MY COMMENTS TO OAK BAY COUNCIL
May 28, 2018
First, I would like to acknowledge, with thanks, planner Deborah Jensen for her continued assistance to the Commission on this application and for her report and recommendation.
At its regular meeting on May 8, 2018, the Oak Bay Heritage Commission considered a demolition application for 599 Island Road, an iconic Francis Rattenbury/Samuel Maclure stone mansion built in 1909 and site of the original Jones’ family estate.
After careful deliberation following input from the current owners, their legal counsel and their contractor, the Heritage Commission voted unanimously to recommend to Council denial of this demolition application.
This is one of the oldest and most stately heritage homes in Oak Bay, an enduring “anchor” heritage property that expresses well the majesty of Oak Bay’s early history and the significance of the Jones family as part of that history. This home’s contribution to Oak Bay’s heritage cannot be understated and its potential loss through demolition would be significant, both in principle and as a heritage landmark.
Developed as a 10-lot strata in 1985, the mansion and property have been retained and integrated well with the strata development. At the time the strata development was approved, the Council of the day drew a covenant containing a specific clause that requires Council approval of any demolition of this mansion or alterations to the property. Prior to 1994, when provincial legislation was enacted to enable Heritage Revitalization Agreements, municipal covenants were commonly used to recognize or protect significant landmarks.
Related to seismic concerns expressed by the current owners, given the mansion’s age, we understand that the home is exempt from provincial legislation requiring seismic upgrading to BC Building code standards, a similar situation and would likely apply to many of the region’s existing historical stone buildings e.g. the Provincial Legislature, Royal Roads University, Christ Church Cathedral, the Victoria Conservatory of Music (formerly Metropolitan United Church), the Empress Hotel and Government House.
While the owners state they do not feel safe living in the home in its original state, we note that families have been raised in this home during the past two decades and earlier. It is also noteworthy that the mansion is also built on rock, itself a seismic advantage.
Related to any legal ramifications, we understand that the municipality is neither liable nor legally exposed should Council deny this demolition request; any risk to the municipality, therefore, perceived or real, appears to be mitigated.
The Heritage Commission believes that Oak Bay Council, acting as stewards of this home and property and of Oak Bay heritage generally, have a compelling obligation to both honour and respect this valuable community asset, one that should be protected and conserved.
Frankly, if a home as significant as this one, symbolic of Oak Bay’s unique past, can be demolished then it begs two critical questions — has the work of Oak Bay Heritage, involving thousands of volunteer hours, been in vain AND if we can’t save this one, can we save any of them? Thank you.