Talbot Street Heritage Conservation District: Attracting new business by preserving old commercial core

The rich history of the city’s Talbot Street commercial core should be protected through the creation of a heritage conservation district.
That was the recommendation put forth in a presentation to city council Monday by Stantec Consulting, hired to identify and evaluate heritage buildings and landscapes along the downtown corridor.
Preserving examples of Italianate and Edwardian architecture from the halcyon days of commercial growth in the late 1800s and early 1900s warrants designation of a heritage conservation districts stretching from Stanley Street in the west to Alma Street in the east and including the railway lands encompassing the Elgin County Railway Museum, advised Lashia Jones of Stantec Consulting.

She highlighted the stretches of street wall – three- and four-storey commercial buildings that front Talbot Street – with their predominant use of brick and ornate window patterns.
The draft report will be fine-tuned for public input and then presented to council, tentatively on April 18.
The undertaking “is a partnership with the city and the Municipal Heritage Committee,” city manager Wendell Graves advised last month
“It requires as much input as we can get from the stakeholders, particularly the property owners,” added Graves. “It’s really an education piece to let everybody know the richness of the heritage within these buildings. They have interesting stories to tell.”
Getting property owners to buy into the heritage district was a concern raised by several councillors.
“Does this give us a grander authority over absentee landlords?” questioned Coun. Linda Stevenson.
“What kind of teeth would maintenance standards have?” added Coun. Jeff Kohler.
“For owners, they would have to abide by guidelines for renovations,” explained Jones. “Property owners would have to abide by maintenance standards established by the municipality through public input.”
Any new development would have to be “sympathetic” to the existing external style including height and density, added Jones.
Full page photo

Mickleborough Building on Talbot St. in St. Thomas.

The city’s official plan includes height restrictions along Talbot Street, limiting upward development generally to two or three floors.

Property owners undertaking renovations have the option of appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board if their plans conflict with heritage district guidelines, cautioned Jones.
However, she added, those appeals generally are less common.
“Some of the brick work (in existing structures) is in peril,” city manager Wendell Graves pointed out, “and the window patterns are quite intricate. There has to be a business case to encourage owners (to follow heritage guidelines).
Graves added heritage conservation district designation would be limited to exterior features and not include interior amendments such as second floor meeting rooms and halls.
“I’m really encouraged by this,” praised Stevenson. “It’s about investing in the core. We’re trying to bring new investment in. I would like to expand on this and bring other areas in.”
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