Vancouver Character House Network

Note: As a public service, we are sharing the 2014 candidates’ responses to a survey by the Vancouver Character House Network. For more information please see the VCHN Facebook page:

Vancouver Character House Network Questionnaire for Candidates:

In 2013, 866 single family homes were demolished in Vancouver, many of them character houses built in the 1940s and earlier with a high level of craftsmanship and quality materials.  Most of these homes were already adapted, or adaptable, to modern living requirements and were a more affordable and ecologically sustainable option than the houses that replaced them.  As well as sending more than 50 tonnes of waste to the landfill, each demolition takes with it the history and character of the streetscape and the mature gardens that grace our established neighbourhoods. The situation is so extreme that Vancouver’s Character Homes and Gardens are now on Heritage Canada’s 2014 Top Ten Most Endangered Places List.

We are interested in hearing from candidates in the 2014 municipal election on this issue.  Your responses will be posted on the Facebook Page Vancouver Vanishes, which has a membership of more than 5000 concerned citizens.

1. Since January 2013 a petition has been circulating on character home demolitions.  At the time of writing there were 4,268 on-line signatures and 352 paper signatures.  The petition calls for changes to the current building code by-laws which favour demolition and new construction over retention.  In January 2015, a new building code will come into effect that many in the heritage community feel will further endanger our original housing stock. 

Would you amend the building code to better support and promote the truly green and more affordable option of retaining our character homes? Please explain.

Jennifer O’Keefe, COPE: Yes, of course! Retaining character homes is integral to neighbourhood community! COPE is supportive of growth of neighbourhoods, not imposition of development.

Wilson Munoz, COPE: If I am elected to City Council as part of a COPE-Majority Council, we will establish a Vancouver Housing Authority that will have as one of its goals to put a moratorium on the demolition of Vancouver Character Homes while amending City Zoning and Building Code Bylaws, and doing a full consultation with the affected neighbourhood before a demolition of any character home is allowed.

Tim Louis, COPE: Yes. The new building code will make a bad situation worse. Protecting and preserving character homes does so much. Most importantly, it protects heritage. It also helps protect the environment, as the demolition and disposal of perfectly good homes is wasteful and polluting, to say nothing of the negative impact on the greenery in the lot itself (too often the demolition of the character home opens the door to a new home with a much larger footprint, which destroys much of the “green” on the lot). This new building code should have been developed in partnership with those who have expertise in protecting character. I am talking here about citizens who all too often have greater knowledge than the folks who draft the bylaw.

Adriane Carr, Green Party: Yes. Vancouver’s new building code is aimed at improving both energy efficiency and accessibility for people with disabilities. It should not be a barrier to retaining character homes. We fully embrace the truism that, “the greenest building is the one already built”. The code should be amended to enable discretionary implementation so that, for example, renovations of character homes do not require rain-screening or other similar upgrades that are both costly and actually destroy character features. We intend to pursue financing measures that can alleviate onerous costs associated with the renovation and retention of character homes, including property tax incentives and a local Carbon Fund that could help finance renovations that achieve energy efficiency.

Pete Fry, Green Party: Yes, I would. While I understand and appreciate the intent behind the new building codes coming into effect January 2015 — improving accessibility and environmental performance — I do think they present an additional threat to both character homes and affordability. I believe, that rather than penalize home owners and builders with onerous requirements, we should incentivize desired outcomes (for accessible and environmental performance) via rebates, FSR points or some similar bonus. I feel many aspects of the new code would be impractical for heritage homes, which as you rightly point out would encourage demolition rather than retention. At the very least, some sort of accessibility levy in lieu of conforming to the new code should be introduced to mitigate the challenges for retrofitting character homes — although this would be my least preferred option, as it still penalizes character homeowners.

Beyond the new proposed building code, I feel that the existing building code should be re-examined – code considerations for new construction applied to retrofit heritage houses, for example removing wood siding on a century old house to apply rain screening, or replacing single pane double hung windows with limited lifespan sealed thermal units makes very little sense.

The fundamental truism penned by Carl Elefante: “The greenest building is the one already built” greatly informs our Green platform. In light of that statement, we need to review the demolition permit process and attendant fees so that they might accurately reflect the real environmental impact of demolishing character homes to build new and often shoddy replacements.

