In response to significant public pressure to stem the tide of heritage and character home demolition, the City of Vancouver’s review and update of its Heritage Conservation Program is underway and due to conclude in late 2015.

The Heritage Action Plan was approved by Vancouver City Council in December 2013. It contains 14 recommendations to better protect heritage buildings and character homes in the City, and to promote the recycling and reuse of materials from demolished buildings:

  1. Clarify direction on conditional and discretionary zoning to improve protection for those properties identified in the Vancouver Heritage Register.
  2. Simplify and streamline rezoning, development permit and Heritage Revitalization Agreement approval processes for heritage retention applications.
  3. Increase demolition fees for pre-1940 homes.
  4. Solicit senior government support for rehabilitation/heritage conservation tax incentives.
  5. Update the Vancouver Heritage Register.
  6. Amend RS District zoning regulations using RT 3/6/8 District schedules (Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant and Strathcona) as a model to encourage heritage retention.
  7. Review and update the First Shaughnessy Official Development Plan.
  8. Extend the existing incentive programs for the conservation of heritage resources in the Downtown Eastside.
  9. Examine incentive programs for their applicability elsewhere.
  10. Develop an enhanced deconstruction strategy to increase salvageable materials.
  11. Improve public awareness of Vancouver Building By-law Amendments to facilitate heritage conservation.
  12. Develop an energy retrofit program for existing buildings.
  13. Identify cultural facilities in heritage buildings.
  14. Complete a strategy to celebrate landmark trees and protect heathy, mature trees.

Items 1 through 5 were identified for immediate action.

The City has identified pre-1940 homes for increased protection throughout the heritage review process.  As stated in the report on the interim Shaughnessy protection measures, “approximately 25% (17,500 of 68,400) of houses remaining in single family zones throughout the City were built before 1940.”  Some of these homes are listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register, but most are not. The report goes on to state that, over the past five years, 40% of all homes demolished in the City of Vancouver were pre-1940 homes.

In June 2014, the City Council approved the following interim policies to provide interim protection while the City completes its full review of the Heritage Conservation Program:

  1. Heritage Control Period for Temporary Protection in First Shaughnessy District: A one-year moratorium on the demolition of pre-1940 homes in the First Shaughnessy District was enacted by by-law on June 24, 2014.  Though demolitions are prohibited during this time, retention and rehabilitation proposals continue to be permitted.  The City intends to complete its full review of the Heritage Conservation Program before the moratorium expires in June 2015.
  2. Potential Heritage or Character Buildings (pre-1940): An interim procedure for handling development applications involving pre-1940 houses was established for areas of the City where zoning does not already encourage retention of character homes (i.e. RS-3, RS-5, etc. or where conditional zoning can be used to incentivize character preservation): (1) determine if the existing building is of character merit using a date threshold of 1940 construction and considerations regarding structural integrity and underutilization of property; and (2) if the home is of character merit or on the Vancouver Heritage Register, owners will be encouraged to consider retention and will be advised that City staff will consider the outright use provisions of the zoning in any application for rebuild rather than any conditional use provisions; and
  3. Encouraging Reuse and Recycling of Construction Waste from Pre-1940 Homes and Construction and Demolition Waste Diversion Strategy: This interim policy recommends certain actions to increase the recycling and reuse of materials from deconstruction, with an initial focus on pre-1940 homes, including amendments to the Solid Waste By-law and the Vancouver Building By-law to require minimum reuse and recycling of 75% of all building materials, by weight, excluding hazardous materials, from pre-1940 homes, and 90% from pre-1940 character homes.  The City estimates that an additional 40 tonnes of waste could be diverted from landfill per demolished home.  As a result of the interim policy, a green demolition by-law applicable to the demolition of pre-1940 homes came into force on September 1, 2014.  Certain provision of such by-law relating to security deposits will come into force on March 1, 2015.

Concerns have been raised that these policies may devalue properties with a pre-1940 character home, and add considerably to the cost of demolishing such homes.  It should be noted, however, that retaining a character home would enable owners to negotiate conditional zoning provisions and incentives.  Such retention and demolition requirements (and additional security requirements coming into force in March of this year) should be considered when buying property in the City of Vancouver with the intent to redevelop.

The work to be completed under the Heritage Action Plan, and its related policies and reports, is intended to result in an updated comprehensive Heritage Conservation Program by the end of 2015.  Following the recent election in November 2014, we wait to see if any changes to the current plan develop.