Sunday, November 12, 2006

urban renewal

image from save the cob garden

This is an interesting story that has been going on for quite some time in East Vancouver.

There is a lot at the corner of Napier Dr. and Salsbury Dr. in East Vancouver that had become "overgrown" with large trees, a few of which were rare, and two century-old pre-fab worker's houses (which were listed #6 on the City's Heritage schedule of threatened historical structures). In addition, there was a cob house built by local residents (picture above). For decades, local children played in the gardens, which were cultivated by locals. The owner had no objections to this use. The lot became a de facto park over time.

After the death of the owner, his estate sold the lot in 2005 to a developer, Niebuhr Construction, for a reported $700k. The developer had plans to demolish the gardens, heritage structures and the cob house in order to erect two duplexes on the property. These plans were vociferously challenged by local residents, who eventually lobbied the Parks Board to purchase the property and maintain it as a park and learning centre. The Parks Board agreed, and offered the developer market value. The developer refused to sell it, and hired homeless people to squat on the lot, and to keep children and locals out. They also destroyed any work that the local gardeners did.

Finally, the locals appealed to the Board of Variance, who proceeded to overturn the development permits. The developer took the City to court, and the City Council fired the five member board en masse, and hired a new board friendlier to the developer. The new board reversed the fired board's decision, and the court case was dropped. Then the fired Board of Variance went to court to challenge their termination. For the whole saga, check The Republic stories here and here

Recently Niebuhr Construction sold the property to another developer for $1.2 million. Last week I drove by and saw that the two heritage structures had been torn down, and a lot of the trees removed, and the gardens bull-dozed. The cob house still stood. Tonight I drove by and saw that the cob house is now gone, and there is an excavation pit on the contentious property.

Okay, so it's a free market, and the owner is allowed to do as he pleases, but it's a damned shame. A quite nice neighbourhood has had it's guts torn out in the spirit of growth.


bc_cele said...

I bet that developer decided to move quick to avoid the legal headaches. There is actually legal precedence for keeping it as a park (squater's rights). It may be interesting to see what could happen if they are taken to court.

solipsist said...

Thanks for posting bc_cele.

The latest scoop is that the city is still trying to make it a park. There is nothing left there now though.

It is a story still unfolding.

I agree that the developer probably just wanted to dis-entangle himself.

I will be watching for further developments (pun not really intended).

bc_cele said...

What will be really interesting to find out is if the developer had the proper permits. I was under the imperssion that heritage houses were very diffcult to knock down and that you needed to have a hearing to do it. I know people that own heritage homes back in Ontario and they have to have permission to do any work, even maintenance on it, if it could affect the character of the building.

Babybull40 said...

what a shame that money gets in the way of what the right thing to do is.. this so called developer ought to be ashamed of himself.. I hope it bites him in the ass...

bcubbins said...

Like they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Why should the developer be ashamed of him/herself? They own the property and can use it for whatever legal purpose they see fit, just like any other property owner in the city. If someone else wants to provide a neighbourhood park, that person can invite people to use his/her own backyard.

Note that BC does not have squatter's rights. Even if BC did, it would not apply as the owner apparently gave permission for the neighbours to use the land. And, the property was not on the City's Heritage Register.

solipsist said...

Thanks for posting bcubbins.

I don't know that there are "squatters rights" anywhere in Canada. I can't say that I agree with the concept anyway. Then again, there are no property rights in Canada either. A convenient exclusion/ommission in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As to shame, money generally has no morals. I can't really fault the developer, he was probably rocked back on his heels by the hue and cry. But it is a shame that the community has so little influence in the direction of it's evolution.

Neibuhr did pretty well - reaped about a half-million dollars for the headache.

The structures had been noted by the Heritage folks as important, I do not know that they were protected. Vancouver does not seem to care to much about such things. I'm not sure of the heritage value of a couple of old pre-fab shacks anyhow. Much nicer heritage structures have been razed with little attention.