New West homeowner frustrated by heritage status redtape

An automatic heritage status review by the City of New Westminster means Vivian O'Connor is marred by red tape in her effort to sell and sub-divide her lot.

Vivian O'Connor says her house is a tear down

Vivian O'Connor says her New Westminster house is a teardown 3:11

Vivian O'Connor was stunned to discover that her old rickety house on 6th Avenue in New Westminster was on the city's list of properties that automatically require heritage status assessments.

She was further dismayed when she found out that the heritage designation process, and the red tape that comes with it, had been deterring developers from purchasing and sub-dividing her property. 

CBC Radio and Television are broadcasting live from New Westminster on Friday, as part of our month-long In Your Neighbourhood special project.

O'Connor considers her home a tear down. 

"It's nothing pretty, it's not fancy, it's two houses glued together. It's just an old house," she said.

"There's no background, there's no famous people, it's not a house you'd find a plaque on."

O'Connor always considered the property to be an investment that she would sell for re-development, even when she purchased it back in 1996.

But a new policy passed by city council in 2011 stipulated that all homes older than 100 years must be reviewed by city staff and the Community Heritage Commission to see if they have heritage value. Until that determination is made, O'Connor is unable to sell the lot for re-development.

She says the initial interest in her property led her and her husband to purchase a home and 13-acre lot in Princeton.

Now, O'Connor has had to take out a line of credit to pay for both homes. Meanwhile, she has decreased the listing price of her property in an attempt to get out of the financial bind.

Preservation a 'community value'

For its part, the City of New Westminster says it's willing to work with O'Connor through its heritage revitalization program.

"Preservation of older houses is a strongly held community value in New Westminster," said Beverly Grieve, the city's director of development services.

Vivian O'Connor's wants to sub-divide her property on 6th Avenue in New Westminster, but the city says the house it has heritage value. (Vivian O'Connor)

"In the case of Ms. O'Connor, we let her know that if she were to preserve her building, the city would assist her in getting the lot subdivided and allow for the construction of a second house on that lot."

The bureaucracy and paperwork involved in the process leaves O'Connor balancing two mortgages and facing mounting debt. At this point, she says she doesn't have the time or money to participate in the city's heritage revitalization program.

"We're strapped. All the signs pointed to us making a quick sale because of the lot size and where it's placed," she said.

"We went out on a limb and bought another house, so now we owe a whole bunch of money that we should not have,  gone into debt for, because we should have been able to sell this house by now."

The New Westminster Community Heritage Commission's next meeting is in November. The city says it will review O'Connor's application as soon as possible. 

CBC is "In Your Neighbourhood". Join us for a live remote broadcast of CBC Radio One's 'The Early Edition' and 'On the Coast' in New Westminster at The Shops in New West (888 Carnarvon St.). CBC News Vancouver will also be on location and broadcasting live from around the city. 

With files from the CBC's Renee Filippone

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