Cleta Brown, Green Party: Yes.  If we value the retention of character homes then it would be inconsistent to maintain building code provisions that undermine the realization of this important value. Changes to the building code to include energy efficiency and accessibility improvements are also important values but there are undoubtedly provisions which should be exempted in certain cases or types of cases as overly onerous or unnecessary to require. And “grandfathering” could be a reasonable accommodation in appropriate situations.  So there should be a discretionary authority available with respect to certain parts of the building code.   The Greens platform also includes recommendations for specific financial incentives and supports to decrease  individual homeowners’ costs burden when certain renovations are undertaken.

NPA: It is possible that the upcoming heritage report may solve some of the issues in the bylaws which lead to amendments. We will wait to see what is proposed in the report by city staff before suggesting any amendments, which will then be developed in consultation with community stakeholders.

R.J. Aquino, One City: We must amend the building code to better support and promote our existing character housing, and do so in truly sustainable way. The building code needs to preserve existing heritage stock and encourage retrofits of older housing to increase its energy performance. There needs to be an appropriate mix of incentives and disincentives to encourage the preservation and updating of older housing as a way to build a truly greener – and more affordable – city.

Our strategy is to create penalties for demolitions of character homes, and increase incentives for retrofitting aging homes as part of a green economic development strategy. This would improve energy and heat efficiency, reduce waste going into the landfill, and create and support jobs in the local economy.

In 2013, the City of Vancouver created 158,387 tonnes of demolition waste, more than a quarter of the total of municipal solid waste (416,947 tonnes). We need to end the demolition of structurally sound, elegant, and well-built heritage homes, and realize that preserving these homes is a key part of our city-wide strategy to build a greener, more affordable Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver: Council took direct steps in June, 2014, to reduce or eliminate the loss of character homes with a new action plan that eliminated inadvertent incentives for demolition. These changes encourage retention by providing increased incentives to do sensible renovation and remodelling, rather than full demolition, of homes built before 1940. Additional measures give planners latitude to work with homeowners who have character homes to encourage renovation and retention. Further, the city requires character homes built before 1940 to be 90 percent recycled rather than demolished and sent a landfill, a further deterrent to demolition.

Vision Vancouver believes the new building code offers dramatic improvements to make new buildings greener and more accessible. We do not see evidence this code will encourage demolition, but the new procedures will ensure this is carefully monitored for any sign of adverse impact.

2. We request that Council review and amend single-family (RS) zoning in a collaborative process with affected communities so that retention of homes built in the 1940s and earlier has significant advantages over demolition and new construction while ensuring the character, scale and fundamental nature of the neighbourhoods are preserved.

Are you prepared to do this?  If yes, please elaborate.

Jennifer O’Keefe, COPE: Yes, I will explore and fight for an amendment to the building code, to remove questionable zoning biases, which favour demolition and for profit developers, rather than the preservation of pre-existing heritage buildings. I am fed up with the secrecy, lack of transparency or accountability of Vision Vancouver’s mayor and council: the unnecessary lawsuits, the dozens of Freedom of Information requests, the circumvention of democratic principles and process, the sham consultations with residents, the broken promises to the poor and homeless, the abandonment of Vancouver’s senior citizens, the destruction of neighbourhood gathering places such as the Ridge Theatre or Arbutus Lanes Bowling, the pandering to developers who fund Vision, the hypocrisy and degrading attitudes of the mayor and council toward the people of Vancouver whom they are supposed to serve and represent, the secret deals with corporations for multi-million dollar contracts that Vision attempts to hide from public scrutiny. COPE is supportive of retaining homes, not destroying neighbourhoods’ heritage.

Wilson Munoz, COPE: My answer is a resounding “YES.”  COPE will establish a Housing Authority to have a full consultation with the affected communities and proceed based upon the recommendations of a collaborative process between the communities and the new Council.

Tim Louis, COPE: Yes.  As I mentioned in answer to question 1 above, I am a very strong believer in the concept of grassroots empowerment. What this means in practical terms with regard to zoning is that the folks in the best position to drive the review and draft amendments to single-family (RS) zoning are the people directly affected. Hired staff, in my opinion, have a very important role to play but this role should be more of a supportive function (providing the information necessary for informing decisions to be made). The decision-making should be done by the real experts — the residents themselves. This has been my life-long philosophy.

