Corp Comm Connects

Newmarket heritage buildings face obstacles in push to make downtown accessible
July 16, 2021

Rule exempts heritage buildings from accessibility improvements, but the committee hopes to work through it

The Town of Newmarket is advancing plans to give downtown businesses a funding boost for accessibility improvements, but heritage buildings could be blocked from the effort.

The municipality plans to make up to $5,000 available for businesses, tied into its redevelopment financial incentive programs.

The municipal accessibility advisory committee met July 15 and discussed the campaign to improve Main Street accessibility. Economic development officer Chris Kallio said the program should be possible, but the heritage district plans around Lower Main Street South will take priority.

“Accessibility improvements are superseded by the heritage conservation plan,” Kallio said. “Technically, under the building code, in heritage districts, accessibility improvements are not required.”

The committee intends to campaign in the months ahead to get business owners throughout Main Street to make improvements. Chair Steve Foglia said less than 10 per cent of Main Street businesses are currently accessible.

Foglia expressed some concern with heritage buildings facing hurdles to make improvements. He said he hopes it can be worked out with the Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee.

“A lot of storefronts on Main Street don’t look anything like they used to back in the day,” Foglia said, questioning whether small improvements like grinding down steps would need permitting. “We’ll have to take it one step at a time, and do it building by building, and hopefully we can all work together.”

Kallio said heritage permits are needed for any change to the exterior of a heritage building, though smaller adjustments should not pose an issue in that process.

"We want to support you, we have some funding, but it's up to building owners and the businesses," Kallio said. "I do want to caution, if there's significant changes, it may require the building department to issue a building permit and have proper plans."

The committee plans to canvass businesses about making improvements. Kallio said the financial incentives are not yet in place, though they are in the works.

“I’m sure we can all work together for this, for the greater good of accessibility,” Foglia said. “Whatever hurdles we come across, we’ll just take it one at a time and do our best to make it happen without stepping on anyone’s toes.”