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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Flaws in Sykes Street development proposal, says commercial construction professional

Development proposal requires careful analysis. Our town's unique history is at stake

I am writing to express my deep concern over the proposal to demolish structures on Meaford's main street to make way for a commercial/residential development.

I am currently a weekend resident of the Meaford area, soon to become a permanent resident. I was drawn to this area because of its well-preserved architecture, particularly in our downtown. I am keenly aware that it is up to local residents like myself to protect our heritage by speaking out against developments that might compromise the buildings that make our town historically important.

I an Industrial Designer by profession. I have been a residential housing developer. For the past 25 years I have worked in a management capacity for large commercial construction companies. I am well-versed in the feasibility of commercial development - from both marketing and financial perspectives. Personally and professionally, I support intelligent development. In the case of dwindling heritage resources, intelligent development must consider architectural preservation in the planning process.

The developer, Mr. Toncic, has claimed that saving the buildings in question - even the facades - is economically unfeasible. He has also suggested that he knows of retailers who would open up shop on the main street if the old buildings were replaced by new structures. These arguments are, in my professional opinion, unfounded. I submit the following arguments for the public's consideration:

1. Retailers invest in communities, not buildings. Meaford's draw - now and particularly in the future - is in the charm and authenticity of our main street. Disturbing that architectural continuity will harm commercial prospects, not help them. The path to a more viable main street is to invest in restoring the past, not replace it. There are many examples of successful initiatives in other small towns in the US, Mexico and Europe that prove out this hypothesis.

2. I am very familiar with the buildings that Mr. Toncic claims are beyond saving. I have inspected them thoroughly - inside and out. These buildings are in poor repair but are fundamentally sound. To restore them as part of a larger development would require careful design and construction - but the cost as a percentage of the entire development would be insignificant. There is absolutely no financial or technical reason why these buildings cannot be fully restored as part of Mr. Toncic's proposed development.

It is always easier to tear down an old building and rebuild rather than restore, renovate and expand. A sophisticated view considers the value of the existing asset. Developers cannot be expected to make an unbiased judgment. It is Council's role to consider the value of these buildings in the context of Meaford's architectural heritage and its long term attractiveness to future development. The architectural preservation of this town is critically important to Ontario, Canada, and the world.

I expect Council to represent my concerns and those of my neighbours. all of whom share my views. I request that more effort be made to publicize upcoming discussions so that local residents - including weekenders - can voice their opinions. It appears that at the present time a handful of the developer's friends are attending meetings and offering their support.

I look forward to attending the upcoming meeting at the Meaford Golf Club on February 25th at 7:00 to listen to Mr. Toncic's vision for our town.

Gord Naylor

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