Heritage house standing tall through urban sprawl

Some Ajax residents are concerned about the future of heritage property on Westney Road.

Tribute Communities has submitted a draft plan to the Town of Ajax to develop a farm at 1733 Westney Road into a 19-home subdivision. The site has five buildings, including the larger farm house.

Locals are concerned for the property and they have started a Facebook page and Twitter profile to raise awareness about this piece of Ajax history. The Facebook group has 116 active members, while the Twitter page has about 500 followers.

Sherri MacIver runs the group ‘Westney Heritage’ and has done a lot of research about the property. She also started the ‘Save Westney Farm’ petition, which has collected over 500 signatures.

“To me, there is a unique heritage aspect to this property,” MacIver said. “I don’t think we have enough in our town that shows our true history.”

The farm, known as ‘Westglen’ was designated as a heritage site in 1985. Quantum falls, which owns Tribute Communities, bought the land in 2011 and immediately started construction on the property, tearing down three buildings. The company was fined $2,000 by the Town of Ajax for the destruction of the two sheds and chicken coop.

Paul Allore, the director of planning and development for the town has the job of looking through the draft, and deciding whether to push it through to city council.

“The process of a draft plan for a subdivision can take some time, eight months to a year, so we are still at the early stages,” Allore said.

Westglen was named by the Westney family and had been in the family since 1892. The property was bought by Quantum Falls in 2011 following the death of Dorothy Westney, who was married to Westney’s son. Westney was involved with local government, first elected to Pickering Township Council in 1941. He was also elected as warden of Ontario County Council in 1949.

Westney received the Confederation of Canada Centennial medal in 1967 for his valuable service to the nation. He continued farming until the age of 90. Westney also had one of Ajax’s main roads named after him, which is where Westglen sits.

Now his history is the thing MacIver’s group wants to preserve as urbanization pushes forward in Ajax.

The issue of urbanization can be complex with a lot of strings attached, especially in Durham region which has seen a 16 per cent increase in population in the last ten years, according to a report released by the region in 2014.

There are social and economic factors at play that can influence the fate of a piece of land, said Daniel Hoornweg the former lead urban specialist for the World Bank’s Urban Advisory Unit and UOIT professor. He has worked with developing sustainable communities around the world.

“It’s a shade of grey. There’s good things and there’s bad things,” said Hoornweg.

There are not many possibilities for Westglen. If Tribute is legally allowed to develop on the land, the town can take the land away but would have to pay Tribute.

“Government can always expropriate the land, but rarely do because they don’t have the money,” Hoornweg said.

That is not what MacIver’s group wants to hear.

“There are all kind of communities all throughout Ontario with unique and valuable heritage, and when a city or town goes through the trouble of designating as a heritage property, it is a serious commitment,” MacIver said.

The decisions on Westglen in the coming months will have an effect on Ajax history just as William Westney did all those years ago.