Hundreds of Winnipeg property owners have received letters from the city, informing them their homes, buildings or businesses are no longer considered for protection as historic places.
This is not, however, a prelude to an unprecedented volley of wrecking balls. After 10 years of trying to settle squabbles between developers and heritage advocates, the city has updated the way it designates and protects historic buildings.
New rules, which came into effect June 1, have slashed the number of properties awaiting heritage assessment by more than 70 per cent.
On June 1, the City of Winnipeg changed the way it protects historic properties. Here's the new, simplified classification system:
1. HISTORIC PROPERTIES
All 235 buildings designated historic by the city before June 1 continue to be protected as "historic resources," a term that can also apply to green spaces as well as clusters of buildings now.
The old system of assigning each building a heritage grade -- one, two or three, with each category demanding a different level of protection -- has been abolished. Now, the city offers a single level of heritage protection and specifies what must be protected.
In the case of a relatively pristine structure such as the Bank of Montreal at Portage & Main, almost the entire structure is protected. A dilapidated structure such as the St. Charles Hotel on Albert Street, however, only has protected facades. And a building with important grounds -- such as the St. Boniface Cathedral, where provincial founder Louis Riel is buried -- would see protection extend over its cemetery. Not that anyone is in favour of digging up Riel.
2. COMMEMORATED PROPERTIES
Up until June 1, the city had 463 buildings sitting on a heritage-conservation inventory, awaiting assessment to see whether they should be protected.
The inventory has been abolished. Now, 337 of the buildings on that list are simply commemorated by a certificate that offers no special protection. Owners of these properties would still have to apply for permission to demolish them, as they would if they owned any building. The Northern Hotel on Main Street is one example.
3. NOMINATED PROPERTIES
At least 127 Winnipeg properties that used to sit on the heritage-conservation inventory are awaiting assessment for full-blown heritage protection. The city hopes to whittle down the list to nothing in three years. The Manitoba Club on Broadway is one example.
Until this month, the city had 235 municipally protected historic properties and another 463 awaiting an assessment to see whether they should be protected.
Developers and heritage advocates both hated this system, complaining the only time city planners got around to making those assessments was when a building was about to be redeveloped or was about to change hands.
Now, the former heritage-conservation inventory has been abolished. No less than 337 properties that once sat on that inventory are merely commemorated with historic certificates, which offer no special protection.
The remaining 127 still await an assessment the city hopes to tackle during the next three years. The city has hired an additional staffer -- a heritage planner trained as an architect -- to tackle the remaining backlog.
"Things shouldn't be sitting in limbo, waiting for a proposed demolition or changes to push us into listing them (as historic) or not," said John Kiernan, the city's urban-design manager. "It couldn't come as a surprise and it shouldn't be a roadblock up front."
He said the original rationale for placing buildings on the inventory in the 1970s was not rigorous, from a heritage perspective. "Forty years ago, when the original list was prepared, it was done on a drive-around basis," he said.
CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan, a former developer whose job now includes repurposing heritage buildings, said the new rules provide certainty.
"Don't surprise me when I go to sell my building and it shows up on the registry," he said. "This provides clarity. This is very helpful."
Some heritage advocates, however, are concerned with the loss of potential protection for buildings that once sat on the old inventory.
"Placing a building on the (inventory) didn't prevent developers from demolishing it, but it required a review to determine if the building should continue to be protected or not. Over the years, many buildings have been delisted and demolished," said Dave Plummer, who owns a commemorated Wolseley home. "Changing the list to a commemorative list with no protection at all removes that review process."
But Kiernan said commemorated properties do not face imminent threat. Any demolition request must be approved by the city, he said.
Properties considered "historic resources," meanwhile, will no longer be classified under three levels of heritage protection. There is only one historic status now, which confers protection to a specified part or parts of a property.
That could be a stained-glass window, a grand staircase or even just a facade, depending on the property, Kiernan said. But in some cases, every aspect of a building's interior and exterior may be protected. The new rules also allow groups of buildings and green spaces to be protected.