Adriane Carr, Green Party: Yes, I and the Greens are fully prepared to do this. During my first term as a Councillor, I’ve discussed this idea with Caroline Adderson, Elizabeth Murphy and others. Zoning should be changed in collaboration with the affected communities, as happened in Kitsilano with the RT8 zoning that reduced the outright allowable density and only allowed increased density if a character home is protected. Consideration should be given to a later date (such as 1950) in defining “character homes” in some neighbourhoods such as Upper Kitsilano.

Pete Fry, Green Party: Yes, I think that amending the RS zoning and or introducing RT zoning where appropriate could be valuable tools in preserving heritage stock. In particular the FSRs of RS zonings should be limited to prevent demolitions to build monster homes, with relaxations on the buildable area only in conjunction with a sound preservation plan for the existing character home.

Cleta Brown, Green Party: Yes. The Greens are prepared to encourage and participate in a collaborative process with affected communities to review single family (RS) zoning in order to further the objective of retaining character homes. Collaborating with citizens and community groups is a central pillar of our platform and purpose on council.  We advocate  the establishment of this type of process throughout our campaign and platform.  And specifically , we recommend this process to review this type of zoning – the most prevalent in the city – where there is community interest to do so and perhaps as part of a larger Official Community Plan process.

NPA: Once again, we will wait to see the results of the heritage report before making any additional recommendations. The city’s current policies on environmental standards related to construction and renovations might make some heritage conservation very challenging and would be worth reviewing in those instances.

R.J. Aquino, One City: Yes, absolutely. We believe we are losing the character and affordability of our neighbourhoods at an alarming rate – and Vision Vancouver refuses to address this issue. In fact, as previously mentioned, we would strengthen municipal bylaws to create significant penalties for the demolition of perfectly sound heritage homes, while providing incentives and support for the updating of these homes. We also are losing affordable secondary suites as homes are demolished to make way for high-end houses, sometimes without replacing those secondary suites. With these demolitions, we are also losing existing affordable rental housing in neighbourhoods across the city.

Vision Vancouver: We believe the current measures offer a new and significant level of protection. Long-awaited community planning processes are under way and it is unlikely the city has the capacity, on a neighbour-by-neighbourhood basis, to single out single family zoning for a special process. Vision Vancouver would welcome, however, further city-wide consultations with concerned homeowners and further work to protect heritage values in older neighbourhoods. 

3. Most RS zones in the city have a CityPlan Community Vision for their area. Would you ensure that any changes to zoning be implemented with a similar neighbourhood-based process that created the original Community Vision plans?

Jennifer O’Keefe, COPE: Absolutely! We support neighbourhood-based process!

Wilson Munoz, COPE: Yes.  A COPE-City Council will be accountable and transparent to the affected communities. Recommendations to the Housing Authority will be the result of a collaborative process between the affected communities and Council.

Tim Louis, COPE: Yes. The Community Vision plans become meaningless if changes to zoning are implemented without the same neighbourhood-based process that gave birth to the Community Vision in the first place.

Adriane Carr, Green Party: Recognizing the wonderfully collaborative CityPlan process that included full community votes on all the specific features of the local Community Vision plan, the Green Party supports revitalizing this process to achieve a comprehensive city-wide Official Community Plan. This process would include setting city-wide goals such as overall growth, affordability and heritage protection. It would ensure updates to the zoning map arise out of the citizen-centred planning process rather than contentious spot rezoning .

Pete Fry, Green Party: I wholeheartedly and fundamentally support this idea. My own frustrating experience as a community leader in the historic Strathcona neighbourhood and as a representative on the DTES Local Area Plan were the genesis of my desire to run for council. I feel that the DTES LAP has failed to adequately protect our dwindling heritage stock, particularly north of Hastings. Ground-up planning and community collaboration are at the core of our Green Platform.

Cleta Brown, Green Party: We strongly support the resumption of a neighbourhood & citizen based community vision collaborative co-creative process.  We have an entire section of our platform entitled “People – centred Planning” devoted to a reinvigorated return to this ultimately democratic process.  Also, the Greens have fully endorsed the Principles and Goals for Collaborative Neighbourhood Planning , by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods.

