Council moves motion to designate Fairbank house
Coun. Liz Welsh brought forward a motion Monday night to see the Fairbank property designated a historical site. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network
The property on which oil baron John Henry Fairbank built an extravagant mansion 130 years ago will be designated as historical, even as the property’s long-time owner moves ahead with a plan to build an apartment on the same land.
Petrolia town council members on Monday were unanimous in their agreement to seek the designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Once the designation is granted through a municipal bylaw, as permitted under the Act, owner David Burnie would have to notify the municipality of any changes to the property, and would also have to give 90 days’ notice before those changes are made.
The bylaw to designate the Fairbank property as historical is not new. In 2003, a previous council sought to pursue the same designation but the document was shelved. Coun. Ross O’Hara, who was mayor at the time, said Monday it was in the council’s best interest 14 years ago to not designate the property.
Under the Ontario Heritage Act, municipal councils are given the responsibility of protecting culturally and historically significant properties.
A building, structure or site may be considered for a number of reasons, including architectural and design value, association with a significant person, event or time in an area’s development, and how it represents community characteristics.
The designation also makes it known to the public that a property is of importance to the area, and would protect the home from any alterations that may adversely affect its historical significance or architectural value.
While the 2003 bylaw was never completed and the process has since changed, Coun. Liz Welsh said Monday the process will soon be completed.
Welsh said the historical designation does not impose restrictions or expenses to the property owner. Upgrades can still be made so long as they maintain the building’s historic integrity and are sympathetic to the structure’s architecture. Most designations include exterior features only unless specifically designated, such as a fireplace.
Welsh, who is a member of the Petrolia Heritage Committee, said benefits to designating the structure including major tax credits for the owner that can be used toward maintaining the property.
Dave Hext, a member of the Heritage Committee, was pleased with council’s decision to pursue the historical designation.
“We appreciate the support,” he told council.
While Burnie had put forward a proposal to build a multi-unit apartment building several months ago on the Fairbank property, Welsh said that council’s motion to designate will put this on hold for now.
Despite a brief plan for the mansion, residents showed concern over whether Burnie would keep his word in restoring the mansion or leave it to deteriorate.
Hext said the decision will ensure the mansion will remain on the property.
“It looks like we’ve got the first step,” he said. “Not only would it protect the house but it would protect the whole landscape.”
Welsh said she is hoping to see a bylaw presented at the next council meeting in March.