Improvements to non-conforming buildings

When we were looking at other options than density for promoting heritage preservation in Vancouver I suggested a city policy change. There is a huge problem with improving older buildings in Vancouver due to the onerous attitudes of the building permit department.

I have twice been to city hall to get permits for old buildings in Vancouver. Each time we were told the exact same thing: – that our building was existing non conforming and that the city’s policy is that these buildings not be improved but deteriorate and be torn down so that something new that conforms to current zoning can be built in its place.

We received an City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Recognition for facade improvements to the Roddington Apartments in 2006. This building will not be torn down in my lifetime despite my assurances to the permit department when I received my permit that I was simply trying to make the building more comfortable for the tenants while it deteriorated.

This building is an asset to Fraser Street. It provides much needed affordable housing for working class people in Vancouver. Most of the tenants work in arts related fields and appreciate the character, light and charm of these apartments. If a new building were to be built in this location a one bedroom apartment would cost a lot more than the current average of $750 per month.

We need to address the issue of the city building codes and the permits department’s lack of support for improvements to older buildings. What is now an old building may be a heritage building in the future. That will involve a great deal more effort from the city permit and code department.

I have been informed that there is a code book for older buildings. Let’s begin by setting up a set of standards for older buildings that would not have the same building regulations as those for leaky condos. The preservation of existing old building stock will also benefit the affordability of living in Vancouver. The city permits department with its emphasis on not improving older buildings is supporting the substandard housing and subsequent living quality that occurs in so many of the older SRO’s and apartments in Vancouver. The demolition of building landmarks, however humble, also diminishes the quality of life in Vancouver.

It’s not glamorous to fix up old buildings but it is green and makes a lot of sense.
Please allow the private investors in our heritage to proceed and make this a better city by changing the negative policies of city permit department.

Elizabeth Vander Zaag

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