Opinion: City’s plan insufficient to preserve heritage homes (Elizabeth Murphy, in Vancouver Sun 9-June-2014)

Note: This opinion piece was published by the Vancouver Sun on June 9, 2014. The City’s Heritage Action Plan goes before City Council on June 10.

Opinion: City’s plan insufficient to preserve heritage homes: Building-code changes needed to make renovation, restoration viable
By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to the Vancouver Sun June 9, 2014

Photo caption: Two Tudor-style houses known as the Two Dorothies were recently saved from demolition by being moved, but may be stripped down to the studs because they’re going to be strata-titled, which kicks in provisions that would require them to be rainscreened and seismically upgraded.


Demolitions of heritage character houses are the subject of the City of Vancouver’s heritage action plan going to city council this week. Although it is a step in the right direction, concerns remain.

The city’s report is in three parts: (a) Steps to enhance protection of First Shaughnessy and pre-1940s character houses; (b) Encouraging reuse and recycling of construction waste from pre-1940 homes and construction and demolition-waste diversion strategy; (c) Vancouver heritage register annual update.

A few of the proposed actions may help discourage a repeat of the more than 1,000 demolitions in 2013, however, many of the interim actions may not be effective, and most of the long-term solutions will not happen until 2015, after the next election in November 2014.

The demolition of character houses undermines the city’s green initiatives, affordability objectives, and neighbourhood character. It is a result of current policy, some of which is recent.

Although demolitions in Vancouver have been a problem for several decades, recent changes have made the situation worse. Under EcoDensity approved by the NPA council in 2007 and then implemented by the Vision council in 2009, there have been a number of zoning and policy changes under which demolitions increased dramatically.

Contrary to Vancouver Heritage Commission recommendations, laneway housing was approved for new house development outright rather than being reserved as an incentive to retain existing character homes. Then, further, the city added increases in height and density to the zoning. In essence, this has created a bonus to demolish and is responsible for much of the recent increase in demolitions.

The current report to council attempts to counter this pressure to demolish character houses. However, the most glaring omission is the report fails to deal with the building code.

… Caroline Adderson and the Vancouver Character House Network have about 4,000 signatures on a petition to save character houses from demolition and over 4,400 likes on Adderson’s Facebook page called Vancouver Vanishes, where she has been chronicling the demolitions for over a year. There is strong public support for dealing with this issue.

The VCHN has sent a letter to council that includes a number of recommendations. The letter emphasizes that deconstruction is not heritage preservation, but waste management. More should be done to make keeping and renovating these homes easier, making demolition less attractive while being fair for existing owners.

… The public needs to be generally more involved in how the heritage action plan is implemented and policies created.

Read the whole article in the Vancouver Sun here.


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