Student homes: a lesson in history?

City Park is among three areas of Kingston under consideration for historical designation.
City Park is among three areas of Kingston under consideration for historical designation.

If a local residents’ group gets its way, some students might not only be studying history, but living in it too.

The Sydenham Ward Tenants and Ratepayer’s Association (SWTRA), is currently considering designating several areas in Kingston—including some homes in which students currently live—as historic sites.

“Tourism brings Kingston $250 million a year, and a large part of that tourism is related to history and heritage,” said Bill Glover, chairman of SWTRA’s 14-member board. “It makes sense that you protect your history and heritage.”

The group must bring their recommendations to city council to get the designations. As it stands, they are considering three areas for designation.

Glover explained that historical designation is the identification of something important for a historical reason. Designated sites can include parks, landscapes, views, vistas and buildings.

“The official plan the City of Kingston has identified as being suitable for such designation within Sydenham district is City Park, the historic Sydenham Ward and the corridor of King Street, from Princess Street to Portsmouth Avenue,” Glover said.

Historic Sydenham Ward, which despite its title is not currently historically designated, is enclosed by Barrie Street, Johnson Street and Lake Ontario. It’s an area that includes several homes where students reside.

Glover said he believes the process of historical designation wouldn’t greatly affect the homes.

“In the short term, it doesn’t mean much,” he said. “Property values would increase faster than they do elsewhere, and if [owners] want to do renovations to their property or additions before they get a permit, their proposal has to be approved by the [Kingston Municipal Heritage Committee ].”

Glover said it could be beneficial for students to live in homes in the designated areas.

“One could argue that it would help students,” he said. “This sort of designation could probably limit the number of monster houses that could be built.”

Glover added that designated areas usually see a climb in property value as a result of improved maintenance.

Naomi Lutes, AMS municipal affairs commissioner and student representative on SWTRA, said she is concerned about the vague wording of the possible historical designation.

“My feelings are complicated because on the [provincial government] Ministry of Culture’s website, if a home has been historically designated, any alterations have to be approved separately,” she said, referring to the required approval from the Kingston Municpal Heritage Committee.

Lutes said she is also concerned about whether repairs would need to get approval.

“Before I would agree to that, I would need to be assured that the term ‘alteration’ doesn’t include repairs.”

She said she is not concerned about historical designation as a process, but whether it would have an impact on property standards.

“If it affects a home, a student home, could it limit the ability for alterations to be made?” she asked. “What if costs for any alterations to the home [increase] because of property value? I wouldn’t want costs to be [handed down] to students in the form of rent.”

Lutes agreed that historical designation could have the potential to raise living standards for students in those areas.

Glover said houses requiring alteration and renovation would need to comply with guidelines that would be created by the committee.

“Guidelines need to be established about appropriate developments and renovations,” he said.

Residents living in historically designated homes would be able to choose options from guidelines to suit their preferences, he said.

“If you want to change the windows, you change the windows in accordance with the guidelines.”

Glover said the process of historical designation would take at least two years. The process begins with a study that includes an inventory of buildings in the area and their importance, he said, adding that the Heritage Committee reviews the study and determines whether or not the project will continue.

SWTRA will then make a recommendation to city council.

“If council says, ‘Yes, it is appropriate,’ the council will make the designation,” he said.

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