A Heritage Conservation District or HCD is a defined geographical area within a municipality that is protected under a local bylaw to ensure conservation of its existing heritage character. The focus of this type of designation is on the prevailing character of an area, particularly its contextual attributes – such as the variety of buildings and how they interrelate, the physical attributes including trees, landscapes, building setbacks, roads, street furniture and lighting. A district designation will allow a municipal council to manage and guide future change in the district by adopting a district plan with policies and guidelines tailored to the area’s conservation, protection and enhancement requirements.
For a building to become designated, according to the Ontario Heritage Act, a municipal bylaw must be passed by your local council. Because Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs) require similar bylaws to be passed by your municipality, registered HCDs are consequently designated. Therefore, if your property is part of a registered HCD, it is by default designated and protected by the Ontario Heritage Act.
Since 2005, properties in new HCDs must have HCD bylaws registered on title at the local Land Registry Office.
Typically, Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs) can be found in both rural and urban areas, and may include elements of residential, commercial, institutional and main streets. There is also a growing interest in the designation of industrial, mining, waterfront and other cultural heritage settings that have not yet been explored in full.
Overall, HCDs are distinct groupings whose character derives from the natural and cultural resources within its boundaries. Beyond its cultural and built heritage, HCDs are also characterized by landscapes, the diversity of the lifestyles and the traditions of the people; the community forms an important element of the district. The designations of HCDs by municipal councils allow many of these municipalities to maintain a strong sense of place and sense of identity.
Since 2005, the Ontario Heritage Act has stipulated that all new Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs) must be guided by district plans. A district plan is a comprehensive summary of the geographical boundaries of an HCD, its overall character, heritage attributes and its relationship with municipal land-use planning policies. A district plan may begin by defining why an HCD is significant. It also provides guidelines on how best to conserve and protect heritage attributes, and to guide future changes in the district – for example, a district plan will illustrate approaches to alteration and infill. Overall, the policies and guidelines contained in a district plan will help to protect and enhance the area’s special character.
Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs) vary in size and character. In some instances, they are areas with a group or complex of properties and buildings, while some others are even larger areas, such as entire neighbourhoods within communities. An HCD can technically comprise an entire municipality.
If a municipality intends to adopt a Heritage Conservation District (HCD), it must have a policy in its official plan stating that it may establish HCDs. The official plan sets the land-use planning policy framework for the entire municipality. Official plans must also include cultural heritage policies that outline long-term heritage conservation goals. The official plan is significant to heritage conservation because it lends authority to the municipality so that it can plan and protect its resources. The official plan may also have specific requirements and provisions beyond the heritage conservation tools available in the Ontario Heritage Act.
This resource includes practical advice toward achieving good conservation practices. It is also a useful resource for the assessment of proposed conservation interventions on historic places, which would help in examining the technical means for treating the site. Moreover, the 2011 edition includes new information on cultural landscapes, as well as information on the significance of heritage districts. Many municipalities add official plan clauses recognizing these standards. Currently, this resource has been adopted by many federal, provincial, territorial and municipal bodies. View it here …
Before undertaking a heritage district study, a municipality will usually draft terms of reference. This document outlines the scope of the study, shows the methodology used to evaluate heritage features, sets goals and objectives, and identifies specific tasks and required outcomes. The Ontario Heritage Act outlines the basic elements that must be included in the scope of a heritage district study.
Municipal incentive programs vary. Depending on the municipality, there may be grants, loans and/or tax relief available that function as incentives to encourage property owners to designate their buildings and sites. As a means to support the conservation of the property, some municipalities will offer tax rebate programs for properties protected under the Ontario Heritage Act. Other incentives provided by the municipality may include matching grant programs that benefit property owners in such a way that they share the cost of repair and conservation with the municipality. You are encouraged to check with the local municipality to see what is available.
Heritage Conservation District (HCD) designation applies only to the exterior of buildings and the surrounding property. A property owner requires a heritage permit (approved by council) before they can undertake any major exterior alterations or demolitions, or any other works likely to have a substantial impact on the heritage attributes of the property. As such, it is up to the owner to notify council of the intended changes to be made. Council can take no longer than 90 days to make its decision.
Moreover, as an owner of a property held within an HCD, one must have a regard for the existing built form and character of the neighborhood with respects to its form, materials, height and massing in design proposals. A property owner must also avoid removing original building details, mature trees and other character-defining elements of the property, while always adhering to the minimum maintenance bylaw or property standards that can be found in legislation.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact the Registrar at the Ontario Heritage Trust at 416-325-5000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.