Brian Jackson explains council's actions to make it easier to save old homes than to tear them down

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Vancouver city council has voted in favour of several steps to protect First Shaughnessy heritage homes and pre-1940 character houses.

"We're very proud of the fact that we're moving forward on these," Brian Jackson, general manager of planning and development services, told the Georgia Straight by phone. "We have received lots of letters."

The area known as First Shaughnessy—roughly bounded by Arbutus Street, West 16th Avenue, Oak Street, and King Edward Avenue—has 329 homes built before 1940. Of those, 80 are listed in the Vancouver Heritage Register, according to a staff report that went to council before yesterday's vote.

The report also reveals that about one-quarter of Vancouver houses in all of the city's single-family zones were built prior to the Second World War.

Council approved three recommendations in the report, which Jackson brought forward.

The first is a one-year "Heritage Control Period" in First Shaughnessy. This will prevent demolitions of pre-1940 buildings while the city undertakes a review.

Jackson said that the city has issued a request for proposals to hire a consultant to provide advice.

He expects this work will begin in September.

"We're really excited about getting two or three bids on this for doing the major upgrade to our heritage inventory that hasn't been done since 1986—as well as provide that professional advice based on experience throughout North America on what other jurisdictions have been doing to protect their heritage resources," he said.

Jackson pointed out that under provincial legislation, the city cannot protect heritage and designate buildings without "fair compensation".

This, he suggested, puts Vancouver at a disadvantage in protecting older buildings in comparison with other cities.

"I think between ourselves and the consultant we can come up with creative ways through density bonusing, fast-tracking, and other incentives that we can offer to make it easier and faster and less complicated to save a heritage or character home than it is right now," Jackson stated.

Council also voted to eliminate the requirement for a development pro forma on permit-retention proposals adding up to 10 percent more floor space.

Jackson said that this is intended for single-family areas where additional density is being sought to save a house.

"What this does is it shortens the amount of time because it takes a few weeks to prepare that information," Jackson explained. "And it reduces the cost because most people, of course, can't prepare this on their own."

Council also voted for a third measure: if a pre-1940 home is to be demolished anywhere in the city, the owner must reuse or recycle 75 percent of the waste.

"It comes back to a balance between the need to achieve our heritage objectives and our greenest-city initiatives with respect to waste diversion, but also to be fair to those applicants and landowners who have applications in-stream," Jackson said.

This reuse or recycle requirement rises to 90 percent for the demolition of pre-1940 "character" homes anywhere in the city.

The staff report states that "character" buildings are defined by several criteria.

Certain zonings (RT-3, RT-7/8, RT-10, RM-1, and RT-11) rely on the date as an initial determinant. 

"In addition, these and other zones have evaluation criteria to determine whether the building has character merit," the report goes on to say. "Any building constructed before 1940 is considered to be a character building if it also has a number of surviving, prescribed character features such as the authentic or period massing, roof form, front porch, exterior wall materials, window openings and frames and details."

In a news release following the vote, Mayor Gregor Robertson said that council's objective is "to make it easier to preserve a home than to tear it down".

“As well, the waste diversion requirements will help support green jobs in the deconstruction sector, and end the practice of simply sending older homes to the landfill," Robertson added. "We want to preserve neighbourhood character and these new steps will help us do so.” 

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