Letter: We were shocked by the vitriol towards our New West request

Editor:

Re: An open letter to Mayor Jonathan Cote:

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We are the owners of 318 Fourth Street, which is in Queen’s Park and falls within the Heritage Conservation Area.

As you know, we submitted an application to amend the OCP to remove our property from advanced heritage protection. The public hearing was held on Oct. 28, 2019, and Council voted against the amendment at the regular meeting held immediately afterwards.

We are writing to request that:

(a) you meet with us, in person and in private, on a without prejudice basis to discuss our application; and (b) you exercise your power as mayor under s. 131 of the Community Charter to have Council reconsider the matter of our application and vote on it again.

We were shocked by the vitriol of those who attended to oppose our application and by the extraneous considerations offered for opposing it.  There seemed to be no connection between the objections voiced at the public hearing and the stated policy of the City on removal of “advanced protection” status. 

In May 2017, Council endorsed a report from staff that set out a process and objective standards for approval of “demolition” or removal of “advanced protection” that included a checklist used by City staff and our professional heritage consultant.  The report states: Applications would be evaluated by staff using an evaluation check-list to ensure transparency and consistency.  To complete the checklist, staff would evaluate the application against guidelines (Attachment 3) which were informed by the neighbourhood’s Statement of Significance (2017), a Neighbourhood Context Statement (2008), and the work of the Queen’s Park Working Group (2015). The evaluation would take into consideration:

• potential to achieve density entitlements without eliminating heritage value; • heritage merit of the building; and • condition of the building, including the degree to which heritage elements remain.  

The checklist would provide a “score”, with applications achieving below a certain baseline score being considered reasonable for demolition. The City would have the authority to deny an HAP for applications achieving a score equal to or above the baseline score.  

Staff recommends that Council delegate the authority for approval of demolition HAPs to the Director of Development Services [Emphasis added].

It is clear that staff recognized that the process needed to be “transparent” and “consistent” and foresaw the risk that it would be politicized. You will note the recommendation, which was approved, that authority to approve these applications be delegated to the Director of Development Services.  

Council sold the HCA Bylaw to the public on the basis of representations about the fairness, objectivity, and transparency of the process for removing protection from properties. Those representations were a critical factor in public support for the HCA Bylaw. The handling of our application evidences a very different approach to the one promised.

If this hearing was intended to be a barometer of the community’s feeling about removal of properties from the HCA, it did not achieve its purpose.

We did not anticipate that our application would be controversial and did not feel the need to publicize the hearing and arrange for supporters to attend.  Since the meeting, we have received an outpouring of support indicating that there is an appetite in the community for a fuller consideration of the application and the issues that it raises. 

Council was left with a skewed and unfair impression that it was the community versus the owners of 318 Fourth Street standing alone. The truth is that we have significant support in New Westminster, including Queen’s Park, and there are a lot of people who would like to weigh in on the application.

More importantly, “heritage” is not a fetish. It cannot be defined by the whims of individuals or special interests groups. No municipality, including the City of New Westminster, can be governed by arbitrary and subjective preferences.  Council has not delegated authority for approving applications such as ours to any individual or any association, including the Queen’s Park Residents’ Association or the New Westminster Preservation Society. 

As a community, we adhere to the principle that we are ruled by laws rather than by people.  In accordance with the rule of law, City Council adopted the HCA Bylaw and objective standards for evaluating whether individual properties should be removed from the “advanced category” of HCA protection.  

The HCA is not a “Façade Conservation Area,” an “Old Growth Timber Conservation Area,” or an “Environmental Conservation Area.” It is a “heritage conservation area” which measures and evaluates heritage according to objective standards. 

Unfortunately, the application of the HCA Bylaw and the City’s policies seems to have bothered not only special interest groups but also the members of Council who voted on our proposed amendment. Remarkably, it was suggested that the process was broken or had failed a test. In effect, Council disregarded and refused to apply its own policies.

Bylaws and polices cannot be superseded by the personal priorities of councilors or anyone else. To do so foments disrespect and contempt for Council and the bylaws it enacts. This was not a borderline case. While our application might have scored 60% overall, the score of our property on the pure heritage component was 3 out of 9 according to both our consultant, Julie Shueck, and staff. Moreover, Ms. Shueck scored the application 9 out of 25 on the overall scale – well below the 61% threshold for retention.  

We did nothing wrong. We relied on the HCA Bylaw and Council’s policies in good faith. We paid good money to retain a heritage professional and incurred a fee of $1,800 charged by the City to submit our application. 

City staff endorsed our application and we had no reason to believe it would not be approved. Some councillors seemed flabbergasted by this. Council’s dismay with the implications of their own policy is not a proper reason for voting against our application. Council should revisit its bylaws and policies if it is troubled by the outcomes they generate.  

We hope that you accept our invitation to meet and our request that you exercise your authority under s. 131 of the Community Charter.

Nicholas Preovolos and Lambroula Pappas, New Westminster

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