What a municipal heritage committee does

Citizen participation is essential to heritage conservation. Anyone with an interest in heritage conservation, an ability to work with the community within a municipal framework, and the time to accomplish the objectives of the committee, can participate in the decision-making processes of their municipality by joining or contributing to their community's municipal heritage committee.

Definition of a municipal heritage committee

A municipal heritage committee is an advisory committee. Like every advisory committee, a municipal heritage committee can help a community participate more directly in a municipality's decision-making process by broadening the scope of information that goes into a municipality's decision-making process when it is addressing issues that impact a community.

In summary, the role of an advisory committee is to:

  • advise and recommend
  • provide knowledge and expertise
  • facilitate the work of the organizing body by ensuring open and honest representation, creating a climate of consensus and maintaining the integrity of the committee
  • be sensitive to the community which it represents
  • promote good will and trust within the community of interest and the community at large
  • act as a liaison between politicians, organizational staff, members of the public, and other stakeholders.

The members of the committee come from the community and represent a cross-section of interests and perspectives. Their role is to advise and make recommendations — but there are limitations. These limitations are defined by terms of reference developed by the organizing body.

Representative of community interests, the advisory committee is recognized as a legitimate vehicle for coordinating and conveying community concerns. An advisory committee, therefore, plays a very important role by enabling a community to participate more directly in the decision-making process.
A municipal heritage committee is a standing committee of council and therefore an integral part of the municipal structure. It functions under the council and normally reports directly to council or through another standing committee.

Who it serves

A municipal heritage committee is appointed by and is responsible and accountable to municipal council. It helps its council make decisions on any matter relating to the legal designation and conservation of property of cultural heritage value or interest, including individual properties and heritage conservation districts. It is therefore responsible:

  • To the municipality to advise council on heritage issues (under the Ontario Heritage Act) and to carry out assigned duties according to the municipal by-law or resolution and procedures established by the municipality
  • To the municipality's citizens to help ensure that plans for change and progress are developed in way that recognizes the historical continuity of their community.

Statutory roles and responsibilities

The Ontario Heritage Act (s. 28) defines a committee's statutory roles as follows:

  • To advise and assist the council on all matters relating to Part IV (Conservation of Properties of Cultural Heritage Value or Interest) and on the identification of a potential Heritage Conservation District under Part V
  • To advise and assist the council on other heritage matters as the council may specify by by-law.

Under Part IV of the Act, once a municipal heritage committee is established, council is required to consult with it:

  • during the designation process for individual properties and for districts;
  • on applications to alter designated properties;
  • on applications to demolish or remove;
  • on applications to repeal designation by-law;

Specifically under Part IV of the Act, where a municipal heritage committee is established, council is required to consult with the committee:

  • Before giving its intention to designate a property(s. 29 (2);
  • On applications to alter designated properties where the alteration is likely to affect the property's heritage attributes as set out in the by-law designating the property (s. 33 (1)
  • On applications to demolish or remove any building or structure on designated property (s. 34 (1)).
  • On applications to repeal designation by-law: before considering an application from an owner of designated property, to repeal the by-law or part thereof designating the property (s. 31 (2);
  • On easements or covenants: before passing by-laws providing for the entering into of easements or covenants with owners of real property, or interests therein, for the conservation of buildings of cultural heritage value or interest (s. 37 (1));

Under Part V of the Act, once a municipal heritage committee is established, council is required to consult with it:

  • before passing a by-law to define one or more areas as an area to be examined for future designation as a heritage conservation district (s. 40(2)).

Additional roles and responsibilities

A municipal heritage committee's activities flow from its statutory authority and are part of its advisory functions. Council can and should assign additional responsibilities, through council resolutions, that all municipal heritage committees should fulfill, regardless of their size or location:

  • Survey, inventory and research. Many committees and their councils have begun active heritage conservation programs by conducting surveys or inventories that examine, research and evaluate all the properties and areas worthy of protection — now or in the future. These findings can make individual designation decisions easier and more reliable. They can also show a community the value and importance of its cultural heritage.
  • Community involvement and liaison with the community. Municipal authorities cannot provide all the opportunities for heritage conservation in a community. A heritage committee provides its community with a recognized forum to express its interests in heritage conservation and to learn about heritage issues. In addition, cooperation and consultation with other heritage and community organizations supports existing networks and promotes community involvement.
  • Information and education. Committees promote heritage conservation within communities, advise property owners on appropriate conservation and maintenance practices and help people determine the value of heritage resources for protection through designation. They also produce newsletters, descriptive guides, exhibits, and other educational material about notable buildings, streets, and districts. These materials raise community and visitor interest in the distinctive and attractive qualities of a community's environment.
  • Municipal planning. Many pieces of legislation, including the Ontario Heritage Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Planning Act, Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, Municipal Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Fire Marshals Act, Conservation Authorities Act, Green Energy Act, Ontario Building Code have implications for heritage conservation. Committees can provide data, review heritage studies, provide advice on mitigation measures, offer advice and guidance and administer designated property grant programs. They can also play an important role in developing heritage conservation policies for the Official Plan and in reviewing zoning bylaws to ensure they have regard for and implement heritage conservation.
  • Municipal council. Committees should be responsible for keeping council informed of their plans and activities — often through committee minutes, reports and an annual report. Appointed council members can sit on the committee to enhance communication.
  • Financial accountability. A committee is accountable to council for its financial transactions. In some municipalities, the municipal treasurer meets this responsibility by establishing separate records on behalf of the committee, and centralizing all bookkeeping and accounting in the municipal clerk's office according to established municipal procedures. The committee prepares an annual budget and submits it to council at a time specified by council.