Council to revise heritage maintenance bylaw after stiff opposition

A dozen speakers opposed the Heritage Maintenance Standards bylaw at a Nov. 8 hearing, causing council to send it back for refinement.

Revelstoke city council has sent the proposed Heritage Maintenance Standards bylaw back to the drawing board after about 20 people attended a Nov. 8 hearing, the vast majority of them opposing the bylaw.

12 people made formal submissions against it, while only two spoke in support.

The new bylaw is intended to prevent significant damage or deterioration to heritage buildings that would jeopardize the life of the building. However, opponents characterized the bylaw as a heavy-handed, arbitrary, amorphic and blunt tool that would trample homeowners’ rights and possibly chase poor homeowners from their homes.

The proposed bylaw has created much confusion and concern in the community. Councillors agreed efforts to step up the communications would have to be redoubled after the bylaw is revised.

(Read the proposed bylaw hereRead the previous Times Review story on the bylaw here).

Many of the residents who spoke against the bylaw cited specific clauses and concerns.

Homeowner Nadine Cameron spoke in opposition. She said the bylaw would be a hardship on poor homeowners. When homes are run down, it was more often than not a financial issue, she wrote in a statement.

Council candidate Pat Wells said council shouldn’t even be holding hearings with an election so close. “The writ has been dropped,” he reminded council. He did, however, express his views while in the council chamber: “It’s heavy handed in the extreme,” Wells said. “You’re trying to kill a flea with a club. Let’s have a better look at this.”

Wells felt it would have a negative effect on homeowners: “You’re not enhancing the property value, you’re adding cost to the property value.”

Resident Uldis Bokis asked if the bylaw would apply to the city. Would council be forced to replace the courthouse dome with a copper roof under this bylaw?

Council candidate Jason Roe questioned the provision that would require homeowners to board up their homes if they were left unoccupied for more than 45 days. “Do we want to now have boarded up buildings in downtown? I don’t think that’s a very good look.”

Another resident asked what the bylaw would mean for seniors who left for a seasonal vacation. “Do you really expect them to cover their windows? Does that make sense?”

Resident Tom Camozzi said the bylaw looked thrown together and not well thought through, saying some of the provisions were “shockingly harsh.” He said he was all for heritage homes, but at some point some buildings have to come down. He mentioned the Selkirk School and the old Selkirk Hall, which once stood where council chambers are now located.

Resident Kayle Robson noted seniors housing was an election issue, wondering what the effect on seniors would be.

Resident John Skrypnyk is involved in a legal battle with the City of Revelstoke. He’s applied to have his home at 714 Mackenzie Avenue demolished, but has faced years of opposition from the city, who won’t give him a demolition permit. In the meantime, he’s faced accusations from city inspectors that he’s gutted and damaged the building on purpose. The result? An ongoing legal battle.

One speaker questioned whether this bylaw was in fact directed at this ongoing controversy; for their part, planning director John Guenther has alluded to the fact that the bylaw was to be used in extreme cases.

“I feel that it singles me out,” Skrypnyk told the hearing. He said he felt the bylaw would affect homeowners across the heritage district. He repeated his request for a demolition permit, saying he intended to build a replacement building following heritage guidelines.

Two spoke in favour of the bylaw.

James Walford is the vice-chair of the Revelstoke Heritage Commission. He said the bylaw needed to be explained better and that there is “a lot of misconception” about it. He blamed the Revelstoke Times Review for that. “I blame them solely for a lot of the misinformation,” Walford said.

Eileen Fletcher explained she was a registered professional architect and that she’d helped the city create the existing Revelstoke Station heritage bylaw. Fletcher said the bylaw was an “essential tool within a larger tool kit,” adding: “It is a controversial one.”

“We also need the tools that balance this kind of bylaw,” Fletcher said, suggesting a heritage procedures bylaw as well.

Later on in the meeting, council agreed unanimously that the bylaw needed to be revised.

Coun. Tony Scarcella said council needed a bylaw that took a “small town” approach, “not a big city approach.”

Coun. Phil Welock said he’d fielded a call from a concerned resident who worried his home might not be up to standard if the bylaw came into effect. “It’s a little bit scary right now,” Welock said, saying it needed refinement.

Coun. Steve Bender agreed: “Maybe it does take a hammer to a fly.”

Coun. Peter Frew said individuals were often looking at their own situation, but heritage values needed to be maintained as a community value. He suggested modelling the bylaw after one in a smaller town like Nelson.

In the end, they decided to refer the bylaw back to staff for refinement, then they debated a communications plan for the next time around. Council asked that staff ensure that adequate communications were in place for the second go.

In the media question period, council deferred a question from the Times Review to planning director Guenther. Why the perception that the bylaw was misunderstood? Why was it misunderstood? Was it in fact drafted in reaction to Mr. Skrypnyk’s battle with the city?

Guenther provided a prepared written statement.

It emphasized four points.

One: The purpose of the bylaw was to prevent significant deterioration or damage to buildings that would jeopardize the life of the building.

Two: The bylaw will not be used to enforce aesthetic maintenance in the Revelstoke Station Heritage Maintenance Conservation area.

Three: The bylaw will help prevent “demolition by neglect” – basically letting a building go until it must be torn down.

The fourth point provides some insight into why the city has been challenged in their communication on the bylaw. I quote the FAQ:

Will the Heritage Maintenance Standards be applicable to my property and buildings?

– The bylaw is only applicable to buildings located on a property that has been designated as protected by a Heritage Designation Bylaw or is located within a Heritage Conservation Area. The bylaw does not apply to properties on the Revelstoke Heritage Register or to properties on the Revelstoke Heritage Inventory.

Will the average homeowner that is supportive of heritage values but isn’t overly involved in heritage issues understand if this means their home?