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Vancouver’s earliest remaining service station at risk of demolition

Fraser Street property part of land assembly in rezoning application. If it's approved, developer says commemorative elements will be included in project
If a rezoning application is approved for a land assembly on Fraser Street, the Alec’s Automotive bu
If a rezoning application is approved for a land assembly on Fraser Street, the Alec’s Automotive building, would have to be knocked down. Photo Heritage Vancouver Society

Vancouver’s earliest remaining garage/service station could be knocked down to make way for a new development proposed for a land assembly on Fraser Street between East 22nd and 23rd avenues.

Strand Development has filed a rezoning application under the Affordable Housing Choices Interim Rezoning Policy for a six-storey, mixed-use, market rental building on a full block of the west side of Fraser Street. The site includes these addresses: 686 East 22nd Ave., 3811 to 3833 Fraser St. and 679 East 23rd Ave.

The plan is to build 121 rental units with retail space at grade level.

An open house about the proposal is set for 5 to 7 p.m., Sept. 6, at the Polish Community Centre. Read the Courier’s Aug. 7 story about the project HERE.

If rezoning is approved, the building that houses Alec’s Automotive Machine Shop, which operates at 3891 Fraser St. on a portion of the proposed redevelopment site, would have to be knocked down. The automotive shop has been in business since 1948. There is also a post-1930 character house on the property.

(Because this block of Fraser Street is zoned RT-2, two-family dwelling, some of the properties have a second address attached to them. This is the case with Alec's Automotive — 3891 Fraser St. is a secondary address attached to 679 East 23rd Ave., which is what's listed in the rezoning application.)

The 1924 building originally operated as Preston & Robson garage/gas station. Directory listings in 1909 also show a blacksmith’s shop on the property — H.J. Miles & Co. on North Arm Road (Fraser Street) on the corner of 23rd Avenue.

On Oct. 2 of 2017, the Vancouver Heritage Commission supported adding 3891 Fraser St. to the Heritage Register as B-listed.

BC Assessment valued the property at $1,648,500 in the latest assessment roll, which lists values as of July 1, 2017.

Heritage Vancouver Society considers the building important for its two early uses, its association with the interwar development of Fraser Street, and for its vernacular architecture.

The organization called attention to the prospect of losing the building on social media.



“Our concern isn’t necessarily with the proposed structure and the much-needed rental housing, but the ongoing erasure of the city’s ever-decreasing built heritage — a concern especially for these small, unique sites that help create a unique layering to the city overall,” Heritage Vancouver’s Patrick Gunn told the Courier.

“Industrial heritage is under threat even more since it’s not always perceived as polished, or refined as other commercial or residential built heritage structures are. The intangible heritage aspects through their function can tell a story of a site, and even to the greater neighbourhood that it exists within.”



Karen Hoese, assistant director in the rezoning centre for planning, urban design and sustainability, had this to say about the rezoning proposal in an email to the Courier:

"The machine shop is not included on the Vancouver Heritage Register. During the early review stages of the rezoning enquiry it was determined that while the garage has heritage merits, the poor condition of the building and the challenges that would come with soil remediation and building retention would likely not make the project viable. The proposal does include new commercial space on the corner where the machine shop is now, and includes materials and garage door windows that make reference to the garage’s character."

Riley Mari of Strand Development told the Courier in an email that there was extensive dialogue in the lead up to making an application, involving the property owner, the Borden family, who owns Alec’s automotive business, and City of Vancouver staff regarding the viability of retaining the building or parts of it.

Mari said after those talks and an inspection of the structure, “it was determined that retention is not viable and, additionally, would prevent the delivery of much needed rental housing in the area.”

In conjunction with the Borden family, Strand has discussed the incorporation of commemorative elements including:

  • A commemorative plaque at the corner of 23rd and Fraser that provides information on Alec’s and the Borden family’s history on the block,
  • Incorporation of a colour palette and materiality for the retail component of the project that presents an interpretation of the industrial look and feel of the service station building,
  • Future naming of the project in a manner that commemorates Alec’s and/or the Borden family.

"Given the early stages of the application and its nature as a rezoning versus development permit application, more detailed design development regarding the above will follow at the [development permit] phase (should the project be successful in the rezoning stage),” Mari wrote.

Mari added that the sale of the property took place in February 2018 and that the Bordens initiated a sale process through a local realtor in early 2017:

“The building’s obsolescence as a functional engine repair facility combined with the Borden family’s desire to expand their business in a newer, modern facility were both catalysts for their family deciding to list the property for sale. Further, the Borden’s were desirous of leasing back the property so as to afford themselves the time necessary to take their earnings and invest them in a modern replacement property. As such, this obviously isn’t a situation where a tenant is being displaced as a result of redevelopment, but rather a family who have realized a substantial windfall via the sale of their property, which is going to afford them the opportunity to grow their business in a functional/modern facility moving forward.”

Kevin Borden, co-owner of Alec's Automotive, confirmed those details. He said they looked forward to a more modern, larger building. The business will continue operating on Fraser Street until about January, then it will move to 6909 Russell Ave. in Burnaby.

"This building is very old and about to fall down, eventually, so it's kind of time for us to get out of this residential neighbourhood," he said, while adding he'll miss the area.

"I grew up in the neighbourhood, as well as worked here, and I'll definitely miss it but I'm looking forward to the future as well."

Borden said about 30 years ago a horseshoe was found on the property when a hole was being dug in the back yard. The Borden family suspects it might have been from the old blacksmith's shop, but they aren't sure. The horseshoe hangs on the wall in the business.