Preserving built history is costly

Homeowners often shiver when someone in authority considers their home a candidate for heritage protection.

I consider myself a history lover. I enjoy reading about the past and discovering interesting details about the people, places and yes, buildings, that over the years have become woven into the fabric of our region’s story.

I have great admiration for old buildings that are close to their original state, or at least relatively so, given the necessity to do earthquake upgrading and add other safety features to an old structure.

I have little use for buildings or homes that cling minimally to the initial design, having been added onto, covered up or otherwise changed dramatically from their original design or footprint.

Should such structures qualify to be on a heritage registry? Perhaps. Surely, making radical changes disqualifies them from being considered for heritage designation, unless the owner plans to restore the original exterior.

Homeowners often shiver when they believe someone in a position of authority considers their home a candidate for heritage protection. They worry that having their home identified as such heavily limits and controls what they can do to change it.

For heritage designation, that much can be true. But far fewer limitations exist for homeowners whose houses are put on a local heritage registry. Such a distinction only means heritage advocates are keeping an eye on the house so nothing as drastic as a subdivision or at worst, a razing, takes place without further discussion.

The owners of a home with historical, and in the eyes of some, architectural significance, recently defended to Oak Bay council their request for a permit to demolish the house to make room for new structures on their double lot.

To anyone who has worked hard for the ability to either build, purchase or redesign the house of their dreams, the strategy, on the surface, would seem a logical step.

But Oak Bay Heritage Commission members argued against the action. The house, which served as a boarding home in the 1920s for St. Michaels School, is an excellent example of the Craftsman style of architecture, they said. It is part of an identified neighbourhood of similar style homes, and is, in their view, in reasonable enough condition to warrant saving.

The situation begs the question, should the owner of an older home be permitted to let their house deteriorate to the point where the cost of upgrading is massive and leaves demolition as the primary option? Or does a municipality spend money to keep closer watch on non-registered heritage homes, to head off the possibility of a demolition request?

Unless the state of such a house, or the actions of its owner, are causing problems for neighbours, there is little a municipality can do to guard against letting a house fall into disrepair. It can prevent the demolition of such homes where it sees a significant heritage threat. But that stance can be tested in court and local governments are often reluctant to commit to spending thousands on legal fees to defend their position.

I appreciate that certain people and groups have taken a stand over the years to say our built heritage is important enough to preserve. That said, there needs to be some kind of incentive available to give homeowners with no intention of restoring or preserving their older home a viable alternative to knocking it down or trying to sell an old, run-down fixer-upper.

The City of Victoria has had great success with its downtown heritage tax incentive program, which offers commercial building owners a 10-year property tax holiday in exchange for renovating or restoring the structure.

Such a strategy could work for residential properties.

The bottom line is, preserving heritage doesn’t come without a cost. It’s not as simple as saying a property has historic significance and leaving it at that. Those who argue for the protection of our heritage must somehow find a way to make such a concept a win-win situation.

Otherwise, the value of heritage will be decided in the courts, where everyone loses.

Don Descoteau is editor of the Oak Bay News.

editor@oakbaynews.com

Just Posted

Thousands of cigarette butts collected and recycled from downtown Victoria

Canisters placed throughout the downtown core have made an impact on local litter

Road work on Island Highway could cause some delays in View Royal

Temporary lane closures from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. between Beaumont and View Royal avenues

Pet photos with Santa funds pair of Greater Victoria animal-friendly organizations

Broadmead Centre Pets West hosts the events Nov. 30 and Dec. 1

Two reports of prowlers in one night in Esquimalt

VicPD notes simple changes can help prevent crime around your home

SD63 students calling on the province to step in and end strike

SD63 students to gather at Minister of Education’s office while strike continues into third week

VIDEO: Disney Plus gives Canadians a streaming platform that nearly matches U.S. version

The Walt Disney Company’s new subscription platform unveiled a comprehensive offering of nearly 500 films

POLL: Do you support CUPE workers in their dispute with School District 63?

SD63 schools to remain closed as strike continues Tuesday

Former Vancouver Canucks player suing financial advisors for negligence

Jason Garrison claimed his advisors failed to take his circumstances into account

Group walking on thin ice at B.C. lake sparks warning from RCMP

At least seven people were spotted on Joffre Lakes, although the ice is not thick enough to be walked on

B.C. teacher said he would use student to ‘whack’ two others on Grade 8 field trip

Campbell River teacher-on-call suspended three weeks after November 2018 incident

Petition to ‘bring back Don Cherry’ goes viral after immigrant poppy rant

Cherry was fired from his co-hosting role for the Coach’s Corner segment on Nov. 11.

Bill Murray dons iconic Hudson’s Bay scarf to watch Canucks game in Vancouver

Murray is in Vancouver to film The Now, a mini-series directed by Peter Farrelly

Canadian allergists’ group wants Benadryl behind the counter due to side effects

Some doctors say the medication is over-used because of its easy availability

B.C. government grappling with multiple labour disputes by public-sector unions

Public-sector unions may have expectations of a labour-friendly NDP government

Most Read