A unique Sardis heritage home on the chopping block for a 30-unit townhouse development may yet be saved as the developer has offered the house up for free and at least one property owner has offered a place to put it.
A building moving company even contacted Heritage Chilliwack at the last minute to offer to move the 1911 house, something that would come with an uncertain price tag.
Still, despite what may end up a happy ending, the City of Chilliwack’s seeming disinterest in heritage buildings – particularly compared to other communities – was front and centre at a public hearing Tuesday evening.
“This property is not officially designated as heritage,” director of planning and engineering David Blain said at the meeting, pointing out the home at 7158 Maitland Ave. may be on the city’s 1991 heritage list, but true heritage designation is voluntary by property owners in the City of Chilliwack.
The issue came up at the public hearing for a rezoning application for four properties, three on Maitland and one on Wells Road, to allow for the townhouse development.
Heritage Chilliwack was alerted to the application when informed the 1911 Pearson House at 7158 Maitland Ave. was part of the application by Richlane Ventures Ltd.
The applicant has so far provided no concept plan, but the rezoning fits with the Official Community Plan’s objective for increasing density and “the proposed rezoning is consistent with the transitional nature of the neighbourhood as a number of rezoning applications have been completed to accommodate low density residential development (small lot infill) within the area,” according to the staff report.
“It’s disappointing that the City of Chilliwack still has not appointed a heritage commission to assist them making informed decisions when a heritage home or building is involved in development plans,” Reid told The Progress in advance of the public hearing Tuesday after hearing of the proposal.
And if not for the Heritage Chilliwack post on social media, it’s possible no member of the public nor any member of city council might have known about the history of the 107-year-old turquoise clapboard Pearson House as there was no mention of heritage in the staff report prepared for the April 3 meeting.
But the public did indeed come out and city council responded, at least in part.
Even before several speakers came to the podium, and despite no heritage information in the staff report, Blain addressed the fact that true heritage designation requires owners to voluntarily sign up.
At that suggestion, Mayor Sharon Gaetz said the owner offered up the house to anyone who wants to move it. Reid from Heritage Chilliwack stepped up to say that she received an email from Jon Swisher of Nickel Bros, a company that specializes in residential structural moving, that they were interested in moving the home.
And a neighbour from Maitland Avenue said he would be interested in having the house moved to his property.
Speaking to The Progress Wednesday, Swisher clarified his missive was not intended as a free offer, and the cost to move the house would depend on how far it had to go. He estimated that if it was in the local area, it’s possible it could be done for under $80,000.
Another neighbour, Carsten Arnold, told council that demolishing the Pearson House would be yet another blow to the heritage of Chilliwack, adding that 129 homes were added to the 1991 heritage list although significantly fewer are on the list now, with the remnants of most “simply dumped into a landfill.”
A number of other former and current neighbours spoke out against the demolition, including one former resident of the home for 20 years who said there are blue hydrangeas planted in the yard as a memorial from when one of the Pearson sons died in the Second World War.
In between speakers, including realtor and long-time Sardis resident Bob Buhler who said the mayor “has somewhat abandoned heritage,” Gaetz asked staff to clarify the city’s heritage policy, which amounts to property owners voluntarily applying for heritage designation.
Reid from Heritage Chilliwack pressed the mayor.
“What is the policy in place when a heritage home is involved in a development process?” she asked. “In most other communities, this development plan would have gone through a heritage advisory committee.”
The mayor did not answer, simply responding: “Thank you.”
After the public hearing, Coun. Chuck Stam spoke first saying he’d like to see the home preserved and stating he was in favour of the development.
Coun. Chris Kloot shifted gears, suggesting the matter be sent back to staff to find a way to include the home in the development.
“I’d like to see the home and the history preserved there,” he said. “I truly believe it is a bit of a gem in that area.”
Coun. Jason Lum went further with what he called the “bigger conversation” pushing for a motion to get staff to come back with the details of what a heritage action plan would look like. That motion was approved unanimously.
As for the rezoning of the four properties for the townhouse development, it passed with just Coun. Kloot opposed.
The fate of the house in question will likely now reside with the good faith of the property owners and developers looking to move forward with the project.