Vancouver’s only residential heritage character area is fast losing its prime heritage stock of pre-1940s houses.
A total of 44 A- and B-listed houses have been lost since the First Shaughnessy Official Development Plan was created in 1982 to protect the pre-1940 character of the neighbourhood. The pace has accelerated in recent years, with grand old homes being replaced at a rate of four to six houses a year.
The design guidelines were written in 1982 and offer the possibility of infill and conversion of large character homes into flats. Unfortunately, the guidelines, which have never been reviewed, did not anticipate that this area would return to its original prominence as a centre for luxury single-family homes.
Land values and the resulting development pressure encourage owners to tear down original homes to achieve the maximum square footage allowable for the generous lots. First Shaughnessy has no cap on square footage (unlike Southlands, with a cap of 9,000 square feet) and substantial old homes are being replaced with new houses up to 23,000 square feet. Current bylaws ensure that these new houses are shorter than the originals, with larger footprints. This means that the quality and quantity of romantic estate-like landscaping — another old Shaughnessy distinction — is being destroyed at the same rate as the houses.
Seventy-two homes in First Shaughnessy are on the Vancouver Heritage Register, which means that nearly 280 pre-1940 character homes are left without any form of recognition or protection. Aggressive developers and architects are advising clients that any house can be demolished in First Shaughnessy, as long as they are willing to manoeuvre their way through the city’s Planning Department and the Advisory Design Panel. These two bodies have no power to prevent demolition of heritage buildings and, more importantly, no convincing incentives for owners to retain these homes.
To understand the threat, one has only to look at the William Astley House at 3638 Osler Street (1910, designed by architect Morley O. Jones), a first-rate Craftsman bracketed by bloated, historically inaccurate McMansions.