Neighbours (from left) Vanessa Dingley

Vanishing Rockland

Tragic. That’s how Janet Simpson describes the demolition of a 126-year-old character house in Rockland.

Tragic. That’s how Janet Simpson describes the demolition of a 126-year-old character house in Rockland.

The roughly 1,800-square-foot house, located at 1336 Richardson St., is facing the wrecking ball, after new buyers took ownership last month.

The house was originally built in 1890 as a stable for the Robleda mansion up the hill. After the mansion burned down in 1927, the stable, which was the only remaining structure on the property, was converted into living quarters.

What was once a pristine white home with pale yellow trim on the window, is now mostly covered in bright orange tarp.

However, neighbours are not letting it go without a fight. Half a dozen residents stood outside the house on Thursday, holding up a sign reading “Vanishing Rockland,” to protest its demolition.

“This house is older than 92 per cent of the historic houses of Rockland. Only 13 out of 155 houses are as old as this one,” said Simpson, a concerned neighbour who has lived in the neighbourhood for the past 25 years. “It really is one of the oldest houses in Rockland and if it’s one of the oldest ones in Rockland, it’s probably one of the oldest in the city because it’s such an old area. You lose this house and it’s final.”

Simpson admits there is nothing more they can do to save the home, but fears the demolition of character homes is a troubling trend that has migrated from Vancouver to Victoria that will destroy the character of the neighbourhood.

In Vancouver, a number of character and heritage homes are being torn down to make way for cookie-cutter mansions on multi-million dollar properties. Vancouver has issued an average of 940 demolition permits per year for single-family homes and duplexes since 2012.

House demolitions within the City of Victoria have almost tripled compared to previous years as well. In 2015, there were 59 house demolitions, compared to 24 in 2014.

According to Simpson, there have been 10 houses in the last decade that have been demolished in Rockland specifically, on Despard, Richmond and Montgomery avenues, and Richardson Street and Pemberton Road.

What distinguishes Rockland from other neighbourhoods is its historic houses, estate character, trees and rock outcropping — all of which are being lost, Simpson added.

“I think you cannot create character and heritage. It goes with the history of the neighbourhood,” she said. “So if you get rid of the things that make Rockland so special then you’re really destroying the whole neighbourhood. We have to protect what can’t be replaced.”

Neighbour William Scott said the spate of house demolitions is also affecting the amount of affordable housing in the city.

“When you eliminate a $660,000 house from the (market) and it becomes worth $1.8 million, it’s just the housing market eliminating people from the area,” he said. “We need to get serious in the whole area, not just Rockland, about what we’re doing to existing houses. It’s not good for the long-term of the community.”

Simpson hopes changes will be made to city bylaws — either disincentives to demolish or incentives to rehabilitate character houses — before house demolition becomes an “epidemic.”

Coun. Pamela Madoff said it’s something she would like to bring forward to city council.

She has been watching Vancouver to identify mechanisms that could potentially be used in Victoria, such as incentives for keeping homes and creating secondary or garden suites to add affordable housing.

“I think that housing prices have reached a level in Victoria where many folks who are looking for property in that bracket are more interested in the land than the house,” Madoff said. “We’re starting to go down that road that Vancouver is going down.”