A DIVIDED COMMUNITY
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Nancy Henderson recalls exactly how she felt when a real estate agent asked her if she was interested in selling her house.
“This is my home. You can’t put a price on my home. You can put a market value but if you honestly think that I would buy into this and you were going to have me sell to you so you could bring your little Toronto people down here to build their monster home, you could not put a price on buying me out,” says Henderson of Delaware Avenue in South Central Burlington.
Henderson’s neighbourhood is made up of the street she lives on, Delaware Avenue, as well as the street parallel, Seneca Avenue. She has lived there for 15 years.
It is a quaint neighbourhood filled with large beautiful trees, some of rare varieties, children riding their bikes and friendly neighbours. It is just a short walk to Lake Ontario and Downtown Burlington. The houses are small and old, some over 100 years, and have a certain charm to them, nothing short of heritage homes in some people’s opinions.
It is a desirable community to say the least, an area that many people want to live in.
This community is experiencing what is called mature neighbourhood infill housing. Builders have recognized the appeal to this neighbourhood and they are buying some of the smaller homes, tearing them down, and replacing them with larger, new houses in what seems to be a hurried manner.
“The province will wrap the word intensification around it. The city has taken this as a directive to let this change happen without any thought process, without looking down the road and realizing how it impacts people who have lived here for a long time,” Henderson says.
Henderson, along with some of the other residents in the neighbourhood, says she feels upset with the rate of change on her street as well as the design of some of the new houses.
One of Henderson’s neighbours, Jan Christmas, who is my aunt and introduced me to the issue, has similar feelings about what is occurring.
“The fact that really bothers most of us is that the character of the neighbourhood is being lost with the houses that are put up that have no character. It started out with one house design. That’s why you see the ‘No More Cookie Cutter’ signs,” Christmas says.
The residents who feel strongly about the issue at hand have made signs that state, ‘No More Cookie Cutter Houses – Restore, Renovate, Respect’, and display them on their front lawns.
Christmas has lived in her home for eight years now but previously grew up in the same house and moved out when she was 17.
Another longtime resident of Delaware Avenue, Graham White, who supports the views of Henderson and Christmas, has lived in his home for 52 years.
“We all have a liking for where we came from. But it’s not really what I like, it’s what sells,” White says of the change in his neighbourhood, although he says the change is coming too quickly.
White believes the history and character of older neighbourhoods, such as his own, is important to preserve. Henderson and Christmas agree with White and say that the core of Burlington is how the city started and it is historic.
“I think that should count for something, instead of just being made to look like every other big city. This is the history; this is the core. There are stories to be told in every house, in every community, and it’s just being decimated for the almighty dollar,” Christmas says.
Many of the houses on Delaware and Seneca are of historical value. One of these homes belongs to Gregg Rhodes.
Rhodes’ home was built in 1890 and he has lived there since 1973. In 1990, Rhodes won a Heritage Award for maintaining the original wood siding of his house. This classified Rhodes’ house as an A Home, which is a heritage home.
The class system for houses consists of A Homes, B Homes, and C Homes. An A Home is considered a heritage home, while a B Home has the potential of becoming a heritage home based on the surrounding area. A C Home is a home that is not protected as a heritage home and can be bought and torn down.
Unfortunately, since the construction of modern houses and the destruction of older houses in the area, Rhodes’ home has been downgraded to a C Home without any warning and can now potentially be bought and torn down. Because the surroundings in the area have been modernized, a beautiful heritage home is no longer protected.
Something that the residents of Delaware and Seneca love about their neighbourhood is the sense of community. It is a type of community in which the people are simple minded, enjoy life, and are friends with their neighbours.
There are stories to be told in every house, in every community, and it’s just being decimated for the almighty dollar."
- Jan Christmas
“When you’ve lived here for a number of years, you’ve made friends. You all look out for each other and you all take care of each other,” Christmas says about her neighbours.
Henderson adds, “If you move into some neighbourhood where every house looks the same and there’s the garage that butts out the front and then you have a little walkway up to the door, that sets the tone for the type of neighbourhood where nobody goes out front. So really you do not know your neighbours.”
Henderson and Christmas agree that community is very important and they think what is occurring in their neighbourhood is destroying the sense of community and character.
“You can drive a community, but you have to build it in such a way that people are going to get out front and communicate. If you continue to build these homes without a front window and these big two car garages that force people to stay inside or spend time in their backyard, then people won’t talk to each other,” Henderson says.
Community is a vital concept that is being lost in modern living areas such as subdivisions and condominiums. It is rare to find a neighbourhood with such a strong sense of community as the one on Delaware and Seneca.
The residents of these streets are scared to lose their homes. They are afraid that if they do decide to move, their homes will be replaced and the history and character will be forgotten.
“I know if I decide to move I’m at risk of that sweet little bungalow with the cute little porch and the little stone pillars being trashed, and that’s heartbreaking,” Henderson says.
Cindy Consentino was attracted to the charming houses, friendly neighbours, and the proximity to the core of Burlington when she moved to Seneca Avenue five years ago.
When Consentino moved to the street, she noticed that houses were going up for sale and they were being torn down.
“A lot of houses that I loved, some of these little houses, they’re so cute, all of a sudden would be gone,” Consentino says.
One day when she was leaving for work, Consentino saw builders next to her house and she did not know why they were there. Without her knowledge, her neighbour had sold his house and it was to be torn down and replaced with a brand new, larger house.
Consentino was devastated and in complete shock.
“A builder said to me, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’m going to have that house and that house and that house and that house,’ and he pointed to every house up the street basically saying they’d be his eventually too. It’s not like he was trying to make friends. In fact, he was making the situation worse,” Consentino says.
Along with her neighbours, Consentino also believes this neighbourhood should be protected.
“It’s special. There are some really unique homes down here,” she says.
Because of the new house beside her home, along with other reasons such as a need for more space, Consentino decided to move. She moved to a new house down the street. The sense of community and the quaintness of the neighbourhood is what kept Consentino in the area. She knew the character of Delaware and Seneca was rare and could be found in very few places.
“I finally reached a point where I thought, ‘You have to just get over it because there is nothing you can do about it. It’s just making you angry, get over it. It is what it is,’” Consentino says.
Infill housing in mature neighbourhoods is happening in communities across Canada. As much as the residents are displeased by this, it still happens and it is becoming more difficult to preserve heritage. It seems that change in these neighbourhoods is becoming inevitable.