Heritage buildings are a vital part of any city’s character and identity, but their value in Fredericton is particularly important. The Fredericton Tourism website gives front page billing to our “tree-lined avenues graced with Victorian architecture [that] complement a vibrant cultural life of National Historic Sites”. Fredericton can boast of 144 entries on Parks Canada’s Canadian Register of Historic Places. A quick Google image search for “fredericton” immediately brings up photos of our Downtown streetscapes and vistas of the original Town Plat. (“What else?”, some might say.)
Fredericton has a Heritage Preservation by-law that applies to buildings within designated areas like the St Anne’s Point Heritage Preservation Area east of Downtown and various points around the city. Making changes to a building – including demolition – requires approval by the Preservation Review Board; a developer breaking the rules might be ordered to do “anything required to restore the land, building or structure to its condition immediately prior” under the provincial Municipal Heritage Preservation Act. There’s also a Design Review Subcommittee that can provide input on the design of new construction and alterations in the residential Town Plat, including architects and engineers. Through property taxes, every household in Fredericton contributes 89 cents a month towards the City’s Heritage and Culture programmes.
While some other cities like Halifax, Toronto or Victoria recognise and protect individual buildings as well as streets and neighbourhoods, Fredericton’s preservation policy applies only to the areas listed in the by-law, and doesn’t apply to other notable areas or streetscapes, like the West Plat, or Downtown in general. The City’s Local Historic Places Register and the Fredericton Heritage Trust recognise some individual properties – the FHT with a plaque explaining the building’s significance – but beyond raising the appreciation of passersby, don’t confer any protection or prevent any modifications beyond existing by-laws.
That said, better than using a stick to preserve heritage buildings, can be a carrot. Often times such older structures are seen as an obstacle to development: too small for modern use, too expensive to renovate, too complicated to bring up to current standards. But behind those difficulties can not only be cultural or emotional value, but solid economic value as well: a study of 3 000 properties across the province of Ontario showed that designated properties tended to resist downturns in the real estate market – 74% did as good as or better than the average property value trend in their communities – and sold as well or better than all properties generally. Incentives like property tax exemptions based on renovation costs or conversion to residences, or grants for conservation work, can pay off dividends in concurrent private investment, tourism spin-offs and the intangible benefit of character and presence a historic but living neighbourhood brings to the city.
A comprehensive study of the economic impact of rehabilitating and restoring heritage buildings was conducted by the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It compared the investment of $1 million in rehabilitation versus new construction.
Non-residential historic rehabilitation New construction Generated 38.5 jobs Generated 36.1 jobs $1 302 000 in income $1 223 000 in income $1 711 000 in gross domestic product $1 600 000 in gross domestic product $202 000 in taxes $189 000 in taxes
Source: Heritage Canada Foundation
The hardest thing with heritage preservation is often the start: seeing the value in heritage, and figuring out how to preserve it, in an economically-viable and responsible way. One option is active direction through incentives structured around adaptive re-use, like converting old warehouses or offices to apartments or condos, which can be one way for a city to both save historic buildings and promote people to move and live in rejuvenated areas. Another is Fredericton’s recent, creative land-swap acquisition of the abandoned York Street School, saving it from demolition and buying some time for ideas.
This Saturday afternoon, some of those ideas just might come out: the Fredericton Heritage Trust will be hosting two experts on
What do you think? What do Fredericton’s heritage buildings, streetscapes or neighbourhoods mean to you? What is their value – is 89 cents a month about right? What is the City’s responsibility towards the preservation of historic properties in Fredericton – to wield a carrot, a stick, a bit of both, or neither?