Loss of Vancouver heritage homes still a concern for activist

Demolition by neglect remains a problem says Caroline Adderson

If there’s one thing that troubles Caroline Adderson, who runs the Facebook page Vancouver Vanishes, it’s when vacant older homes are neglected to the point where there might be no other option than to knock them down.

She wants the city to be much tougher and step in sooner in cases like the recent Angus Drive situation where a home in the First Shaughnessy Heritage Conservation Area was damaged in a suspicious fire last fall and the owner failed to meet a Feb. 16 city deadline to install a protective cover on the roof to shield it from the elements.

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Since the home at 3737 Angus Dr. is in the Vancouver’s first-ever heritage conservation area, Adderson says the city “absolutely should” ensure the owner restores it.

“That’s the law. They went to great extent to get this law in place that they better act on it,” Adderson said. “This is a special situation because it is in First Shaughnessy, which is our only heritage conservation area, so the first thing is they have to uphold the laws that they’ve passed and they haven’t done a great job on that.”

The city is looking at the options it has to deal with the owner. Read that story here.

Adderson, meanwhile, maintains there’s still a lot to be concerned about in the battle to save older homes in Vancouver.

She keeps track of some that are threatened for various reasons.

In recent years, she became concerned about a vacant, heritage-designated home near Blenheim and West 37th. She contacted the city because squatters moved in. The windows would be left open in pouring rain and it was also being vandalised.

Had she not called the city, she suspects the home could have suffered irreparable damage and become structurally unsound, and then the owner might have be able to tear it down.

“It’s called demolition by neglect. They’re not allowed to tear the home down, so they just leave it and turn their backs on what’s happening,” Adderson said. “I phoned and I made a complaint. I showed them the bylaw and the city went and boarded it up and billed the person,” she said. “So, I hope that’s what they’re going to do here [at 3737 Angus Dr.]. The city should go there and they should pay a company to cover the roof and bill these people.”

However, the city says the two cases involve different circumstances and different bylaws. After the owner of the home near Blenheim and West 37th failed to board up their property to keep squatters out, the city used a provision in the building bylaw to do the work in January 2016 at the owner’s expense.

The Angus Drive property is boarded up and there’s a security fence around the perimeter, although the top of the house is exposed as a result of the fire and the lack of protective cover. There have been no complaints about squatters. It’s subject to the city’s Heritage Property Standards of Maintenance bylaw, which doesn’t contain a provision for the city to do the work at the owner’s expense. Any change to the bylaw would require amendments to the Vancouver Charter, which would need to be approved by the Province.

Adderson, meanwhile, continues to be worried about the fate of character homes across the city.

She said her main issue hasn’t been about heritage so much as the demolition of liveable homes built from old growth. She said the demolitions continue, with 877 demolitions last year, mostly for luxury development. Adderson argues it’s helping drive the affordability crisis.

“As [Vancouver historian] Michael Kluckner always says, you don’t build affordable housing, you retain it,” she said.

 

4255 West 12th
A Craftsman-style house at 4255 West 12th that some heritage activist has hoped would be saved was torn down sometime between Sept. 8 and Oct. 3 of 2017. Right photo by Jennifer Gauthier

 

Adderson remains troubled by the demolition of another older home at 4255 West 12th. It was knocked down last fall.

The 104-year-old Craftsman-style home was listed on the heritage register but it wasn’t designated so the city couldn’t stop it from being torn down.

The house did, however, become the subject of a 120-day protection order, which was valid between Dec. 13, 2016 and April 12, 2017, so the city could work with the owner to see if there was some way to preserve it.

While it was vacant and under the protection order, a pipe burst and there was a leak. The city received a call from a neighbour about the problem on Dec. 24, 2016. A water operations crew shut the water off. Heritage activists wrote an obituary for the house and held a wake for it on April 9 of 2017, shortly before the protection order expired.

Like Adderson, Clare Cullen, who lives near the West 12th property, had hoped it would be saved. It was one of three homes in a row that were built around the same time, creating a mini-pocket of heritage houses.

But the house was torn down, sometime between Sept. 8 and Oct. 3 of 2017, according to the City of Vancouver. 

@naoibh

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