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'This isn't one-sided': New West homeowners spar over heritage designation

City Council to decide if Queen's Park becomes a Heritage Conservation Area, which would place demoliton and reconstruction restrictions on nearly half the homes in the neighbourhood.

City Council to decide if Queen's Park becomes a Heritage Conservation Area

Maureen Arvanitidis stands in front of her home that was built in the 1890's near the Pattullo Bridge — and transferred to the nearby Queen's Park neighbourhood 100 years later. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

The front lawns say a lot about the people who live inside the heritage houses in New Westminster's Queen's Park.

The quiet suburb is lined with signs that advocate for the neighbourhood to become a Heritage Conservation Area — a change that would tighten regulations for demolitions, renovations, and reconstruction of the 700 homes in the area.

But the feelings aren't unanimous — and some signs have mysteriously disappeared from front lawns.

"Their biggest fear is that their property values will decrease," said Maureen Arvanitidis, who proudly displays a sign that reads, 'We Support Heritage Conservation' just steps away from her front door.

 "We don't expect that that would happen — but there's always fear of the unknown," Arvanitidis said.

The residents are passionate, and aren't afraid to let their feelings be heard. All will be decided by a city council vote on June 13.

The size and scope of heritage houses varies in Queen's Park, ranging from small one-level units, to large manors with expansive lawns and gardens. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

'We support conservation'

Arvanitidis is the president of New West Heritage Preservation Society, a group that advocates to maintain the historical character of Queen's Park — a neighbourhood that's known for its diversity of heritage homes, some centuries-old.

She says over the years, the number of demolitions in the neighbourhood has increased, threatening its character. She spent the last few years in a study group composed of local residents, putting together a conservation proposal to city council.

Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 12 homes were demolished in the neighbourhood, according to an open letter from the New West Heritage Preservation Society. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

"We see this as being the most effective way of stopping [the demolitions]," she said.

The designation is aimed to protect homes built before 1941, requiring special permits for demolition and reconstruction. It would restrict demolition of homes deemed to have significant historical value.

It would also put design requirements on new builds to ensure they reflect the style and architecture of the neighbourhood.

Many residents are in favour.

Christy Girn recently moved into her home on Queens Avenue, and hopes the neighbourhood's character will be maintained by the policy proposal. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

"[The neighbourhood] has] so much character —  we've got colonial homes, English Tudor homes," said Christy Girn, a new homeowner who lives across the street.

"There's not many neighbourhoods left like this in the city."

Our home, our dream

Arvanitidis' proposal has been tabled twice at New Westminster city council, and council will vote on conservation next month. But some residents are worried that not everyone in the neighbourhood is aware of potential changes.

"We're really just trying to wake people up that this isn't one-sided, that there are risks involved," said Lorne Hill, a local resident and board president of the Fraserside Community Services Society. "I expect there will be families that have mortgages bigger than the price of their homes as a result of this."

Lorne Hill says everyone in the neighbourhood wants to preserve the area's character, and that he doesn't want to see big developers take over. But he worries the policy will be put into place without a proper impact assessment until next year. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

Hill says an impact analysis of how the policy would effect local housing prices has not been done, and that city council has not committed to doing one until next year. While he's in favour of conserving the neighbourhood's character, he worries that council is rushing the policy.

"If we think about the 700 homes in Queen's Park, 500 will have these controls put on them — [and] a lot of them are just old homes with very little heritage value," he said.

A sign perched in front of Lorne Hill's 100-year-old home cautions passersby to consider what a heritage conservation area would mean for their property rights. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

Mark Fox is a local home owner who wonders what the policy would mean for his "small home on a small lot."

"The more restrictions you put on a property, the less it's of interest to [buyers]," he said. "[My house] is old, but does old equal heritage? I don't think it always does."

Homeowner Mark Fox says small rickety houses on small lots may be old — but that doesn't necessarily mean bylaws should protect them. (Cherise Seucharan/CBC)

Polarizing politics

According to city councillor Jaimie McEvoy, should the proposal go through, the city will monitor the impact it has on housing prices and act accordingly — but he doesn't anticipate values will change.

"There's just nothing out there that backs up the idea that people would lose property value," McEvoy told CBC News.

He says concerns stem from a heritage designation that took place in Shaughnessy in Vancouver, where city council recently imposed a bylaw to protect heritage homes.

"There was some initial loss of value for some people, [but it's] anticipated to return to normal levels."

With files from Cherise Seucharan

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Jon Hernandez

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Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter: