Letter on Heritage Action Plan Update outlines concerns, suggests improvements

Heritage homes

The Heritage Action Plan was reviewed by Vancouver City Council on June 24, 2015 (click link for agenda, staff report, minutes, etc.). Elizabeth Murphy made a detailed presentation with a number of specific recommendations on character home retention, heritage and zoning. As well, she provided comments on how to improve the plan. We’ve included a copy of her letter to Council below. The full video of the staff presentations, speakers and Council debate can be found in the video archives here.

Dear Mayor Robertson and Councillors,

Re: Heritage Action Plan Update

Thank you for the update to this important initiative. My comments below are mainly directed to the character home zoning review. The proposed options in the report under consideration are too narrow and need to be expanded and revised.

Some of the additional options should be:

  1. Include all RS zones: Do not limit the review to only RS3 and RS5. This only covers 9% of the 68,282 lots in the RS zones. Especially RS1 should be considered as well, since it covers most of the city.
  2. Include 1940’s and earlier houses: Expand the definition of character home beyond pre-1940’s to include those built in the 1940’s.
  3. Keep RS zones for non-strata rental: Use strata as a retention tool only for incentives for HRAs or where it is in the existing zoning such as RS7. Strata should only be introduced on a more fine grained approach based on neighbourhood planning with community support.
  4. Increase conditional zoning: Adjust the FSR, height, setbacks, and envelope to favor retention over new development on a conditional basis. The result should be that there is significant economic advantages to retain character homes over demolition and building new.
  5. Laneway housing as an incentive for retention: Reconsider laneway housing as an incentive to retain character houses rather than for new development. Or include the laneway house in FSR calculations for new development and exempt it from FSR in retention.
  6. Add secondary suites as an incentive for retention: Consider adding another secondary suite as a mortgage helper rental or for extended family if the character house is retained.
  7. Property tax incentives for retention: Give tax breaks when character and heritage houses are retained and upgraded.
  8. Design guidelines: Require new developments and renovations to build to design guidelines for quality materials, complementary design to neighbourhood character and excellence in design. Require new developments to be suite ready (owner may choose not to use it).
  9. Standards of maintenance requirements: Avoid demolition by neglect.
  10. Improve building bylaw: Make building bylaw more flexible and reduce permit fees for retention of character and heritage houses.

In addition to enhancing neighbourhood character and liveability, retaining character and heritage homes aligns with the city’s sustainability, affordability and family housing goals.


The best way to divert waist from the landfill is to adaptively reuse buildings. This also uses less new materials for a renovation than for new development. It has a much lower environmental footprint.


The existing older character and heritage housing stock is generally valued at close to land value. It provides an opportunity for owners to add sweat equity to renovate to adapt to current needs at a relative modest cost.

With incentives such as rental suites for mortgage helpers or for extended family, it can provide economic advantages over owning a single strata unit. However new houses are typically twice as expensive as the older stock.

When reviewing the RS zones, it should be kept in mind that there is no such thing as real single family zoning in the city. Now every RS lot can have up to 3 units; the main house, a secondary suite and a laneway house. This just needs to be rebalanced as an incentive to retain the character and heritage houses over demolition and new development.

Also, the RS zones are non-strata rental zones. There are a huge number of secondary suites across the city, mostly in the older character houses, that are some of the most affordable housing. If strata is allowed in RS zones this rental stock could be lost.

Family Housing:

The RS zones are the city’s current family housing zone. It has the majority of the larger family sized units. It provides options to age in place while still providing more rental housing.

The older stock is the most adaptable and can be further improved by adding another secondary suite as a mortgage helper when character houses are retained. This would give families the option of having more mortgage helpers when they need it when they first purchase; also allow for the family to take over more of the house as they need it; or rent out more as they downsize and need less.


Rebalancing the RS zones to incentivize retaining character and heritage houses offers an opportunity to meet many of the city’s policy objectives. Therefore as many character houses as possible should be retained covering the RS zones. Please consider expanding the options to include those above. Also see attached memo from the Vancouver Heritage Commission, October 2008, with some recommendations that could be reconsidered as part of the review.

Elizabeth Murphy

[June 9, 2015]

Heritage homesHeritage homes

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