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Online petition rouses support against Vancouver demolitions

Effort hopes to put loss of character homes on election agenda
house demolition
This West Side house sold for $1.67 million around 2011. After it was demolished, it was replaced by a new home selling for $3.7 million. submitted photo

More than 1,350 people had signed a petition aimed at saving Vancouver’s character houses as of late Wednesday morning, Feb. 19.

A group called the Vancouver Character House Network is behind the petition.

Among those involved is Caroline Adderson who is responsible for the popular Facebook page Vancouver Vanishes, which she launched in early 2013. It was designed to document and celebrate the city’s vanishing character homes.

Adderson said the petition garnered 800 signatures the first day it was posted about a week ago.

“The city automatically receives notice when someone signs.  The ultimate goal is to make it an election issue,” Adderson said in an email to the Courier.  “We'll consider other initiatives as support builds.”

Elizabeth Murphy, who’s also involved, said interest in the subject is growing.

“People are starting to get very upset about what’s happening with the demolitions,” she said.

The petition states that more than 750 homes are demolished each year in the city and many are pre-1940s houses built with a high level of craftsmanship and quality materials. 

“Most of these homes are already adapted, or adaptable, to modern living requirements and are a more affordable and ecologically sustainable option than the houses that currently replace them,” the petition states. “Each demolition sends more than 50 tonnes of waste to the landfill, taking with it the history and character of the streetscape and the mature gardens that grace our established neighbourhoods.”

The petition has four demands of city council:

  • to remove from zoning and building code bylaws any biases favouring demolition and new construction over retention;
  • to review and amend single-family (RS) zoning in a collaborative process with affected communities so that retention of pre-1940s homes has significant advantages over demolition and new construction while ensuring the character, scale and fundamental nature of the neighbourhoods are preserved;
  • to provide greater review and scrutiny of pre-1940s homes prior to accepting proposed development applications and/or demolitions; and
  • to fast-track and prioritize development applications that retain pre-1940s character and heritage housing.

“It’s not that we’re wanting to stop all demolitions, but just to have the bylaws changed to encourage good quality houses to be renovated and re-used — that’s the intention,” Murphy said.

Comments under the petition include one from Miranda Burgess who wrote: “If Vancouver is serious about becoming the world’s “greenest city,” it will have to look far more closely at the makeup of its landfills. Retention of older houses = sustainability — not to mention liveability of neighbourhoods.”

Joan Stuchner wrote: “Sturdy, well built homes that are part of our history should not be demolished. It's important to maintain and respect our history as much as it is important to create new examples of local architecture. There must be stricter guidelines for both demolishing and building. Right now new homes are much too big for the lots on which they stand. They look absurd and ugly.”

Although city council recently passed a Heritage Action Plan, Adderson, Murphy and their supporters believe it doesn’t go far enough and timelines are too long.

“We’re hoping that council will take immediate action to direct staff to look at this. There have been indications from the city that they’re willing to consider making some changes but they we’re proposing any changes to not come until over a year in the future.” Said Murphy who added she’s pleased with the response to the petition so far.

“We’ve had a very good reaction quickly and it’s building. We’re pleased about that and look forward to getting a response from the city.”

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