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Newmarket stands firms on protecting historic Denne house from development

Council giving the Charles Denne House 415 Davis Dr. heritage designation despite owner opposition
Oct. 26, 2021
Joseph Quigley

Newmarket council is giving a historic house at 415 Davis Dr. heritage protections despite the objections of owners seeking to develop the property.

The Charles Denne House, once owned by a prominent citizen and successful merchant and originally built in 1904, will receive protection under the Ontario Heritage Act. Council committee of the whole unanimously approved the measure Oct. 25, after staff heritage consultant Archaeological Research Associates Ltd. found it met all three criteria under the Ontario Heritage Act, including design or physical value, historical or associate value, and contextual value.

Councillor Christina Bisanz said the heritage committee examined the matter thoroughly. She said letting heritage houses be redeveloped is not something that can be taken back.

“Once they're gone, they're gone,” Bisan said. “It would be nice to incorporate a couple of bricks to a cornerstone (of a future development), but it’s not going to give the same sense of the historic value."

The property owners seek to develop on the approximately three-acre land, which is situated on a floodplain. They made two delegations opposing the designation, citing concern about restricting development in the Davis Drive corridor, which the municipality has slated for intensification.

The heritage consultants said the house has both Edwardian and Queen Anne design and is representative of them. It said the home “maintains the historic character of the Main Street corridor and is important in maintaining the historical fabric of the core of Newmarket.”

Owner Steve Whitfield has had the property since 2012 and said it is one kilometre north of the downtown heritage conservation district. He said only four people occupy the land now, and there is an opportunity to develop housing there.

“The region has declared we are in a housing crisis,” Whitfield said, “not in a heritage home crisis.”

Matthew Howard of ICON homes also presented. He said the floodplain on the property is a constraint, which will require “lifting” a proposed building out of the floodplain with earthworks. But he said the scope of the work and available space would make it impossible to build the new residential property and keep the current building on site.

But council did not budge. Councillor Victor Woodhouse said opting against the designation would set a bad precedent.

“We would be sending a very strong message to other potential heritage properties. If you come and ask nicely, we might perhaps waive the requirements,” Woodhouse said. “It’s pretty clear this council has been receptive to development. We haven’t balked at it. We haven’t pushed back hard."

Director of planning and building services Jason Unger said heritage property owners can work through how to keep their heritage buildings within a new development. Mayor John Taylor said he hopes staff can work with the proponents on a creative alternative solution.

“We’ve taken a stronger position when it comes to heritage,” Taylor said.

The designation still needs to be ratified by council Nov. 1.