The owners of this heritage registered Rockland neighbourhood home on Shasta Place have been forced to halt deconstruction work for 60 days while the City discusses other options with the owners. Photo courtesy of Victoria Heritage Foundation

Rockland homeowner asked to halt deconstruction plans by City of Victoria

Pub owner Matt MacNeill and his family have lived in heritage-registered home for 17 years

The challenges involved in protecting heritage homes in Victoria have come to light again in Rockland as deconstruction of a heritage-registered property has been halted by the city for 60 days.

The impending deconstruction of a many-times upgraded former carriage house and barn, built around 1910, and the building of a new home on the Shasta Place site, has the Rockland Neighbourhood Association worried about the loss of another local heritage structure. This fear has prompted Victoria city council to approve a postponement while the City looks into the matter and discusses options with owner Matt MacNeil, whose family has lived in the home for 17 years.

Neighbourhood association president Janet Simpson worries that because the structure is heritage-registered, not heritage designated – which carries much stronger protection status and alteration restrictions, and needs only slight variances from current zoning – the project will more or less be rubber stamped by the city.

“It’s a major recommendation of the Rockland Neighbourhood Plan to retain heritage buildings and we’re losing them at an incredible rate,” she said. She pointed to the removal last year of a late-19th century home at 1326 Richardson St. and replacement with a modern new home by the owners.

In an open meeting with the neighbourhood association, MacNeil indicated that any salvageable materials such as beams, doors or flooring could be incorporated into the new home. By comparison, Simpson said, the demolished Richardson Street home materials went to the landfill.

She said other older homes in the neighbourhood appear to have been upgraded using the existing structure and wonders why MacNeil doesn’t do the same.

At committee of the whole earlier this month, Coun. Margaret Lucas voiced concern that forcing a 60-day moratorium seemed a heavy-handed way to approach negotiations with heritage-registered property owners. She said that forcing owners to halt construction plans was never suggested as a possibility when they voluntarily registered their properties.

“I remember it being very casual … that we would be able to have a conversation with you,” she said. “I don’t remember us at any time saying that without the consent of the owner we would do this. We are missing a very important link, I believe, when the owners are not told about this.”

Coun. Pamela Madoff, who put forward the motion to postpone demolition, said owners who opt for heritage registration are allowing the City to engage in a formal conversation about their renovation and building plans, and postponing the demolition serves this purpose.

“Without postponing, (we) can’t have the debate about the merits of protecting this property,” she said. “60 days, I would suggest, is not going to have any impact on what the plans may be for this particular property.”

The MacNeil family, who have lived in the home for the past 17 years, plan to take the existing building down, use as many materials from it as are salvageable, and build a similarly sized and styled home, plus a garden suite on the lot.

The reluctance to undertake major renovations have much to do with what would be needed to bring the building up to current building and safety codes, according to MacNeil. At a meeting with the neighbourhood group, according to a RNA board member in attendance, MacNeil listed issues around seismic safety, electrical wiring, single-pane windows, lack of a basement and a restrictive floor plan as among the reasons why the building didn’t lend itself well to an upgrade.

– with files from Lauren Boothby

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