Creative ideas are being explored to avoid demolishing a 125-year-old Chilliwack home to make way for a multi-family apartment complex.
But the rezoning of 45624 and 45632 Wellington Avenue squeaked through with a vote of 3-2 Tuesday night at city hall.
Many speakers at the public hearing were there to support saving the Paisley house, as it’s known, from coming down since it does not have legally protected heritage status.
The proposal is to construct a four-storey 30-unit apartment building with an underground parkade.
Heritage Chilliwack board member Carsten Arnold said his interest was in avoiding the “waste” of the house, or the materials, should it be demolished, adding that without a heritage commission, “that house is in limbo where it sits.”
In fact, the developer could have chosen to demolish “that day” when they were first at city hall to apply for the rezoning. But they didn’t go that route, and they don’t want to, explained Ryan Anderson of OTG Developments, who was answering questions on behalf of the developer.
Instead of tearing down the old home right off the bat, they offered the house up on Craigslist, free to anyone that could pay the approximate $50,000 cost to move it, depending on the distance.
Since then, there has been some “active” interest expressed in moving the house, Anderson announced at the meeting, and they also obtained a quote for salvaging some of the materials upon dismantling.
Laura Reid of Heritage Chilliwack thanked the developer for choosing not to “instantly” demolish it, and asked if the historic house could be incorporated into the new development, by keeping it where it is and building around it.
But that options wasn’t viewed as financially feasible.
“Our goal is two-fold. We want to move the project forward, and we want to do the right thing,” Anderson said after the meeting.
Some materials could be salvaged during the dismantling, and they would be donated to Habitat for Humanity.
“So we are doing everything we can to avoid demolition,” Anderson said. “There are some creative alternatives being discussed.”
The worst-case scenario might involve something like carefully salvaging materials after moving the house, and incorporating some of them, like the stately old staircase or the floor boards, into the new apartment building, he said. There are tax incentives that come with that type of option. Or they could call the complex, The Paisley Apartments as another example.
“We’re very open to looking at that, or ways to pay homage to the history of the street,” Anderson noted.
There are many different ways to preserve the history, he said.
Mayor Ken Popove asked about the current state of the old house.
“It would be very expensive to renovate,” Anderson replied. It’s not in great condition, even though the renter who is a handy man has done some repairs, he said.
Coun. Jeff Shields asked during the hearing if the developer would be open to paying for some of the moving costs, given that they’d be saving on the demolition, and got the response that it was definitely a possibility.
The ballpark estimate was $28,000 for demolition costs, versus $45,000 to $55,000 in moving costs. So it might only cost someone about $22,000 in the end to move the house, if the $28,000 demolition costs were subtracted from the total.
Resident Chelsea Cromarty said that council should put these decisions about heritage homes “on hold” until the Heritage Advisory Committee can get going. She also said she felt the “impetus” shouldn’t always be on the community to come up with creative solutions to preserve Chilliwack’s heritage and history.
The Paisley House has “heritage interest” according to the 1991 Heritage Inventory, but it is not a legally protected under the Local Government Act, because that requires application for heritage status by property owners.
Jerry Britton, who lives across from the Paisley house, said they don’t want to see apartment there in their area featuring single-family homes.
“It’s like dropping a box into our neighbourhood,” she said.
One speaker, the first to stand up, said he was asked for feedback about the style of the building, not the heritage aspects, and said the idea for a four-storey condo building was “ridiculous,” citing privacy concerns among others.
It would be the first apartments in the area, but situated in an area eyed specifically for infilling.
“This neighbourhood will be built out,” Anderson said. “This is what the OCP supports.”
But on the topic of privacy and balconies, they’d look at it, if it would ease the transition, but there were no firm plans about the balconies yet since there was no building plans in place yet, which are part of the development permit process.
Anderson estimated there would be a minimum of four months, maybe six months to finalize either plans to move the house, or salvage some of the historic components. That gives them some time to come up with the best option.
“As a result of discussions we’ve had, it could set the stage for the future, and determine the way council deals with heritage houses down the line,” Anderson said.
Coun. Chris Kloot, who voted against the rezoning, said he really struggled with this proposal, since heritage was in dwindling supply, and felt he couldn’t “sleep well” unless he did something to preserve one of “the old-timers” as he called the heritage houses.
Coun. Bud Mercer, who is the chair of the new Heritage Advisory Committee, also voted against the rezoning, saying he wasn’t inclined to agree.