While it wasn’t a surprise on Monday that Oak Bay Council refused an application for the demolition of a historically significant Oak Bay house, it does leave the owners between a rock and a hard place – that hard place being an engineer’s stamp of approval.
The family bought the two-and-a-half story stone house, designed by architects Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure, with the intention of restoring it – with a few tweaks – and living in it, council heard Monday.
“This has been a love project from the beginning for us,” said owner Leslie Shewring.
The house at 599 Island Road was built in 1909 for Dr. Oswald Meredith Jones, B.C.’s preeminent surgeon, according to historian Stuart Stark’s Statement of Significance. The house, which is on the Community Heritage Register, is a rare all stone construction and the slate roof is one of only three remaining in Oak Bay.
Last year, Shewring and her husband Dan Sheehan went back and forth with the Heritage Commission working out the details for renovations that would work for both their family and the community’s desire to protect the historical value of homes like theirs.
Council approved the proposed renovations.
The owners hired a designer, put together the designs, then hired contractor Chris Walker to start work on the project.
“Of course I have to do a financial analysis and that is where I bring in the consultants that are required. The engineer being the first one,” said Walker.
Herold Engineering did a review of the renovations and spent days doing drill testing, Shewring told council.
In the end, the engineer’s report indicated that providing a seismic upgrade to the building would be needed, and recommended increasing the seismic capacity to a standard of at least 60 percent.
The engineers wouldn’t sign off on the renovations if the seismic work wasn’t done.
“We would have to spend $2 million just to get it to 60 per cent,” said Shewring.
The engineer’s report warns of the impact an earthquake could have on the house.
“It is our opinion that if an earthquake were to occur the stone walls that experience out of plane loading would collapse and the wood frame support would fall away with the walls. In this event the house would likely collapse entirely or in portion,” read the report.
Holding back emotion at the council meeting, Shewring said she is scared to move her family into the home knowing that risk. But she said they also can’t spend the $2 million to mitigate that risk.
The municipality’s response was that it doesn’t require the homeowners to do any seismic upgrading.
“There is nothing in the BC Building Code that, as an existing home, would require them to upgrade to a percentage of seismic safety. Any upgrades to seismic capacity of the home is voluntary on the part of the owner. In fact, it is worth noting that local governments do not have the power to require the upgrading of buildings to current building standards,” says the staff report on the application.
The catch-22 is that while the municipality doesn’t require the seismic upgrading, the couple is required to have an engineer sign off on the renovations. And the engineers will only sign off on it if the seismic work is done. So if the couple want to do the renovations that the municipality approved, they have to do the seismic upgrades to the tune of $2 million.
The couple has put the house on the market in hopes of finding a buyer that can not only afford the $2+ million dollar price tag, but the additional $2 million required to make it safe to live in.
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