The Role of the City in Heritage

Does Heritage Matter?

The City of Vancouver views its heritage architecture as milestones,- past economic, social, architectural and cultural developments which serve as important and preserved measures of the city’s progress. The style and construction of a building provides a mirror which reflects the tools of history that shaped it.

How is our past being preserved by our present?

The city first recognized and records “sites of interest” on the Heritage Register. This was established in 1986 and has become the city’s heritage “bible,” listing all buildings currently recognized as “historically important”.

If a building is listed on the Heritage Register, is it protected?

Though the Heritage Register is an excellent record, it does not prevent its contents from being demolished, defaced or dismembered. However, before a building on the Heritage Register can be demolished, the building permits for the new development must first be obtained. City Council has the right to withhold approvals and permits to allow time for “heritage retention options” to be fully explored with the heritage property owner and with heritage city staff.

Further to that, prior to an A listed building being approved for demolition, City Council may request that a formal independent consultant report on the physical condition and economic viability of retaining the building be reviewed by the Director of Planning. This applies to both publicly and privately owned buildings if they are listed on the Heritage register.

How does a site listed on the Heritage Register become protected?

A building can become a permanent heritage landmark by being “designated” by the City or Province. When the city designates a building it permanently protects it by law. Once designated, the building cannot be demolished, relocated or altered. Until 1973, it was up to Provincial legislation to protect municipal historical landmarks through the Archeological and Historical Protection Act. In 1974, the province amended the Vancouver Charter to enable the city to designate buildings as protected heritage.

How does the City designate a building or site of interest?

City Council must first hold a public hearing, then prepare a report evaluating the appropriateness and feasibility of conserving the property. If, at the time of designation, this causes a reduction of market value in the property, the city must compensate the owner for the amount that both parties agree on. If an agreement is not reached, compensation is ruled through binding arbitration. The city may also compensate the owner through a heritage density increase transfer system, transferring density rights to another property, as compensation for the newly designated heritage structure. This requires permission from the Development Permit Board.

Do Heritage Revitalization Agreements offer further protection?

Heritage Revitalization Agreements have become powerful and flexible bargaining tools. Each agreement is specifically written to suit unique properties and situations. The terms of these agreements can supercede land use regulations and may amend typical use, density and site regulations. These agreements allow the property owner to be compensated in ways other than monetary value.

Heritage Revitalization Agreements may vary or supplement the provisions of a zoning by-law, subdivision by-law, heritage conservation by-law, development cost levies by-law, development permit, or heritage alteration permit. They may also consider other terms produced and agreed upon by both parties. Through the agreement, the City and the property owner can work within the city by-laws to facilitate compensation that is acceptable to both parties.