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Heritage plan a passion project for New West man

A Queen’s Park resident’s dream of saving heritage homes is two small steps closer to coming true.

A Queen’s Park resident’s dream of saving heritage homes is two small steps closer to coming true.

Back in 1979, Steve Norman bought a 5,596-square-foot 1910 house on a 22,617-square-foot lot that faces Queens Avenue at the front and Manitoba Street at the rear. When the City of New Westminster adopted a heritage conservation area in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood, he felt the timing was right to pursue his longtime desire to relocate heritage homes to the site and restore them.

“Saving the old houses,” Norman said of his goal. “The old small houses are the ones that get destroyed because people buy a big lot with a small house, destroy the small house and build a big house. All of the little ones – the only way they can make money is to buy a small house that is old so they can demolish it and build something big with lots of square feet, and make their money on the square footage. What I am trying to do is save two old homes that would have been destroyed otherwise. They’ll be fully restored and dedicated as heritage homes, etc.  They will have all new infrastructure but they’ll be the old home.”

In July, city council approved a temporary-use permit that allowed heritage houses to be moved to and stored on the site while Norman negotiates a heritage revitalization agreement with the city. Nickel Brothers recently moved a 1911 house from 45th and Knight in Vancouver and a 1909 house from St. Patrick Street in New Westminster to the Manitoba Street part of the property.

“If I didn’t already own the land, I couldn’t do it because you’d have to buy the land and then do all this stuff,” Norman noted. “If you bought the land at (today’s) market value … it would put the project out of reach.”

Norman hired Nickel Brothers to oversee the moves and all the logistics that go along with that, including preparing the houses for transport and moving them, preparing the site for the new homes and working with police, utilities and other city departments on the logistics of moving houses through city streets in the wee hours of the morning. It cost $70,000 to move the house from St. Patrick Street and $60,000 to relocate the house from Vancouver.

“Vancouver wanted rid of the house so badly that they were subsidizing it. It was $10,000 cheaper for that one to move six miles – as opposed to $70,000 for six blocks,” he said. “The house is given to you because the owner wants it off the property. To demolish a house is going to cost you around $30,000 so basically I am giving them $30,000 because they don’t have to demolish the house and they don’t have to deal with all the bureaucracy.”

While Norman’s plan is to restore the new arrivals and designate them as heritage homes, they’re currently on blocks as the project works its way through the approval process at city hall.

“The first big part of the project would be to build basements under both of these homes,” he said. “We are not allowed to do that until the city actually approves all of the various processes so we can then get a building permit and do all of the building.”

According to Norman, his project has triggered a whole series of requirements that must be met as part of the project, including putting a fire hydrant and a new light in front of his Queens Avenue home, building a sidewalk in front of the homes facing Manitoba Street (even though it will be the only sidewalk on that side of the street), paying for boulevard trees and putting all of the services (cable, hydro, etc.) to his current home underground.

“There’s a whole bunch of things that have to happen because I’m now a developer,” he said. “One of the things that I find really odd is all developers are treated the same way in New Westminster. If you have six acres out in Queensborough and are putting 160 townhomes on it, I’m treated the same way they are. The bylaws all kick in. Things are happening on this property that I never anticipated because of the bylaws.”

Norman is also responsible for building a lane that will go between his home and the two new houses, as the lane behind his Queens Avenue residence currently stops at his property because it’s so big. He estimates the land being given up for the lane would be worth about $350,000.

“The lane has to go through my property so we will have a back lane for these two new lots that are fronting on to Manitoba,” he explained. “My garage is currently sitting on that lane because it’s been there since 1948. So I have to move the garage off, give them the land, pay for the lane – and it’s a fancy lane, it’s wider than the rest of the lane because the bylaw has changed and it has to be six metres wide and the old one was five metres. It’s a community amenity in the sense that the two lots will have access to it as well.”

Having already been working on the project for a year, Norman anticipates it will be another year before the project is close to being complete. What becomes of the two new homes is still to be determined.

“We are just looking at it right now,” he said. “We will finish the development. If the market is good for selling at the time we will sell them. If it’s not for some reason, who knows? We can rent them out for a while. They are primarily to be sold to someone who likes a small heritage house. They will be about 2,000 square feet each.”