The Ontario Heritage Act enables any municipality in Ontario to designate an area as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD). Designation occurs where there has been a proposal for designation initiated by one or more property owners in the area and where this proposal is subsequently supported by a majority of property owners in the area.
HCD designation allows a municipality to protect and enhance the special characteristics of a designated area, as defined by local property owners themselves. The special characteristics generally include the overall look and quality of buildings, landscapes and open spaces, as seen together from the street. (HCD designation does not in any way affect the interior or the back or sides (except where a corner lot) of buildings in the HCD.)
A HCD enables a Municipal Council to improve the management of and more rigorously guide the future development of particular areas within a municipality that have been identified as having special character. A HCD may comprise an area with a group or complex of buildings, or a larger area with many buildings and properties. It may also comprise an entire municipality with a concentration of heritage resources with special character or historical associations that distinguishes it from its surroundings.
Once a district is designated, it gains public recognition as well as some measure of protection against the demolition or unsympathetic alteration of properties. Future changes to a heritage conservation district will need to be carried out in a sympathetic manner, compatible with the area’s established heritage character as identified in the heritage conservation district plan and designation by-law. The Act requires municipalities, when a designation by-law is passed, to adopt a heritage conservation district plan which includes policies and guidelines for property owners and the municipality as to what is regarded as acceptable and desirable changes within the district.