservation districts. During the Hamilton Road Community Improvement Plan process, the vote was very strongly against. Other neighbourhoods will be for. By establishing this sooner we can avoid the conflict that is represented by the existence of a moratorium.

What steps would you champion as a member of Council to ensure that the London Plan’s provisions to protect heritage properties along the BRT routes are implemented?

I am not a supporter of the BRT plan. I believe that when we complete it, 10 years from now, a new generation of autonomous transit technologies will be available that we will wish we had instead because they will address our challenges better. We will regret both the money spent and all the construction impacts some of which will be heritage.

Because the majority of Council was in favour of BRT I moved that we at least use an agile, low impact approach to the roll-out, which could have saved some properties, but this was not supported.

Do you plan to incorporate built heritage issues into your campaign platform? How? Please include any additional comments you would like to share.

Having seen that our policies need improvement, I am in favour of the following actions:

a) Create a fund that allows the city to purchase heritage properties for its own adaptive reuse.

b) Avoid conflicts by deciding in advance on as many property/neighbourhood designations as possible.

c) Investigate more creative strategies for bonusing heritage preservation.


Thank you to those candidates who took the time to complete our survey. For those who did not respond before the survey closed, we welcome your comments.

We encourage all Londoners to attend candidates’ meetings and debates to learn more about their ideas and suggestions on built heritage and other issues. To find out more information about when and where to vote, and the candidates running for Mayor or Councillor visit the City of London’s Elections webpage.


Shawn Adamsson