West Van wants better heritage protection

West Vancouver council may soon be staffing up in hopes of beating the bulldozers in the race for heritage homes.

Council voted unanimously Monday night to pursue a new strategy as older homes of architectural or historical significance are targeted for redevelopment into much larger mansions.

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Council has successfully negotiated for about nine aged but important structures to be saved through heritage revitalization agreements. Typically, that guarantees the original building will be restored and given permanent protection in exchange for greater density or subdivision of a residential lot.

The West Coast Modern Sykes Residence in Eagle Harbour and the 1913 Vinson House in Ambleside both survive thanks to heritage revitalization agreements.

But a number of other character homes have been lost, despite 11th hour temporary protection orders that halt demolitions. In almost all of those cases, the owners informed the district that it was too late in the game to be going back to the drawing board on redevelopment plans.

In a report to council Monday night, district staff said they were simply spread too thin to pursue heritage revitalization agreements and would need more help. By hiring a full-time heritage planner, the district would be better able to research the municipality’s heritage resources, including landscapes and monuments, and do public outreach for staff to educate developers, Realtors and property owners making sure they are aware of potential for HRAs.

The new staffer would also be expected to research best practices in other Lower Mainland municipalities for saving residential old-timers and update the municipality’s heritage strategic plan.

There are currently 51 properties on the community heritage register, which are formally recognized for their heritage value or character. Although they have no legal protection, they are eligible for HRAs. Council voted unanimously Monday to add another 132 properties to the list.

The plan has the endorsement of the West Van heritage advisory committee and North Shore Heritage.

Coun. Craig Cameron worried aloud whether hiring a heritage planner would yield results appreciated by the taxpayers, or whether it would simply be another strain on the budget.

Planning director Jim Bailey responded, if all goes well, more HRAs will mean more permit revenues, which should offset the staffing costs.

Heritage advisory committee member John Mawson urged council to think of the much bigger picture with their deliberations.

‘In the short term, yes, it will enable us to look at what heritage resources we have, whether they’re landscapes, people, events or built structures. ... I think you have to think much more broadly. I think the real prize here is in the long term,” he said.

Council voted 6-0 in favour of the proposal.

“Essentially we have to decide: are we wanting to support heritage in this community or are we not? That’s really the question that’s being asked tonight and I say yes,” said Coun. Nora Gambioli.

As a result, staff will prepare a business case for the position, which will be considered during the 2020 budget discussions.

Mayor Mary-Ann Booth was not present for the meeting.

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