City of Hamilton Temporarily Without Heritage Planners as Two Leave for New Opportunities

Joey Coleman/The Public Record

The remaining portion of James Street Baptist Church stands behind fencing with the Receivership Notice posted announcing the bankruptcy of The Connolly project.

Hamilton’s heritage advocates are worried that the decade-plus backlog of heritage designations will grow even longer with both of the City of Hamilton planning division’s heritage planners departing for new opportunities.

Janice Brown, speaking as a resident and not on behalf of the Municipal Heritage Committee of which she is a member, says she is “disappointed” City Hall lost two heritage planners during the past few months.

“This just puts us further behind”, she wrote in an email regarding the impact of the vacancies upon the work of volunteer citizen heritage working groups. “Without adequate and good staff, the current backlog of work continues to build.”

In December, one of the City’s two heritage planners was hired by the Province of Ontario. The other planner is starting at the City of Oakville next week.

“This situation is occurring at a time when all over the City residents are becoming greatly interested in preserving the City’s heritage and history, while the pressure on our heritage stock from development mounts incrementally as well”, wrote Ancaster Village Heritage Committee President Bob Maton in an email.

Hamilton’s Chief Planner and Director of Planning Steve Robichaud acknowledges the concerns of the heritage community and writes his division is working to recruit new planners.

“Over the last six to twelve months there has been an increase in the number of heritage planner opportunities across Ontario, both in the private sector and public sector”, Robichaud wrote in an email response to The Public Record.

Registered Professional Planners (RPP) are very much in demand across Ontario, and work-from-home opportunities means the City of Hamilton is competing more broadly to hire and retain RPPs than prior to COVID.

“In the interim, and to ensure that we can maintain essential heritage planning services such as Heritage Permit Review, Alissa Golden will be assisting the Planning Division.”

Golden is a well regarded RPP who was one of the City’s heritage planners prior to gaining a new role in the Tourism and Culture division. Golden’s present role includes working on various community cultural heritage studies.

Brown writes that Golden’s work is “invaluable” to volunteer working groups and to community ones as well. Brown notes that back-filling Golden into the planning role may result in delays to cultural heritage work, which “will not be able to continue … until she returns.”

Among the files at risk of being temporarily shelved is the Ancaster Heritage Inventory, as well as the Beasley and Greensville Heritage Inventory projects.

Maton emailed the City’s General Manager of Planning and Economic Development Saturday afternoon to expressing the concerns of heritage advocates regarding the vacancies.

Thorne responded five minutes later writing “we are moving quickly to fill our heritage planning positions. The recruitment effort already began prior to the positions becoming vacant, and we are hopeful we will have a strong group of candidates put their names forward.”

The City continues to conduct some heritage planning work.

Robichaud writes the Planning Division “has a co-op student who assists with inquiries and the processing of Heritage Permits.  The current practise of using external heritage consultants to undertake and complete the review of proprieties to determine if they should be recommended for designation will continue.”

[The co-op student is a university student, usually in a graduate level program]

He says the Senior Project Managers, who oversee all planning files with the three geographical groups of planning, are overseeing ongoing heritage work and continuing projects already underway which involve external consultants.

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