Heritage lovers breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when city council voted unanimously to effectively ban the demolition of First Shaughnessy homes.
The new heritage conservation area designation for First Shaughnessy is a city first, and it means that the city now has the ability to truly protect the historic neighbourhood from losing its character. Previous attempts had been made over the years, as far back as the early 80s, with zoning that included guidelines in keeping with the character of pre-1940 homes. However, as the city came under siege with the globalization of real estate, development became rampant and Shaughnessy was especially targeted by high net worth individuals wanting to own in the prestigious neighbourhood.
As it became clear at the hearings held to decide on the heritage conservation area, many of the new homeowners are less interested in heritage than in owning bigger, newer houses — which is in direct opposition to the intention of the zoning. My interview with real estate agent Peter Saito drove home the perspective by many who see the values of the Shaughnessy homes purely in the land, and not in the beautiful arts and crafts mansions that were built under the direction of the CPR. You can read my story here.
I attended the hearings and listened to dozens of speakers, and it also became clear that the no side was spreading misinformation. Someone showed me a letter that had been circulated to the homeowners in First Shaughnessy, and it said that according to a real estate agent, home values could drop by as much as 30 per cent if made into an heritage conservation area. I interviewed Victoria heritage planner Murray Miller, who’s worked all over the world, and he said he’s never seen values drop after an HCA designation. It just doesn’t happen. Furthermore, a 30 per cent drop in a super heated real estate market just doesn’t make sense for one of the city’s most coveted neighbourhoods. The fear mongering had worked, however, because seniors who were banking on cashing out at top dollar spoke openly about their concerns at the hearings.
The city’s decision was a sound one. If people had bought into a historic neighbourhood expecting to demolish and rebuild, they should have done their due diligence. By arguing against the HCA, they were arguing against the closing of a loophole that should have been closed a long time ago.