British Columbia

Vancouver scraps idea it hoped would help preserve character homes

A city planner says residents were strongly against the concept of downsizing over fears it would restrict the housing supply and negatively affect land values for single family homes.

City planner told council residents were strongly against concept of downzoning

Plastic orange fencing, often marking a home that's about to be torn down, is an increasingly common sight in Vancouver neighborhoods. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The City of Vancouver has backpedalled on an idea it said would help preserve character homes by providing an incentive for preservation and discouraging demolition.

On Tuesday, city planner Gil Kelley told council that staff would not be "carrying forward" the proposed concept of "downzoning," which stemmed from Vancouver's Character Home Zoning Review.

The idea would have given homeowners incentive to preserve character homes — defined as a house built before 1940 with recognized historical features — by "punishing" those who opt for the wrecking ball.

Gil Kelley, Vancouver's chief city planner, says the character home review has proven more controversial than anticipated. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Any new replacement home would have had to be smaller than what was previously allowed, among other things.

At this week's city council meeting, Kelley said many residents strongly disapproved of downzoning over fears it would unnecessarily restrict housing supply and affect land values for single family homes.

On the flip side, the planner said many residents supported the city's idea to "reward" homeowners who save character houses.

The city has considered, for instance, allowing those who preserve older homes to put additions on the main building and build secondary units on their property.

'Conversation needs to shift'

Javier Campos, the president of Heritage Vancouver, was in favour of dropping what he called the "preservationist" zoning concept.

"I think the initiative to look at character is an important conversation ... I just think the downzoning idea wasn't the correct option for the City of Vancouver," he said.

Instead, he said officials should look to preserve the character and atmosphere of neighbourhoods as a whole, rather than focusing on single buildings.

"I think the conversation needs to shift to liveable neighbourhoods, walkable neighbourhoods that support the population," Campos said.

There are other groups in the city that have long pressed the municipal government to protect character homes, and demolition of older homes has been a recurring topic in the debate around Vancouver's housing market.

Caroline Adderson, creator of the Vancouver Vanishes website, said the allowance of teardowns is "about redevelopment catering to the luxury market."

Of the 1,000 homes that are demolished in the city every year, around two thirds were built before 1940.

The city's review, sparked in part by resident concerns over the loss of older buildings, began last November.