Victoria Avenue demolition delay extended by Oak Bay council

Property becomes the poster child for municipal heritage protocol issues

What began as a simple demolition request has transformed into an unofficial referendum on Oak Bay’s heritage program.

At the heart of the discussion is a Victoria Avenue home, whose owners want to redevelop the double lot on which it sits and build two new ones in its place.

The home is currently under a municipally imposed 60-day temporary protection order, while council decides whether or not to pursue official heritage designation for the property.

The immediate impact of council’s decision will be financial – the municipality would be on the hook for any loss in market value that may come from the designation.

But as was evident at Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, the situation has led many in the community to take a long, hard look at Oak Bay’s heritage plan, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

Oak Bay Heritage Commission members spoke about the need for a comprehensive heritage strategic plan for the municipality.

“Heritage in Oak Bay is under pressure by developers and homeowner/developers, particularly on the double lots and large single lots,” said Pat Wilson, commission chair. Wilson pointed to an increase in the number of demolitions as evidence of a need for action.

“Already in January, the building department has received three demolition requests,” she said. “We recognize that change is going to happen, but what kind of change?”

Coun. Pam Copley, who heads up the municipality’s land use and planning section, acknowledged that Oak Bay’s current mechanism for handling heritage issues is sorely lacking.

“Working on a crisis-by-crisis basis at the 11th hour is not fair to us as decision makers, it’s not fair to the people for whom heritage is important, and it’s not fair for the owners and the residents of this municipality,” she said.

Copley pointed to the need for a proactive system of identifying properties and buildings with heritage value, including a “beefed up” community heritage register.

Wilson reminded councillors that they had all expressed support for heritage issues during last November’s election campaign. “Oak Bay needs a strong heritage plan and program supported by staff and council. … Otherwise we will be doomed to have many more meetings like this.”

Despite the fact that most who spoke acknowledged that it is likely too late to prevent the demolition of the Victoria Avenue house – the protection order expires March 9 – council opted to wait for more information about the potential financial implications of their decision.

The vote was not unanimous, however. With Coun. Cairine Green absent, a motion to rescind the protection order was defeated by virtue of a 3-3 deadlock.

Councillors John Herbert, Michelle Kirby and Kevin Murdoch voted in favour of lifting the order, while Copley, Tara Ney and Mayor Nils Jensen opposed the motion.

The matter returns to council for its Feb. 13 meeting, where it is expected that municipal staff will be directed to obtain an appraisal of the property.