Unlike the US constitution property rights are not enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Still, fundamental justice would suggest that once an individual has lawfully obtained a property, it should not be encumbered retroactively with conditions, that; were they in place prior to the acquisition; would have made the buyer walk away. We refer here to the properties owned by Blair, Blanchard and Stapleton on the South leg of King Street at Gore Park. Blanchard proposes to erect a mixed use commercial and condominium complex on the site. Blanchard purchased the buildings many years ago at a time when the downtown core was in severe decline. Significant dollars were spent stabilizing the properties. Taxes were paid every year. Now, with a resurgence in downtown fortunes, the owner wishes to make a significant investment in the core by rebuilding at the King Street site. Heritage advocates want the buildings preserved, arguing that the loss of these historical buildings will be irreparable.
They suggest that there are dozens of other building s in Hamilton that should have heritage designations applied to them as well. Blanchard has some experience in the adaptive re-use of buildings with projects like the Landed Bank and the Gowling restoration, as two fine examples. They add that many of the historical features of the buildings in question were stripped away during the 1960’s when there was less appreciation for historical architecture. Still the owners are prepared to consider at least trying to preserve, or in this case re-create as much as possible the historical facades ; but the sticking point is—who pays? Heritage advocates imply that the developer should absorb the costs, even though the buildings were obtained without any heritage restrictions. This is consistent with the ideology, all too prevalent in Hamilton that development is intrinsically bad.
Those who know anything about local history know that the original Gore Park and King Street were laid out by George Hamilton – a developer—who was motivated entirely by commercial self interest, as was the nature of commerce in pioneer times. So were Nathanial Hughson, James Durand, Peter Hess, and all of the early founders of Hamilton. They came here to make their fortune, erecting what were then contemporary structures. The history that we now seek to preserve was the by-product of their success as property developers. Trying to save our past is a worthy goal, but we need to stop kidding ourselves about the cost. There are municipal funds available to assist with historical restoration, but they fall far short of what’s needed to protect all of the buildings that are in danger. After all, the city owns historic Auchmar outright, and still can’t find a way of saving it. What would be helpful in this debate is to develop some sensible process for identifying, prioritizing and agreeing upon those properties worthy of preservation; (which also entails a recognition that some cannot); calculating the cost of preservation and having an intelligent discussion about how such a program could be funded. This whack-a-mole approach of trying to impose retroactive sanctions on individual properties and property owners every time these opportunities arise is ad-hoc and not helpful.