More information sought on heritage rebates

By Karen Fallon

Because heritage rebates have been approved by council for all eligible property owners except those in Salmoni condominium building at 252 Dalhousie Street, it has opened the door for possible litigation, noted Jeffrey Baker, solicitor for the condo corporation at the July 18, council meeting.

“I am concerned that the town exposes itself to liability if it doesn’t follow its own bylaw,” said Baker, after a majority of council agreed not to pay the rebates until further information has been received from the Ministry of Culture and the town’s heritage committee.

Owners of property designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and subject to a heritage conservation easement agreement can be eligible to receive a 40 per cent refund of the taxes for municipal and school purposes levied on their eligible heritage property.

The Heritage Tax Rebate program allows municipalities to provide rebates to eligible properties that meet the minimum criteria as set out in Section 365.2 of the Municipal Act.

“This council has been told on numerous occasions that the heritage easement is legal, that it confirms to our bylaw and that we don’t have any legal rights to deny that request,” said councillor John Sutton.

“We can certainly go into a process of litigation and have to pay that plus court fees and I don’t think that is the wisest course of action,” he added before the vote to pay the rebates was defeated.

Those voting against the motion to pay the rebates were: councillors Diane Pouget, Carolyn Davies, Bart DiPasquale and Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland.

According to administration the applications from the residents of the Salmoni building fall within the provision of the town’s bylaw since they are subject to a heritage conservation agreement.

By not approving the rebate, says Mayor Wayne Hurst the town is exercising “non-compliance.”

Hurst added that “for years” councils-of-the-day sat by and watched the deterioration of the former building at the site and “did nothing.”

“That (Salmoni) building has been a tremendous improvement in downtown Amherstburg and for the residents,” said Hurst. “You were given the information and you failed to adhere to it, shame on us.”

The matter that was before council, says planning consultant Jean Monteith, had already been to the Ontario Municipal Board, which ruled that the continuation of the heritage easement on the building had to stay as a way of providing architectural control.

“It was appealed by residents of the community and that appeal was lost,” said Monteith.

Councillor Diane Pouget says it is her understanding that the rebates have to be first approved by the town’s heritage committee.

“It is imperative that this council waits for their recommendation before we decided,” said Pouget, who is also seeking clarification from the Ministry of Culture. “We are talking about $44,000 in tax rebates for one building…we have to make sure we are doing the right thing for everyone in Amherstburg.”

Councillor Carolyn Davies says she believes it “unfair” that the developer is using the heritage rebate as a selling point for the condos to potential buyers.

Baker says that the developer of the Salmoni building was held into account by the town when it came to the design of the building and the materials used as they had to conform to the heritage specifications laid out in respect to the heritage easement. This architectural control, he noted, cost the developer both extra time and money.

The town had appealed the property tax assessment through MPAC, says Baker on completion of the building. This appeal which “dragged on” for a number of years wasn’t settled until last year. “It would be unfair to refuse those now because the town itself had appealed the assessment, when the rebates were allowed for other units in the same building, which were not under the appeal,” said Baker. “This council doesn’t get to choose which properties it likes and which properties it doesn’t.”

In the past the new council members have made judgments based on information provided that has turned out to be the “wrong decision,” says councillor Bart DiPasquale.

“All I am asking is that you be patient; the people that live there are as important as everyone else. But we represent 22,000 people and we want to make doubly sure that we make the right decision,” he continued.

However, noted Malott: “Administration has no further information to provide you on this topic. You have been given information from administration time-and-time again there have been multiple reports on this.”

Salmoni building resident, Jasminka Kalajdzic, says that when she and her husband considered investing in downtown Amherstburg many factors “came into play” including that fact that unit was designated heritage under the town’s bylaw.

“The message you are sending to future developers is that if you come to Amhersburg and buy a property that is already a heritage protected site you may or may not in the future get the rebate to which you thought you were entitled,” said Kalajdzic.

“It is not fair, it is compounding an embarrassment on how this bylaw has been dealt with,” she added. “I don’t know what other information you need…it is my understanding that you have been given the information you need.”

According to a report and Treasurer Paul Beneteau, Council is in the process of evaluating a heritage district study, which could provide the opportunity for properties within the district to also take advantage of the heritage tax rebate program.

Should Council amend its heritage by-law at this time it would require notification to the County and the Province of Ontario. The County would then have to pass an amending by-law at the upper tier level.

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