NPA: The NPA supports a renewal of City Plan, which will allow for both city wide planning along with community specific planning after meaningful public consultation.

R.J. Aquino, One City: Yes, we would ensure that changes to zoning be implemented with a similar neighbourhood-based process that created the original Community Vision plan, not the kind of disrespectful and disingenuous community “consultations” that City Hall engages in now.

To make sure there is real consultation with residents about how communities are developed and protected, we are putting forward the idea of neighbourhood councils. City Hall will set the direction, the long-term plan, for development, zoning, affordable housing and more city-wide initiatives, and then democratically elected neighbourhood councils will decide how those plans are implemented in their communities. In concert with campaign finance reform and a move to a ward system, with councillors directly representing neighbourhoods, we can ensure that more voices are heard in the decision-making process at City Hall.

Because we believe in empowering our neighbourhoods and working toward collective solutions that address heritage home demolitions as well as the loss of existing affordable housing.

Vision Vancouver: The CityPlan process was a good one, but citizen engagement has moved a long way since 2001, when the planning process ended. We commit to using all the best practices for community engagement now in place in the city and proposed by the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force, which exceed 2001 standards in many respects.

4. In June 2014, a year-long moratorium on demolitions in historic First Shaughnessy came into effect.  How would you protect this important area after the moratorium?

Jennifer O’Keefe, COPE: We will seek consultation with the community regarding retention of historic architecture as it is integral to the culture of our city. Many European cities have much stronger laws in place regarding the protection of historical architecture. We will amend the building code, to remove questionable zoning biases, so as to better preserve existing heritage buildings. 

Wilson Munoz, COPE: A resolution will be adopted by the new City Council after the November 2014 election to protect not only historic First Shaughnessy but also other character homes of the City from demolition and until a recommendation is fully developed by a collaborative process between the affected neighbourhood and City Council.  This process will ensure character homes are preserved.

Tim Louis, COPE: The moratorium should not come to an end until the neighbourhood and those who represent it are satisfied that appropriate bylaw amendments have been approved by City Council to protect “First Shaughnessy” from demolitions. If it is necessary to extend the moratorium, I would support this.

Adriane Carr, Green Party: First Shaughnessy should be designated as a Heritage Conservation Area and a heritage conservation plan developed collaboratively by heritage experts, local residents, groups such as the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association, and the city.  Better protection for heritage, character homes and landscape features could be achieved through a change in zoning that reduces the outright density that could be built, and only allows increased density with heritage home retention.

Pete Fry, Green Party: Designate First Shaughnessy as a heritage district, and limit outright FSR to prevent demolitions. FSR relaxations would only be granted to applications that conformed with a heritage plan determined by heritage experts in collaboration with community members and groups like SHPOA.

Cleta Brown, Green Party: The Greens would support the designation of First Shaughnessy as a Heritage Conservation Area. A heritage conservation plan could be drafted from a collaborative community process including local residents, the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners Assoc, heritage experts and the city.  We recommend in our platform, quickly updating the Heritage Registry and revitalizing the Heritage Bank.

NPA: The First Shaughnessy Design Panel is already a great example of how neighbourhoods can oversee changes to their community. However, the city’s bylaws and zoning may let them down in other areas that the heritage report is intended to address. After the report is released, we will work with the community to determine what is best for the neighbourhood’s residents, stakeholders, and community groups.

R.J. Aquino, One City: We should designate First Shaughnessy District as a heritage neighbourhood prohibiting demolitions completely, unless extenuating circumstances can be demonstrated. The City should begin a process in the First Shaughnessy District and across the city’s neighbourhoods to pro-actively begin adding homes to an enhanced Vancouver Heritage Registry.

City Hall has failed to be pro-active in designating heritage homes and working with homeowners, heritage experts, community members, and groups such as SHPOA, Heritage Vancouver, and the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. When we lose heritage homes, we lose both character and the affordability of our neighbourhoods, fuelling the affordable housing crisis, driving up property taxes across the city, and generating a profound amount of unnecessary landfill waste.

