The Anglican Diocese of B.C. has applied for a demolition permit of a heritage building in Victoria, causing uproar in the James Bay community.
The St. James Mission of Christ Church Cathedral School, located at 520 Niagara St. is on the city’s heritage registry, but it is not legally protected as a heritage site.
Bishop Logan McMenamie said the Anglican diocese would like the school to be taken off the heritage registry completely in order to increase its value. He said the city put the building on the registry without the diocese’s permission.
“We have a building that’s not safe,” McMenamie said. “It’s not seismically upgraded.”
City Coun. Pamela Madoff said the diocese is eligible to apply for a grant to get seismic upgrades on the building but has not expressed interest.
“It’s not worth our value to spend the money on the building on Niagara to bring it up to seismic upgrades,” McMenamie said. “We’d like to use the money from there to seismically upgrade [The Cridge] Memorial Hall, which is a heritage building.”
On Aug. 19, city staff conducted a heritage inspection on the building and concluded it was in sound condition.
The Anglican church initially submitted the application for the demolition of the school on Dec. 30, 2013. Despite this, McMenamie said the church does not want to see the building demolished.
“We’d like to sell the property and the building,” McMenamie said.
Something that is not reflected in the church’s decision to apply for a demolition permit, Madoff said.
“One of the things that [is] frustrating is that the site has not been marketed with the building in situ,” said Madoff. “They may believe it’s more marketable if it has a demolition permit in hand and can simply be redeveloped rather than limiting the market to those that would see the value of reusing the existing building.”
Peter Daniel, asset manager of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, confirmed the reasoning behind applying for the demolition permit.
“[The permit] makes it more sellable,” Daniel said. “It’s obviously beneficial for a new owner to have as much latitude as possible in dealing with a property.”
On July 24, the City of Victoria ordered that the site be subject to temporary protection for 60 days. In that time, council directed city staff to report back with an assessment of the building’s heritage value.
Staff was expected to present their findings to council today.
“We don’t routinely issue demolition permits for heritage buildings,” Madoff said.
Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society, said the city is at a standstill with the diocese. He does not think the city will give legal protection to the site against the wishes of the church.
He too feels it is inappropriate for the church to apply for the demolition permit.
“It was a gift to the church from the community, and should remain in the community,” said Johnson.
An anonymous donor gave the property to the church in 1939.
The 75-year-old building is being used as a preschool and daycare, and has been for decades, Madoff said.
“It’s a well-maintained building and it’s a community landmark; it’s got architectural value, it’s got historic value,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense from any point of view not to rehabilitate buildings when you have the opportunity to give them new life.”
Donald Luxton also thinks it would be a shame to see the building go.
“This is quite a landmark building. It’s served the community for many years, and I think there was a lot of hope that it would serve for many more,” said Luxton, heritage consultant at Donald Luxton & Associates, a cultural and heritage resource management firm.
Luxton was one of the founding directors of the Victoria Heritage Foundation in 1983.
“I think it’s quite short-sighted to apply for demolition if you’re going to be selling; who knows who could reuse that building,” said Luxton.