Residents move to protect Waterloo ‘heritage neighbourhood’

Residents of Mary Allen neighbourhood in Waterloo are seeking a ‘cultural heritage landscape’ study

CBC News Posted: Aug 23, 2017

Heritage districts, like the McGregor Albert Heritage Conservation District in Waterloo, can have very different arrangements, preserving individual houses, the whole area, or simply setting guidelines for new homes. (The City of Waterloo)

Residents in Waterloo’s Mary Allen neighbourhood are worried that historic homes in the area just behind City Hall could be demolished.

“It’s a beautiful space, and it’s one of the older neighbourhoods in Waterloo,” said City Councillor Melissa Durrell, who is leading the move for a cultural heritage landscape study for the area between Weber, Union, King and William Streets.

“I think the people there just take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re urbanites, but we live in this little pocket,” she said.

Changing streetscape

The attempt to protect the neighbourhood comes after an almost 100-year-old home was flattened after being purchased by a developer.

“There is a lot of intensification happening around that neighbourhood,” said Durrell, and residents were concerned about the encroaching growth.

Melissa Durrell has been the Waterloo Ward 7 councillor since 2010, and is pushing forward the ‘cultural heritage landscape’ study for the Mary Allen neighbourhood. (Melissa Durrell)

“When you start to see buildings go up around you there’s a bit of concern.”

The goal of the study will be to designate the area as a cultural site, and protect the area’s unique charm and character.

“Part of the beauty of it is these homes that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” she said.

How and what to protect

This fall a report is set to go before the city that would outline the terms and ways the city can protect the neighbourhood.

This could go a lot of different ways, suggests Durrell.

“What I’d like to have is the neighbourhood work with the city to come to the right space,” she said.

The city could designate specific buildings are heritage properties, or the entire area as a heritage district. Alternately, the city could put in place design guidelines for in-fill development, as a way to prevent “cookie-cutter homes” coming into the neighbourhood.

But Durrell notes that while the house that was demolished was a century home, it was also “derelict” and many neighbours weren’t sad to see it go.

“There were break-ins and stuff happening there that wasn’t safe for the neighbourhood,” she said.

This mid-century home at 222 Stanley Dr. in Waterloo’s Westmount neighbourhood was awarded a heritage designation in 2013, one of a number of designated homes in the city. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Because of water damage, the house was far beyond repair and the developer chose to divide the lot into two parcels, and demolish the house.

“No one likes it, but sometimes a house is in such disrepair.”

Moving forward, preserve past

Moving forward Durrell suggests development be approached on a case-by-case basis.

With homes in the neighbourhood in tough shape — including one with exclusively raccoon tenants — there are a few challenges to figure out how best way to save the streetscape.

“We can’t protect everything,” she said. “There is a bit of a balancing act here.”


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