3 Key Concerns

The Homewood development plans, if approved, will have significant environmental, heritage, and community impacts.We have three main areas of concern about the Homewood development plans:

  1. Environmental impact – removal of trees, loss of habitat, and danger to significant species at risk;
     
  2. Heritage resources – demolition, relocation or unsympathetic additions to heritage buildings, assets and landscape;
     
  3. Community impact – potentials for increased pedestrian traffic across Delhi Street, increased vehicle traffic in surrounding areas, and loss of pedestrian access to the Homewood grounds.

 

Environmental impact

The property borders the Speed River which is a significant wildlife corridor.The 47-acre Homewood grounds are a part of the City of Guelph’s Natural Heritage System, which includes the proposed severance, and is designated as Significant Woodland and Significant Wildlife Habitat — based on size, number of species present, and habitat for provincially and locally significant plants and wildlife.

The property is also an important part of the Speed River watershed and wildlife corridor, and significant portions of the property fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Grand River Conservation Authority.  Its wooded edges and wetlands improve water quality by filtering runoff and minimizing erosion.  The trees’ shade lowers water temperature, increasing oxygen and decreasing bacteria and algae.  The river and its banks also provide important food, habitat, and travel corridors for wildlife.

Tree clearing is happening in the Homewood grounds, in apparent violation of the City of Guelph tree bylaws.We have seen significant tree clearing, including understory removal, taking place at Homewood for the past few years.  As an institutionally zoned property owner, Schlegel is afforded significant leeway with very little oversight under the City of Guelph Tree Bylaw.  Our understanding is that recent tree removals have taken place with little to no oversight from the City of Guelph forester. 

The current Homewood development plans involve the removal of another 183 mature trees from the property (including the historic “Grove” of Spruce Trees just East of Manor building), and probably more with future developments. 

The City of Guelph’s Official Plan recognizes the importance of woods, wetlands and the river systems that make up such an important part of our city.  We are concerned that Schlegel’s plans have been carefully crafted to undermine and work around our municipal, provincial and federal environmental protections.

The proposed severance would split the property into two parts, which would prevent any future development proposals from assessing the value of the Homewood greenspace as a whole — whether the new lot is developed by Schlegel, or sold to another developer.

Eastern wood-peweeAccording to Schlegel’s own environmental impact studies (pdf), there are 25 species at risk that have been identified in the affected area that are nationally, provincially, or regionally significant.

With these important species and their habitat being present in the Homewood grounds, it highlights just how crucial the property is to local conservation efforts.

For these environmental factors alone, we feel strongly that any development plan approvals need to be considered with the utmost care and caution.

 

Heritage

The Edwardian heritage features of the Homewood have been covered by modern renovations.In 1883, the Homewood campus changed from a country estate – the Donald Guthrie property – to a therapeutic psychiatric institution.  It was a time when psychiatry strongly believed that both architecture and natural landscapes could improve mental health.  This attitude has been supported by modern research, yet in the last few decades, the beauty of the property has been tarnished by unthoughtful additions and modifications.

A series of unsympathetic renovations and additions have modified the original Edwardian assembly of buildings.  By traveling the original roadway on the Homewood grounds (which runs South of the historic buildings), one can still appreciate the classical elegance of the Edwardian streetscape perched at the top of the Speed River valley. In fact, the Homewood Campus has the most significant concentration of Edwardian institutional buildings in a campus-like setting in Guelph, and possibly all of Ontario.

Schlegel is planning future renovations and additions to these buildings, but the details have not been shared with the community.  We have seen schematic drawings for the additions which raise concerns about the size, scope, and architectural appropriateness of the plans.

The Second Nurse's Residence is an important Guelph heritage building on the Homewood property and is facing demolition by Schlegel.On the east side of Delhi Street, Schlegel intends to demolish the Second Nurse’s Residence (see link for a summary of the historical significance of the building) – along with two other residences that were built between 1915 and 1925 as Homewood staff houses – in order to make a way for a very large parking lot.

The Second Nurse’s Residence was built in 1925, and designed by Ottawa architect Walter Herbert George (1907-1958) who was known as a specialist in hospital construction.  This building’s cultural heritage value is in the vital part it played in recognizing and promoting the role of women in nursing psychiatry in Ontario and Canada.

