Conservation Review Board Report Supports the Town’s Efforts

RICHMOND HILL – The Town of Richmond Hill has worked diligently over the past several months to do what is within its power to protect the heritage attributes on the David Dunlap Observatory property. In doing so, the Town took steps under the Ontario Heritage Act by issuing a Notice of Intent to Designate on October 23, 2007 (the buildings) and July 22, 2008 (adding the cultural heritage landscape).

In accordance with the process, a Conservation Review Board hearing was held earlier this year and the subsequent recommendations from the hearing were presented in the form of a 61-page report a few weeks ago. The Town of Richmond Hill is currently reviewing the Conservation Review Board’s report and, with careful consideration of their recommendations, is working to draft the necessary by-law. Staff are expected to present a report and by-law to Council for their consideration after the summer recess.

“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done including a survey of the property and describing in detail every attribute to inform the by-law,” said Ana Bassios, Commissioner of Planning and Development. “This is a signature property in the Town and it is of great significance to us. We need to exercise care here in terms of what happens next in the areas of heritage, natural heritage and future development considerations.”

“We are encouraged that the Conservation Review Board supported the Town’s efforts,” said Mayor Dave Barrow. “The Board went so far as to say that it commended the Town for its quick and comprehensive response to designate the property and endorsed the Town’s approach.”

“It is important to remember that it is privately-owned and, like all other properties, no development of the site will take place without a rigorous planning process and the involvement of the community,” said Ms. Bassios.

“Any changes to the property will require an application to be submitted to the Town and will be subject to a prescribed process that also allows for extensive public participation prior to Council’s approval,” said the Mayor.

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure that the community will benefit from any future uses of the property,” added the Mayor. “We have repeatedly contacted other levels of government asking for their assistance and we would welcome any action by the Province to further help us protect the property as suggested by the Conservation Review Board in their report. We hope that people will be patient while we undertake the necessary next steps and stay engaged as we believe this issue will be on the table for some time.”

More information about the David Dunlap Observatory and a copy of the Conservation Review Board report can be found on the Town’s Website at

Please see attached Backgrounder: DDO Property and What Happens Next

The Property

 The David Dunlap Observatory lands are a large property of approximately 189 acres (76 ha) located in Richmond Hill, just west of Bayview Avenue and north of 16th Avenue (123 Hillsview Drive). The lands are separated into two main portions, Part 1 and Parts 2/3. Part 1 is the main rectangular land mass of about 175 acres, which is primarily an open, undeveloped space with a concentrated cluster of primary buildings, including an Observatory building (housing the telescope), an Administration building, and a dwelling historically referred to as Elms Lea. Parts 2/3, also referred to as “the panhandle,” house the Elvis Stojko Arena and Observatory Park that were both built and managed by the Town of Richmond Hill through a lease.

The History of the Property

 The property was a gift to the University of Toronto by Jessie Donalda Dunlap as a memorial to her husband David Alexander Dunlap, who was an enthusiastic amateur astronomer. The University developed the property for its Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and opened the telescope in 1935. The astronomical observatory was a research centre for many years and served the purpose of public education and teaching programs. The University announced its intention to sell the DDO lands in September 2007. As of June 2008 the property is owned by Corsica Developments, a residential developer.

Heritage Designations

 The Ontario Heritage Act (the “Act”), first enacted on March 5, 1975, allows municipalities to designate individual properties and districts within their respective municipality, as being of cultural heritage value or interest. Once a property has been designated under Part IV of the Act, a property owner must apply to the local municipality for a permit to undertake any alterations of the property or demolition of any buildings or structures on the property that may impact any of the identified heritage attributes. Ontario Regulation 9/06 of the Act specifically sets out the criteria for determining cultural heritage value or interest such as, among others, craftsmanship or artistic merit; technical or scientific achievement; or direct historical association with a theme, event, belief, person, activity, organization or institution that is significant to a community.

Conservation Review Board and Report

 The Conservation Review Board (CRB) was established in 1975 with the passage of the Ontario Heritage Act. It comprises an expert panel in the field of cultural heritage conservation which conducts hearings on heritage matters. The Board reviews evidence from municipalities as well as information provided by individuals and organizations who object to designations, and makes recommendations to the municipalities. The CRB hearing began on January 15, 2009 and concluded on January 23, 2009 with cases being presented by the Town, the owner Corsica Developments, the Richmond Hill Naturalists and the Observatory Hill Homeowners Association. A 61-page Recommendation Report based on the evidence presented at the hearing was made available to the public on June 4, 2009.

What Does the By-law Do?

 A designating by-law passed by Council will ultimately define the heritage attributes to be protected. This type of by-law is required by the Ontario Heritage Act in order to officially designate the property. While the by-law is being prepared by staff for consideration by Council the property is protected under Section 30 of the Ontario Heritage Act which speaks to the effect of the Notice of Intent to Designate. It applies “as though the designation process were complete and the property had be designated under Section 29.”

What Happens Next?

 Staff are analysing the report in detail and will report back to Council after summer recess. At that time, a Planning and Conservation Management Study will be undertaken by the Town to identify ongoing management requirements of the heritage attributes and recommend a land use and urban design framework to guide any development that may occur in the future. A Master Environmental Servicing Plan will also be initiated to determine the significance and limits of the natural environment within the property to be protected and identify future servicing requirements. The Town will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the property owner and other interested parties to ensure that all the necessary precautions are being taken to protect the heritage attributes.  The Town will continue to seek input and involvement from the community through the Planning and Conservation Study and will undertake full public consultation on all planning proposals.


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