Abstract staff were seen on site at 1561 York Pl. while neighbours looked on in anger at the demolition of a 122-year-old-wall. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Greater Victoria developer rushes to demolish historic wall before Oak Bay applies heritage permit

Abstract Development punches holes in one of Oak Bay’s oldest stone walls

The District of Oak Bay’s council conducted an emergency meeting on Thursday morning in order to issue a Temporary Protection Order for the property at 1561 York Pl.

Starting at 7 a.m. that morning, executive staff members from Abstract Development took jackhammers, crowbars and shovels to a historic 122-year-old stone wall, while angry neighbours watched.

The demolition took place under a posted Stop Work Order tacked onto a nearby tree, but Abstract staff on site pointed out that the order only said the company had to cease anything which required permits, while all they were doing was “landscaping.”

The Stop Work Order was put in place last Friday after Oak Bay council agreed to apply a Heritage Conservation Permit (HCP) bylaw on the property, which would require property owners to seek a permit from the District before making any changes to heritage components, such as the wall. The HCP bylaw received its third reading on Monday, and was scheduled for final approval in council on Oct. 28.

Knowing that time was limited, Abstract got to work on widening two existing openings along the frontages on York and Prospect Place, and adding two new openings on Prospect Place.

ALSO READ: Oak Bay heritage property to spawn a new lot

“Abstract commenced the work today in order to protect the company’s existing rights to the property, as it is anticipated that the District of Oak Bay will be implementing a Heritage Control Period bylaw in the Prospect neighbourhood by the end of the month,” said Adam Cooper, director of development for Abstract in a statement.

The land was purchased by Abstract CEO Michael Miller for personal development, and was once a part of the historic Annendale property, which was built by Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, second son of Sir Charles Tupper, the last Father of Confederation in 1897. Neighbouring Miller’s lot is the heritage-designated Annendale House. The walls surrounding the property were also built in 1897, as was a derelict carriage house which Miller recently sold to a Victoria resident.

A photo from 1911 shows a Margaret Scott and her brother, Walter in front of the property at 1561 York Pl. (Courtesy of the Oak Bay Archives and the Brian Crane Collection)

READ MORE: Historic Oak Bay carriage house to be restored as rental property

The property also houses an archaeologicially significant midden, a refuse pile created by historical First Nations.

A natural resource officer on-site determined that the midden was being protected, and that the wall did not hold archaeoloical value.

Regardless, the move left many neighbours appalled including Paul Ziakin, who lives next door and was evicted by Abstract from his current residence.

“I’m seeing a development company finding loopholes in the law to carry on the work,” Ziakin said. “I’m surprised that this company is just moving ahead like this… They’re just burning bridges behind them and making themselves more of a pariah to this neighbourhood.

READ MORE: Oak Bay grants 60 days of protection for century-old mansion

Angus Matthews, a neighbour and member of a local commission which met with Miller 21 times to come up with a development alternative, was also present.

“They’re tearing down one of the most historic walls in south Oak Bay,” Matthews said. “They raced out here with their management team and their toy tools and inflicted as much damage on the wall as they can before the next protection period… When people associate the Abstract brand with this they should remember this is spiteful heritage destruction, not community development.”

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch and council held an emergency meeting and unanimously voted to impose a 60-day Temporary Protection Order, which Murdoch issued himself at the property around 11:30 a.m.

“Staff recognized immediately that this was contrary to the intentions of council,” Murdoch said, adding that council realized that legally a Stop Work Order is to be applied to a building, not a wall or fence.

“No matter the legalities, I think the intentions of the Stop Work Order were pretty clear, so we were disappointed that the spirit of it wasn’t recognized by the developer.”

Murdoch further added that a Heritage Conservation Permit is not being put in place to stop an owner from renovating their property, but rather to make sure more thought is put into the process.

As of 11:30 a.m., Abstract staff stopped tearing down the wall, though a majority of its aim was accomplished.

Abstract said it is now consulting the legal merits of the protection order.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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