Get serious about heritage or go home

The debate over a proposal to install new windows at 14-16 King St. West in the Heritage District in Cobourg represents the very worst of preservation policies and politics Monday night.
Landlords Karen and Joan Chalovich were in the public gallery when council received its report from staff about a proposal to replace an old set of windows with some new ones along the main street in the downtown. Joan Chalovich, a former mayor, was one of the people who was instrumental in getting a heritage district for Cobourg. She is also a long-time supporter of Barnum House in Grafton, the county’s museum and one of the most important historical buildings in West Northumberland.

Still, during a presentation by Karen, her daughter, the point was made about the high costs of replacing the windows by rebuilding them with wood. This is the preferred method by preservtions, town staff and the Cobourg Heritage Committee. Wood replacements would cost about $30,000, according to Karen. Vinyl is substantially less.

Council voted down staff and the heritage committee, allowing the Chalovich family to go forward with the vinyl.

A troubling debate ensued on Monday night. Councillors Miriam Mutton and John Henderson tried to make a defence of the bylaw, but there was little reason to believe a former mayor was not going to get her way. She was so confident of the outcome, she left early.

But the sad part of all of this is the gutless nature of Cobourg heritage policies. Council put in place some very strict guidelines. But, it seems when it comes time to enforce them, every backs away, especially when it is either a developer or a business person standing at the podium. Costs are alway cited as the main reason no one can comply. Certainly, it is a barrier, but when someone purchases a heritage building, there is an inherent responsibility coming with it.

But more troublesome is the a deeper issue of original materials versus other materials. The Cobourg Heritage Committee needs to revist its guidelines in the face of advances in technology and materials. It should consider reasonable facsimiles of affordable materials. If these are visually equal to original materials, does this achieve the same result. Purist will argue the need for original materials in an effort to create a “truer” reproduction. But maybe in the modern context, if a visual representation is accurate and it is more likely to get buy in from owners, then it may be more useful.

No doubt, $30,000 is a lot of money. The town offers loans and there are other incentive programs to help. Still, a more sophisticated approach might be creating resources that are approved in advance, like windows, etc. in a wide price range. Then staff and the heritiage committee might be able to recommend a range of solutions from ideal to suitable that will give both a price break and still maintain the heritage aspects.

Considering the town won a provincial heritage award only a few days ago, it seems highly hypocritical to approve the vinyl windows for a heritage building. Members need to step up and be more serious and support staff and the committee or else we might as well throw in the towel now.

Repair vs. Replacement article

3 thoughts on “Get serious about heritage or go home

  1. I keep thinking about the tenants, especially those on the third floor. It gets pretty hot up there in the summer, like any third story dwelling. How long will they do without proper windows while the Council and Heritage Committee work it out?

    If tenants decide to file an application to the Landlord Tenant Board to get a Repair Order, this could get really interesting.

    In my long association with Joan Chalovich in an ancient provincial initiative called the Access to Permanent Housing Committee, she was always a considerate and caring landlord, and I’m sure she would just like to get the job done, now.

  2. Thanks for your vigilance. The clarification is an important one in the debate. And, I agree the current actions by council will provide a significant case study for the heritage committee. No doubt, purists will want to maintain the restoration approach; whereas, others may find the less expensive replacements might achieve the same look without the prohibitive costs. This might encourage compliance.

  3. A not so minor correction. What the heritage committee voted for was for the windows to be restored, not replaced by new wooden ones. According to an inspection performed with the Town’s heritage planner most of them are in pretty good shape, apart from one which had a shower (!) placed next to it. The estimate was more a likely cost of $24,000, with a max. of $30,000. Admittedly way about the quoted cost of $13,000 for vinyl but there was some doubt as to whether that was a true market price. Now Council has approved the application subject to the Heritage Committee being satisfied with the vinyl replacements as true replications. This is a very interesting test. It appears that the problem with vinyl replacements in the past is that they have not had the form and profile of the wooden windows, which has led to various ‘fill-ins’ being created to mask this. If there is a vinyl window company that has, or can, produce true replications of old wooden windows, I suspect they will do very good business.

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