Vision Vancouver: We implemented the moratorium in First Shaughnessy and look forward to working with the community to achieve their objectives for heritage preservation. It would be premature to prejudge what specific measures are required.

5.  Heritage and character homes need more protection from demolition in most zones.  As an alternative to accommodate growth, would you favour multi-family conversions of character buildings where there is community support?

Jennifer O’Keefe, COPE: Yes, but ONLY where there is community support and consensus for such conversions.

Wilson Munoz, COPE: Yes.  Multi-family conversions of character buildings with community support will promote affordable housing, community growth and more importantly a collaborative process between the community and Council.

Tim Louis, COPE: So long as there is community support, and so long as the multi-family conversion does not destroy the heritage aspects, I would support this.

Adriane Carr, Green Party: Yes.  The Green Party would support multi-family converstion of character buildings as long as there is community support. We would work with neighbourhoods on strategies to help retain character homes as well as potentially increasing seniors and family housing by, for example, allowing renovation of single-family homes to add an additional non-strata rental suite to the three units currently allowed on a single-family residential property (main home, basement suite, laneway home).

Pete Fry, Green Party: Yes, as I alluded to in answer two, this might include RT zoning or solutions like infill, laneway housing, or perimeter housing as appropriate, and with due consideration and community support.

Cleta Brown, Green Party: Yes. The Greens would support multi-family conversions as long as there is community support. We would advocate for a thorough community based collaborative process to review, to debate the options and to ascertain the nature and extent of the community’s support.

NPA: Yes.

R.J. Aquino, One City: Yes, absolutely. Because many of these homes are quite large, if done correctly, they can retain their character and see appropriate upgrades, while also being converted into multi-family homes that address the current affordability crisis. We also know that when we add families to neighbourhoods, we add vitality to them. We must look to other cities, including Portland and Seattle, for innovative ways to preserve, upgrade and care for our heritage homes while also generating multi-family housing.

Heritage homes are ideal for families because they have generous layouts compared to the tiny, concrete condo-boxes that we are building across the city.

Vision Vancouver:  This is already our policy.

6. What other measures would you use to protect character homes and gardens across the city?

Jennifer O’Keefe, COPE: COPE intends to look at appropriating the CPR lands to ensure their protection as community gardens. COPE is committed to preserving the heritage homes and unique characteristics of each and every Vancouver neighbourhood!

Wilson Munoz, COPE: The first resolution of the New City Council would be to put a moratorium on demolition permit of character homes and garden across the city until recommendations are forwarded to the Housing Authority based upon a collaborative process between the affected community and Council.  Secondly, city zoning and code bylaws will be amended to protect character homes and gardens across the city.  Thirdly, recommendations by affected communities will be forwarded to the Housing Authority established by COPE.  Lastly, Council will adopt recommendations proposed by the Housing Authority on the preservation of character homes and gardens across the city.

Tim Louis, COPE: Just as a moratorium on demolitions was put into place in First Shaughnessy, the same moratorium should be used in other neighbourhoods where the neighbourhood requests it.

Heritage bylaws need to be rewritten to give real protection to Vancouver’s history. Once a historic home has been demolished, there is no bringing it back.

We need new bylaws — and enforcement of these bylaws — to protect the “green” aspect and character of neighbourhoods and heritage trees.

We need real consequences for developers when they violate permits and Vancouver bylaws – all too often there is no accountability. For a sad recent example of the kind of thing we must work together to stop, see photos of a developer cutting and bulldozing trees illegally on 2nd Ave last month:


Pete Fry, Green Party: I understand that the heritage registry is to be updated, but given the rate at which character homes and gardens are being lost, this process needs to be prioritized and accelerated. I also feel that the process by which BC Assesments effectively penalize ‘fixing-up’ older homes should be addressed by considering some sort of special mill rate adjustment that recognizes heritage preservation

NPA: Stratification, cooperatives, and fee simple structure are potential measures, among others. The more creative models that can be developed, the better in order to add density without destroying the look and feel of a structure or neighbourhood – especially when heritage is an issue.

Vision Vancouver: The city’s heritage program has recently been strengthened to update the Heritage List and the action plan proposed a number of other measures to ensure better protection of the city’s heritage assets.’