At a packed Council meeting this week, the future of 1231 Victoria Avenue was finally decided by Council. The property owner applied to demolish the 1911 home to make way for a subdivision of the double lot and two new houses. In late January I voted with a Council majority to place a temporary Protection Order on the property, to give the municipality some time to work with the owner on possible options that would save the house. But at this week’s Council meeting, we voted unanimously to lift the Order, realizing that we had no effective tools by which to address the situation and save the property. The property owner can now continue with plans to demolish the house and subdivide the double lot.
As Council Liaison to the Heritage Commission, I finally agreed that this property could not be saved under current circumstances. I believe that Council made the right decision last night, despite valiant efforts by the Heritage Commission, municipal planning staff and Council to explore options that would avoid demolition of the house. I missed the February 6 Committee of the Whole meeting that ended with a tie vote (3/3) that continued the Protection Order until the matter came back to a Council meeting this week.
As the Oak Bay News reported after the February 6 meeting, this was the “poster child” that demonstrates why Oak Bay needs to take action to develop a Heritage Strategic Plan and to hire a qualified planner to assist the municipality with heritage education, recognition and preservation. Unfortunately, I believe that there is misunderstanding among the public about the meaning and impacts of heritage registration and designation.
This reality underscores in my view the obvious tension between protecting individual property rights and preserving local properties and landscapes of significance — this situation cannot be effectively addressed without a systematic, constructive and planned approach.
The Heritage Commission is committed to working with the municipality and the community to create a process that is fair, open and meets the needs of property owners, heritage planning and public education. I agree with Commission members and members of the public that, without a strategic heritage plan integrated with the Official Community Plan review process, the municipality can only react on a case-by-case basis to demolition requests. This simply does not work well, as we have seen in the case of 1231 Victoria Avenue.
We as a community and a municipality need to be proactive, not reactive, to heritage conservation and, only by working together, do we have what many believe is an opportunity to build a positive future for heritage in Oak Bay. I thank the Heritage Commission, staff, Council and the property owner for their due diligence in the face of what were very challenging circumstances for all parties.