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The importance of Heritage in Planning

Photograph by Darren Stone, Times Colonist
Photograph by Darren Stone, Times Colonist

In February of 2016, an iconic house at the corner of St. Patrick and Beach Drive was shipped away on a barge. The beautiful yellow Boorman family home, with rock pillars and large verandah, was a recognizable and welcome landmark in the neighbourhood and along the scenic drive; it added to the neighbourhood character and sense of history. But it sat on two lots, and with no housing option other than single family homes readily available, the market pressure to remove the house and build two new houses was overwhelming; it was lost to the community forever. But what if it wasn’t inevitable? What if, in fact, we could make it the default option to save these homes? What if saving homes was an explicit goal of a community plan rather than a platitude? I have a long family connection to this community, and my sense of connection and knowledge have been deepened through my roles as liaison to the Heritage Commission, Heritage Foundation, and Archives, as well as serving as Chair of the Housing Retention and the Heritage Conservation Area Working Groups. The retention of character homes helps maintain the community feel, culture, and a connection to our past as new development happens; we need to value our past as we manage change.

"[We] can't continue this short-term mindset and hope to retain our long-term assets"

A Community Development Plan (CDP) as laid out in my PLAN policy pillar is needed to enable the retention of our character homes. It’s abundantly clear four more years of ad-hoc and unplanned development will see a continued escalation of demolitions. We can’t stop redevelopment (and in fact much of the older housing stock benefits from replacement), but we need to ensure our regulations don’t encourage demolition over renovation, and that housing changes contribute to the future of Oak Bay.

OCP Section 4.7: “There is an integral relationship between conservation of heritage resources in a community and land use planning and development. A key thrust of the provincial amendments to heritage legislation in 1994 was to encourage a better integration of heritage and land use planning at the local government level and to provide tools for local governments to work with land owners to conserve important heritage resources. How would a Community Development Plan help?

  • Explicit zoning for redevelopment of character homes can add market value to older homes, making them more economically viable to retain rather than demolish.

  • Streamline the preservation process. It is critically important to change the current arduous, time consuming, and costly rezoning application process currently required. These can be Heritage Revitalization Agreements but can also build in other retention-focused approvals.

  • Density bonuses can be included for older homes to encourage renovation over demolition (a small step was taken in the FAR changes in 2015 by creating different rules for older and newer homes)

  • Where we want density options in our community, converting existing homes to host smaller housing units through heritage conversions should be our first choice.

Few homeowners or developers are willing to save houses under the current ad-hoc and political (and therefore expensive) approval process - we need to make retention the default and high-value option.

"We need to value our past as we manage change."

We on Council have had the opportunity many times in the last four years to tackle housing issues, housing planning, and housing retention, and every time the vote has come, the current Mayor has cast the deciding vote against a community planning process to address these broader issues. The community can't continue this short-term mindset and hope to retain our long-term assets. The people who purchased the iconic house at St. Patrick and Beach were quality developers. Given a viable option, they would likely have saved the house and added more (and more affordable) housing to our community. We need to have a housing plan that encourages the retention of these homes, or we will continue to see them lost to the wrecking ball or barge for years to come.

Kevin Murdoch, Candidate for Oak Bay Mayor

References: The Oak Bay Heritage Plan (2013) The Oak Bay Official Community Plan (2014) (Note: heritage is mentioned 80 times, but no development plan has yet developed from the generalized statements)


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