The Gatehouse, or Gatekeeper's Cottage, is one of the original heritage buildings on the Homewood property, and is being demolished by neglect.Homewood has the distinction of operating the first psychiatric nursing school program in a private setting in Canada (from 1906). And it is only second in age only to the oldest publicly funded psychiatric nursing school program in Canada — the Rockwood asylum training school in Kingston, established in 1888.

On the south end of the property, at the Arthur Street entrance, the gatehouse is becoming a victim of demolition by neglect.  It is a charming stone cottage that is a favourite of many Guelphites who regularly walk the Homewood grounds.  It is likely one of the first buildings on the property, and is believed to have been modified into a gatehouse (note its Italianate styling and details) by the Homewood to match the original Guthrie “Craiganour” Tuscan villa residence (which housed the original psychiatric facility but burned down in 1911).

The gatehouse, which has been unoccupied and unheated for a number of years, is in urgent need of major conservation and stabilization work.  The neglect is evidenced in the lack of cosmetic upkeep (peeling paint, graffiti, broken windows etc.) and in the structural damage observed (repeated freeze-thaw cycles have created a significant fissure in the limestone masonry units on the North-West corner of the building).  Further, the building has been vandalized since the Schlegel Holdings Inc. purchase of the property, and the vandalism has not been remedied.  Demolition by neglect is a known method of skirting heritage conservation laws, and we do not want to allow this to happen.

Unfortunately because not a single building on the Homewood property has been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act (which enable municipalities to protect the most important cultural heritage assets) - we are unable to ask the City of Guelph to use its Property Standards By-law to force Schlegel Holdings Inc. to remedy the demolition by neglect witnessed on the Homewood property. 

The majority of Homewood’s buildings are included in the City of Guelph’s Municipal Register of Heritage Properties as having some cultural heritage value or interest (essentially giving the City of Guelph 60 days instead of the standard 30 days to issue a demolition permit).  In the municipal register, all of the Homewood campus buildings that are included are classified as “not designated”. However, neither the Second Nurses’ Residence, nor the Cameron Gates are recognized in the municipal register — thereby not being offered any protection whatsoever under the Ontario Heritage Act. 

The architectural and heritage descriptions of each building are available on this list (pdf) — search by address: 148 Delhi Street for the Nurse’s Residence, and the gatehouse is at 280 Arthur Street North.

 

Community impact

Besides our environmental and heritage concerns, we also want to openly engage public input into all of the other impacts that the Schlegel development plans will have on the Guelph community.

The public trails through the Homewood grounds may be closed forever.One of the delights of the Homewood has always been the public access to walk through the grounds between Arthur and Emma Street.  Up until the late 1990’s this access was fully open to the public.  Then the Homewood held a public meeting to ask anyone who wanted to walk the grounds to agree to a code of conduct, to protect the health and privacy of the residents.  This was the beginning of the “Friends of Homewood” group. We remain concerned if pedestrian access will continue to be allowed through the Homewood grounds, especially if the severed property is sold to a different entity whose intention could be to close off access to local residents. 

Rendering of the proposed development of the Delhi Street frontage of Homewood

Another concern that does not seem to have been addressed in the development plans is having a large parking lot across Delhi Street from the Homewood main entrance.  This would add significant pedestrian traffic crossing Delhi Street, and it is our belief that adding a pedestrian crosswalk is not likely an option since this is the final approach for ambulances rushing to the Guelph General Hospital.  Delhi Street is a major East-West artery that serves the hospital, and in these development plans the Homewood staff, patients and visitors would be forced to cross this major street without a crosswalk.

There is also concern that ongoing development of the property will greatly increase vehicle traffic to the Homewood’s Emma Street and Arthur Street entrances.  These are residential streets, and Arthur Street North in particular is very narrow – the on-street parking makes it single-lane in many places – and has no option for widening.

For all of these reasons, we feel that it is important for any development review process to take public input into careful consideration.  We hope to create an open and ongoing discussion to work towards the best possible outcome for all parties.

The Homewood’s property is owned by Schlegel Holdings, but its natural and heritage beauty belong to all of us.  Please join us in making sure that the changes at Homewood are made thoughtfully and judiciously.

 

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