Delta council is divided over whether homeowners should pay for evaluations if they want to demolish a building on the heritage inventory.
A new set of criteria for applications to demolish heritage buildings was brought forward on Monday, Aug. 14, to Delta council. Under the proposed rules, homeowners would be required to undertake an evaluation of the heritage building as part of a demolition permit application. The evaluation would include specific steps such as taking high resolution images of the building, noting the condition of historic elements and determining what rehabilitation is required to make the space livable.
As a whole, council seemed to be in favour of requiring evaluations as part of a demolition application for heritage buildings. What they were divided on was who should pay for it.
Delta staff didn’t know the exact cost of an evaluation, but speculated it could be between $5,000 and $10,000. For councillors Robert Campbell and Bruce McDonald, that was too much to ask a private citizen to pay.
“I’m concerned on putting that kind of burden on a property owner to deal with a property that potentially is going to end up being demolished,” Campbell said.
“I understand the rationale with this. I don’t need any explanation about that. But … $5,000 to $10,000 on a property that’s not going to be saved seems to me to be a bit onerous.”
On the other hand, councillors Heather King and Jeannie Kanakos, chair and vice-chair (respectively) of Delta’s heritage advisory commission, were in favour of the evaluation despite the cost to homeowners.
“We have seen an open door to demolition, and demolition permits on heritage homes,” King said. “It’s been a frustration in that we have had no tools in our tool kit in which to understand whether or not there is a justification for this.”
“The entire purpose of this is to help people understand the value of the heritage building they have in their possession, and to do their utmost to ensure it doesn’t come forward for demolition,” she said. “If there is a $5,000 deterrent in the way of an evaluation, all the better to deter them from going that route.”
Later in the council meeting, Kanakos added that this criteria was “formalizing some of our policies that have been moving somewhat informally.”
The debated criteria came in the wake of a demolition permit for a historic property in Ladner — the Wilson Residence, constructed in 1904 — which came before council in May of 2017. The Wilson Residence is on Delta’s Heritage Inventory, a list of properties with historic significance but that are not designated heritage properties.
In total, there are 205 properties in Delta’s heritage inventory. Although most of these properties are in Ladner, there are 25 in North Delta and several on Annacis Island.
According to Jeff Day, Delta’s director of community planning and development, there are very few demolition applications for buildings on the heritage inventory.
The Wilson Residence did undergo an evaluation before its demolition, but according to Kanakos, that evaluation seemed skewed towards demolition. By having a set of criteria for the evaluation, she said, future demolition evaluations will be geared towards preserving the home.
Where this poses a problem, McDonald said, is in asking homeowners to pay for an evaluation before the potentially “illegal expropriation of property” by the Corporation of Delta.
According to Delta’s bylaws, the municipality can withhold a demolition permit for properties on the Delta Heritage Register — not the heritage inventory — but only until a permit has been issued for alteration or redevelopment. According to Day, other demolition permits can be withheld on a temporary basis, but “if it became an issue of someone wanting to demolish it and us (not wanting to), it would become an issue of expropriation or a legal matter.”
That means Delta would have to either negotiate the purchase of the home or expropriate it and pay the owner “market value” for their property.
In McDonald’s view, the potentially illegal part of expropriation comes from changing the rules around demolitions. By requiring homeowners to get a heritage-based evaluation, the municipality could be in one sense forcing the homeowner towards expropriation rather than demolition.
The analogy McDonald used was “constructive dismissal,” where an employer changes the terms of an employment contract to effectively force someone out of their job. This could be seen as the same thing, he said, with evaluations potentially being seen as “constructive expropriation.”
Expropriating or purchasing heritage inventory homes isn’t new of course. Delta looked into these options with the Kittson Residence in Ladner back in 2011, when the heritage home was up for demolition.
The home was offered for sale for $1 if anyone would be able to move to house off its property. No suitable sites were found. No suitable buyers were found. The house was demolished in May 2015.
“We’re not going to see any properties get saved as a result of this process,” Campbell said about the new criteria.
“If someone is looking to save a heritage house … they’re going to be coming forward with their own rationale and looking for incentives from our other programs to be able to accomplish the renovation and remediation of such a structure,” he said. “But if the intent is to get to a demolition permit, then that’s where it’s going.”
Later in the nearly half-hour discussion, McDonald moved to have Delta cover the cost of all evaluations on heritage buildings up for demolition. This sparked outcry from dissenting councillors.
“I say our taxpayers are burdened enough, and I will not support that amendment to the motion,” King said, noting that there were so few demolitions that Delta could evaluate on a case by case basis.
“I don’t know what I’m agreeing to,” she continued. “I don’t know how much the costs are. So I’m going to say I don’t support this.”
“Yet you’re quite willing to put that cost on a homeowner, without knowing what that cost is,” Campbell retorted, speaking out of turn.
Mayor Lois Jackson also commented on the proposed “carte blanche,” after remaining quiet for much of the discussion.
“Isn’t it safe to say that any time we see anything that looks like a demolition, it comes to this table,” she asked. “I don’t see that changing.”
Jackson said she would prefer to charge homeowners for the evaluations and have council rule on whether or not to waive the fee on a case-by-case basis.
“It would seem to me that we should be looking at it at the time, and if we’re going to forgive something, perhaps we should think about doing it at the time we get it to the table.”
Jackson suggested the criteria be returned to staff — who Delta CAO George Harvie said supported the criteria as presented — to provide more information on their legal and financial implications, as well as the evaluation process overall.