Essex Town Council could soon pass a bylaw that will significantly assist local residents who want to preserve their heritage properties.
On Monday night, Assistant Planner Rita Jabbour proposed a 5-year Heritage Grants Program that could help restore and repair those buildings that are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
“We have to look at their property and do research. This isn’t money we simply give away,” Jabbour told Council during a special meeting.
Jabbour said heritage is a large part of a community, whether it be for social or economic reasons.
“Defining an identity is important because it contributes to a liveable community,” she said during the presentation.
Essex is comprised of four distinct wards, each of them have historical significance that has the ability to attract and retain residents and businesses, and further to attract tourists.
Colchester, she explained, is known for its pioneer history, while Harrow has a rich agricultural and railroad past. Essex Centre has unique architecture, while McGregor is proud to be the home of St. Clement Parish that was built in 1879.
“There are people who move to town because of the architecture a town has tried to preserve,” Jabbour said.
Investors, she noted, are attracted to buildings with architectural significance because of the quality of the construction, and it is a pull on a community’s intrigue.
According to statistics from a few years ago, 25 percent of Ontarians travel for an arts and culture experience. Fewer than 40 percent of towns have heritage committees. Essex has a vibrant group that supports Jabbour’s plan.
A staggering piece of data is that 20 percent of Canada’s heritage buildings have been demolished in the past 30 years.
“Some countries would find that unimaginable,” Jabbour added.
The proposed Heritage Grants Program would total $25,000 per year and those property owners who are eligible would be able to apply for up to $10,000 for repairs and restorations. $2,000 could be available to put toward professional services like engineers and also development fees set out by the municipality.
Jabbour said that each application would have to be reviewed by the local heritage committee and approved by Council.
“It’s well worth looking at something like this,” Essex Councillor Bill Caixeiro commented.
Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said that $25,000 is a good incentive to preserve heritage buildings.
Jabbour said that it’s a good time to embrace history as Canada is celebrating 150 years and Colchester was founded 225 years ago. The John R Park Homestead was built 175 years ago