Heritage district study for Crescentwood draws support and ire from residents

It’s one of Winnipeg’s oldest neighbourhoods, with tree-lined streets, large lots and stately homes, but there are some questions about how far residents want to go to preserve its character.

Protecting the “character-defining elements” of the Crescentwood-Enderton area is set out in a study touting the benefits of designating it as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD).

The study was in front of the city’s property and planning committee on Monday. It says the neighbourhood “is of special architectural and historical interest and embodies heritage values that are worthy of the HCD designation.”

If ultimately approved, the designation would regulate certain “alterations, developments, and demolitions within the subject area to conserve its character-defining elements.”

Effectively that could mean everything from the windows and facades to fences and yards of the 123 homes in the neighbourhood could be subject to restrictions on changes. 

River Heights Fort Garry councillor John Orlikow sees a heritage district as a ‘picture to the past,’ but acknowledges there will be dissenters to a designation. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

“It’s when you can walk through a neighborhood, a district area, and kind of see a picture to the past,” said John Orlikow, the councillor for River Heights-Fort Garry.

Armstrong’s Point, a neighbourhood just across the Assiniboine River from Crescentwood, has a HCD designation already in place.

The proposal for the designation of Crescentwood as an HCD arrives in front of the committee with some controversy behind it.

Well before it was even a written proposal, it was used as a reason to rescind a demolition permit for a 110-year-old mansion on Wellington Crescent.

In a late-evening decision last year — just hours before crews were set to tear down the house — the director of the property and planning department nominated the Crescentwood neighbourhood to be a heritage conservation district, effectively suspending all demolition permits in the area.

The massive home was subsequently torn down last November as the property and planning department said it “represents an unsafe condition such that delaying demolition of the building represents a risk of harm to the health or safety of persons or property.”

Christine Skene was part of a group that lobbied hard to save the old home and is now championing the HCD for Crescentwood.

“The recent loss of the magnificent residence of 514 Wellington Crescent illustrates the need for the protection that a Heritage Conservation District designation can provide for a neighborhood such as Crescentwood. In a historic city of this size and sophistication of Winnipeg, the need for protection for our most vulnerable buildings is dire,” Skene told the committee.

Christine Skene says the unique character of her Crescentwood neighbourhood is worthy of preservation. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

However, Skene’s position is not completely shared by all the residents in the neighbourhood. Several wrote to the committee expressing concerns about the impact of the area becoming an HCD. Their names and addresses were redacted by request.

“I support urban renewal and creating density. I support tasteful and carefully considered city reviewed projects. I do not support arbitrary zones created for vocal members of a neighbourhood to promote not-in-my-back-yard NIMBYism to protect an era that has passed us by,” wrote one resident.

Orlikow says he expected opposition.

“That’s what the whole process is for, to get those stories. You’re not going to ever get a unanimity of votes — everybody agrees on everything — but you do move into these areas like this one and I believe there’s an expectation you can try to maintain your home. We all know how expensive these homes are to maintain,” he said in an interview.

The study will remain just that until city staff can work the proposals into a plan.

Those proposals would then require a vote at city council before becoming rules that might govern development and even renovations of the homes in the area.