Residents propose changes to prevent demolition of character homes

A group of Fernwood residents are fed up with the demolition of character homes and have come up a proposal to prevent it from happening.

A group of Fernwood residents are fed up with the demolition of character homes and have come up a proposal they hope will prevent it from happening in the future.

Residents have come up with two bylaw amendments to increase the governance and protection around character homes not on the City of Victoria’s heritage registry.

As part of the proposal, the group is calling for a minimum standard of upkeep to protect a home from weather, to eliminate instances of intentional neglect, and deter property owners from demolishing character homes and sending high-value, non-renewable building materials to the landfill.

The proposal comes in response to a home facing the wrecking ball at 2018 Stanley Ave. in Fernwood. New owners acquired the property last year and tore off part of the roof, exposing the inside of the home to rain and destroying its original 1912 arts and craft California bungalow-style features.

It also became an eyesore for neighbours. Roofing material, bags of insulation from the attic and scaffolding littered the front yard. Graffiti vandals found their way onto the property, tagging the front of the home as well.

Chris Grieve, a Fernwood resident, said the group is not anti-development, but wants to prevent character homes from being needlessly torn town.

“It started with this one house, but this is happening on all streets in the city. Part of the appeal of living in Victoria is our heritage neighbourhoods and they’re irreplaceable once they come down,” Grieve said. “There should be some sort of protection such that they’re not needlessly torn down.”

The demolition of character homes is also an issue in Vancouver. Over the past few years, many older, character homes have been demolished and replaced with modern, multi-million dollar houses —  slowly phasing out affordable housing. A group called Vancouver Vanishing has sprung up in response to this.

Grieve hopes the proposal will help jumpstart the conversation and encourage the city to implement changes before the trend makes its way to Victoria.

“Victoria is in a position where we’re not quite in the same dire straits yet, but I think we can foresee that coming,” he said, adding there has been a 140 per cent increase in demolition permits for single-family and duplex homes approved by the city between 2014 and 2015.

“That shows there’s a trend there and I think Victoria is not immune to similar Vancouver market forces. There’s no time like the present for us because at some point we’ll be past the tipping point.”

Coun. Pamela Madoff brought the issue to council’s attention earlier this week.

“It’s more about the dirt than it is about the dwelling and that’s what we’re concerned about,” said Madoff, adding she’d like to see incentives that discourages demolition and encourage the retention of homes. “It’s seen as an opportunity to just clear the lot and start all over. From an environmental point of view, that makes no sense and from a community point of view, that makes no sense . . . it’s something we really need to deal with.”

Grieve hopes to present the proposal to city council by the end of May. The group is also in the process of gathering support from heritage advocates, land use committees and community associations.

It has also started an online petition to preserve character homes. For more information visit change.org/p/protect-victoria-s-character-homes.