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Value of Oak Bay heritage questioned

This 1911 home on a double lot on Victoria Avenue is at the centre of a controversy over heritage status. The owners want to tear it down to allow for new construction on the property, but Oak Bay council has put a temporary hold on the plan, to consider the home for heritage protection. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
This 1911 home on a double lot on Victoria Avenue is at the centre of a controversy over heritage status. The owners want to tear it down to allow for new construction on the property, but Oak Bay council has put a temporary hold on the plan, to consider the home for heritage protection.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

What is the cost of heritage?

It’s a broad question and one with many answers. This week a proposed home demolition brought the topic to the forefront, with hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially at stake.

David and Heather Glowicki, owners of a home on Victoria Avenue, applied for a demolition permit in November. Their 1911 Craftsman-style home, which has had various structural changes since it was built, straddles two legal lots.

The Glowickis hope to tear it down with an eye toward possibly building on both lots.

Instead of issuing the demo permit, however, council, which had ordered a 60-day protection order be placed on the property on Jan. 9, voted to take more time to find out whether the home merited heritage designation.

At Monday’s council meeting, David Glowicki presented his case for demolition. He made it quite clear that should a heritage designation be mandated, Oak Bay municipality could be on the hook for a lot of money.

The Local Government Act states that if heritage designation is imposed on a property, the owner is entitled to compensation for any loss in market value.

“This will be substantial, and I’m sure the taxpayers of Oak Bay would not be happy if they have to pay us compensation,” Glowicki told council.

According to the B.C. Assessment Authority website, the property is worth nearly $1.1 million, but that’s only one part of the equation. A compensation case would look at the potential value of two houses on two lots, a very realistic possibility given the Glowickis’ demolition plans.

This is not the first time a situation like this has come up in the Capital Region.

In 2009, the City of Victoria had to pay the owners of Rogers’ Chocolates nearly $600,000 in compensation after a heritage designation prevented the Government Street business from following through with a planned expansion. In that case, however, the designation only applied to the store’s interior.

Oak Bay is facing a decision of whether to designate an entire structure as heritage. That fact alone could mean a higher cost, although an appraisal would need to be conducted before that cost could be determined.

“I cannot conceive of anyone coming up with a number that is accurate enough to take the risk of designating,” said Coun. John Herbert, whose motion to rescind the temporary protection order was defeated 5-2.

The entire situation is unfortunate, said Coun. Pam Copley, and further highlights the problems Oak Bay faces in attempting to preserve heritage.

“It is another persuasive argument for ensuring that our heritage resources are well-monitored and managed through a proactive program,” she said. “We’re not there yet, unfortunately.”

Coun. Cairine Green echoed Copley’s sentiments. “If we don’t plan for these contingencies, in 15 years the houses that we appreciate and the houses and character that bring people to Oak Bay in the first place will slowly disappear,” she said.

Some of Glowicki’s frustration at Monday’s meeting stemmed from an Oak Bay Heritage Commission report that was prepared after members visited the home on Jan. 19. He said the report carries far too much weight with the municipality.

“It’s hard for us to accept that council, with the advice of the heritage commission, has the power to decide the fate of our life and change our path forever,” Glowicki said. “We have been building up life’s biggest asset, the family home, for over 20 years. To have our hands tied is disappointing and very difficult to understand.”

After a 45-minute discussion, council referred the matter to committee of the whole, which next meets Feb. 6. The hope is that more concrete numbers will be available by then so they can determine the potential cost of a heritage designation.

The 60-day protection order expires March 9. By that time, the municipality must decide if the property merits special designation.

How important is heritage?

The debate over whether to apply heritage designation to the Victoria Avenue home helped ignite a discussion about where heritage issues rank on Oak Bay’s list of priorities.

“Property values trump heritage values at this stage,” Green said at Monday’s meeting.

A separate agenda item offered yet another example of the challenges with the municipality’s system of identifying heritage properties, and the confusion many residents feel when faced with heritage issues.

The owners of a Beach Drive home, affectionately known as “Salty Towers,” petitioned council to be removed from Oak Bay’s heritage register, a watchlist of properties that, unlike heritage designation, carries no legal weight. However, the owners expressed concern that even being on the registry left a negative impression on potential buyers.

Green, who is council’s liaison on the heritage commission, acknowledged that the municipality can do more to educate residents on heritage issues, and said it’s important that residents and policymakers alike understand what’s at stake.

“It is about the fabric of the community, and it is in some ways death by a thousand cuts if we continue to lose these locations.”

reporter@vicnews.com

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