Scout troop the latest casualty in Vancouver real estate crisis

Pending sale of St. Mark’s Anglican Church forces scout troop to find new home after 86 years

A Scout troop with nine decades’ worth of history in Kitsilano is the latest to fall victim to Vancouver’s ever-changing real estate crisis.

Consisting of more than 40 young people spanning the ages of five to 18, the 47th St. Marks Scouts have been meeting at St. Mark’s Anglican Church on Larch Street for 86 years. That’s expected to change within the next few months, as the property is up for sale and expected to change ownership this spring.

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The church is viewed as the lone alternative in Kits due to its low cost — in the scouts’ case, they meet for free — and available storage space.

“The parents are shocked that this is happening,” scout leader Neil Seedhouse told the Courier. “The church is such a valuable resource for the community and there’s nothing like it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Between the three groups — beavers, scouts and cubs — and their leaders, about 55 people are affected by the potential sale and that’s not including parents. Smaller groups consisting of six members or less can make due meeting at members’ homes, but larger groups don’t have that luxury.

A scout leader for 21 years, Seedhouse was the church’s building manager until last summer. It was around that time he heard rumblings of a potential sale and was fired from the position.

Prior to his dismissal Seedhouse booked several groups into the facility — strata councils, a Buddhist meditation group, a Montessori school and musicians, among others — who all relied on the church for its low cost, available space and location.

“A lot the renters who rented our space were so thrilled to find St. Marks because there’s nothing else,” Seedhouse said. “Now that St. Mark’s is gone, we’re discovering, ‘Yeah, they’re right, there is nothing else.’”

St. Mark’s isn’t technically gone just yet. The site is owned by the Diocese of New Westminster and spokesperson Randy Murray was short on details when contacted by the Courier. 

“It’s currently under contract for sale,” he said. “The sale does not close until late in the spring. There is no public information coming out until after the sale is complete.”

Murray wouldn’t comment on terms of the pending sale, a purchase price, or when the property went on the market. He wasn’t sure how many, if any, groups still use the space.

BC Assessment records peg the property’s 2018 assessed value at $11.2 million. A listing on the Colliers Canada website has the property’s sale price at $12 million. The church is spread over three lots and encompasses 17,700 square feet.

The property is zoned as RT-8, which emphasizes the retention of nearby architectural styles, building forms and neighbourhood character.

“For renovations and additions, emphasis is placed on maintaining existing external architectural character; for new development, on compatibility in external character,” the bylaw states. “In all cases, neighbourly building scale and placement is emphasized.”

This isn’t the first time St. Mark’s has had the sales spectre looming over it, as similar concerns came to the fore in early 2013. At that time, the congregation had diminished in size to the point that parishioners were moved to St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church on Laurel Street and 14th Avenue.

Scout troop treasurer Juanita Low was around for that initial sales scare and now sees the process coming full circle. She’s been with the group for 14 years and, like Seedhouse, her kids went through cubs, beavers and scouts from the ages of five to 18.

Given their free use of the site, St. Mark’s made for virtually no overhead costs for the 47th Scouts: rental fees were waived, free storage was provided and scout leaders are all volunteers. That allowed for registration costs to go back into programming such as rock climbing, sailing, hiking, scuba diving and other activities.

Most troop members and their families are located in Kits and the group’s preference is to stay there. Low has looked at a small handful of other spaces in the neighbourhood, but none offer the deal the group gets now.

“We’re working towards finding a viable and permanent solution,” she said. “We can’t do a couple months in one location and then have to move somewhere else, we need continuity.”

@JohnKurucz

jkurucz@vancourier.com

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