While I will be listening for any new information at Council – from my colleagues and the 32 delegations that have registered to speak – this is where I am landing on the Wilson Farm House based on the information I have reviewed.
I believe assuming ownership of this property, over a decade ago, with no viable plan for the retention of the farmhouse was a significant mistake and was the first step in the “stranding” of this heritage asset.
The City does not have the capital funds to restore the farmhouse nor a case to operate it as a municipal facility. So when we talk about retaining the farm house today, we mean severing and selling the property to the private sector.
The second step in “stranding” this heritage asset was the approval of a site plan for the subdivision in 2005 that failed to execute official plan policies. These policies were to have established a “village centre” with the farm house as a central feature. Nice idea.
Instead the site plan (i.e. grading and the location of streets, residential lots and the park) approved by staff effectively built a subdivision, including a park, around the farm house as if it did not exist.
It is the “stranding” of this asset that has brought us to where we are today – faced with a decision to either sever and sell, with the hope that the private sector will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to retain the farm house on the property, or demolish, with the development of a park feature to document the history of the land.
Neither particularly inspires – especially in light of the original but failed vision for this property.
So we are left having to weigh different perspectives and values to make a decision. Whether you agree with their recommendation or not, that is what our staff has done. Most of the staff on this file today were not around when the original decisions were made that stranded this asset. However, they have accepted responsibility for a failed process.
The lack of accountability inherent in assuming ownership of an asset without a plan for its use, failing to execute the policies of the official plan and failing to serve as a responsible steward of a publicly-owned heritage asset is a serious concern that Council must understand and ensure it is corrected.
My starting point is that I believe the Wilson Farm House property should remain in public ownership. The property was dedicated to the City for community use. I don’t believe severing and selling the property to a private residential owner is consistent with the original intent of the owner or why the City assumed ownership of the property in the first place.
Two opportunities to retain the farmhouse were lost:
- Had the property remained in private ownership, the farm house would have been retained by integrating it as one more home on a residential street.
- At the time of site plan approval, if the official plan policies were not going to be executed (i.e. the farm house was not going to become the central feature of a “village centre”) then the property could have been integrated into a residential street – instead of being left on the edge of the park.
I personally believe we are guilty of more than just demolition by neglect. We have caused significant conflict in the formative stages of a new neighbourhood. Severing and selling the property for residential purposes would, in my opinion, only serve to reinforce this story of conflict for this neighbourhood. On the other hand, engaging the neighbourhood in the development of a park feature has the potential to heal these wounds and change the story and the sense of connection people feel to their neighbourhood.
It pains me to land on this decision. I believe strongly in protecting heritage assets and I don’t disagree with many of the arguments put forward by those advocating for severing and selling the property. But I cannot consider retention in isolation of context and the history on this file.
As Mayor, it is my goal on Monday night to ensure one thing – that clear direction is given because I think we can all agree that this issue has gone on far too long without resolution.