By Mike Anderson

A group of concerned residents is calling on the Town of Georgina to do more to protect heritage properties from the wrecking ball.

This follows the Town’s recent decision to issue a demolition permit to the owners of a Georgian-style farm house in Belhaven, built in 1850.

Although the house is not listed on Georgina’s Heritage Registry, which lists more than 100 local heritage properties eligible for preservation, the group says that by granting the permit, the Town is showing it is not interested in protecting heritage properties.

“I think there’s a perception that heritage properties are holding us back,” said Allan Morton, a former Georgina Heritage Committee member.

“They don’t understand the benefits. Lake Simcoe benefits Georgina. Heritage should be considered a resource, too. If you don’t protect heritage, you lose it forever. Having heritage in your Town benefits the economy; academic research proves that.”

“We presented a list of six new properties for the Heritage Registry in 2019, but they never approved it. They just kicked the can down the road, and it never happened.”

The group, which includes Morton, other former Heritage Committee members, and several members of the Georgina Historical Society, is demanding the Town reinstate the committee, which was dissolved following the 2022 municipal election.

According to a Town spokesperson, the municipality has deferred the appointment of the Heritage Committee until it hires a heritage consultant to manage the Registry.

“In response to the recommendations in the September 27, 2023 report to Council on various heritage-related matters and the implications of Bill 23, it was recommended that the appointment of a Heritage Committee be deferred,” the spokesperson said in an email to The Post.

“It was further recommended that Legislative Services report back to Council after the January 1, 2025 deadline with respect to the potential appointment of a Heritage Committee.”

The January 1 deadline, now just eight months away, was set by Bill 23 to push municipalities to finalize the list of properties on their Heritage Registries.

If a property is not included in the Registry, it cannot be listed again for five years.

However, once a property is listed on the Registry, the owner must get permission to demolish the building—unlisted properties are not protected.

The group says that if the Town waits until the deadline has passed, it may be too late to save other heritage properties. So, they want the committee reinstated now.

They also argue that a heritage consultant is unnecessary, as the committee members, some of whom have PhDs in heritage conservation, have the necessary expertise to manage the Registry at a fraction of the cost.

“As a former senior staff member who worked closely with both the Georgina Historical Society and the Heritage Committee, I cannot fathom why this committee has been effectively disbanded,” wrote John McLean, who organized the group’s first meeting at the Link on April 4, in an email to Mayor Quirk on April 5.

“In my personal opinion, it is totally unnecessary for the Town to hire an outside “professional” with no direct knowledge of the community’s history at a significant cost when the Heritage Commitee was fulfilling that need at a cost of pennies compared to the $100K quoted for a consultant.”

Morton also points out that neighbouring municipalities, like East Gwillimbury, Newmarket, and Aurora, rely on Heritage Committees to help manage their Registries. So, he doesn’t understand why Georgina doesn’t follow suit, especially with the Bill 23 deadline looming.

“They think having a consultant and not having a Heritage Committee is the way to go. But, in all other jurisdictions in the GTA, they have Heritage consultants, and they also have the Heritage Committee working with them,” Morton said.

“The heritage consultant doesn’t really know local history. They don’t have the inside knowledge, so they must rely on the Heritage Committee to make decisions.”

“The Heritage Committee needs to be reinstated. Because now there is no voice for heritage in Georgina.”