Sorry to leave you in the dark for a couple of weeks. Were you wondering what happened at the Council meeting? Our Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Tax Exemption Bylaw had its final reading.
It passed, of course, and that has triggered a flurry of activity at the house. I have been more busy working on the project and less busy blogging about it.
You can watch the council discuss our project at this link. Skip to slide number 80 just after the 1 hour 25 minute mark.
For all you document geeks out there, the agenda and reports can be found here. We are item 1006.
I don’t know how many of you really want to watch the historic moment, so here is a description from someone who was there, namely, me.
As I noted in my last post, after a public hearing, Council is not allowed to hear new information on a project. They may ask staff questions to clarify their understanding, but if new questions are coming up at final reading, something didn’t quite go as it should.
Nevertheless, with only two members of Council who were there for the first readings in 2013 plus a new Mayor, it was possible someone could get creative. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Looking back, I realise the big moment was when the planning department let us know that we had fulfilled the requirements asked of us to go to council for final reading. After that, which including laying down $16248 in security for a new storm sewer connection, the council vote was mostly a formality.
Mayor Nicole Read asked for questions or comments from the rest of council.
Councillor Masse spoke first, saying he thought it appropriate for staff to inform us what the tax exemption implies in terms of cost-benefit for the City.
Staff stated there is a 5 year tax exemption, on the municipal portion only, which we are interested in extending beyond the first 5 years. However, the application for extension can happen at a later date.
Councilor Masse said he sees a real benefit to the public in preserving these heritage buildings and that the applicant has gone through considerable expense to
comply with the process. Yes, a tax exemption is involved, but,
we’re getting great value for that.
It’s true we would like to extend the tax exemption if possible. In fact, I would like to see a precedent set whereby if the owners of a heritage house not only agree to preserve it but also improve it’s energy efficiency they become eligible for a further tax exemption. My reasoning is that many older buildings are inefficient and revitalizing and retrofitting go hand in hand if we want to achieve a community of liveable and viable heritage homes.
I don’t think this should be available to projects in which the density is being increased, for example when a house is moved to the corner of a lot so that townhomes may be built on the rest of it, because the developer is already profitting from the HRA. I want to address the people like us who simply want help preserving their heritage home.
Homeowners naturally want to retain flexibility. They want to be able to alter their home. The Heritage Revitalization process is cumbersome, but it is more flexible than people realize. Yes, we must consult with the heritage planning dept. before alterations are made. Yes, we may not bulldoze the house. However, reasonable alterations/modernizations can be made with a Heritage Alteration Permit. The tax exemption is not designed to cover all expenses, but it is something.
Of our roughly $10000 of tax exemption (our $2000 2014 municipal taxes projected forward 5 years) we have already spent more than $6000 on surveying the property and $4000 on the Statement of Significance and Conservation Plan. These could be done more cheaply (ours are excellent), but not by much. Even in a case simpler than ours the survey, SOS and Conservation Plan would be hard to avoid in the current process. How many homeowners, after all that, would invest in insulation and a heat pump?
Aside from being restrictive, I think another reason homeowners might be wary of heritage agreements is concern over comfort and heating costs. “Am I going to be stuck with a drafty, expensive-to-heat house? I want to preserve it but if it becomes too expensive to heat and I have trouble selling it, I want to retain the option of knocking down and building new.” We could take the sting out of that problem by adding a further tax incentive for retrofitting the home in a way that is sensitive to its heritage character.
Governments giving incentives to improve energy efficiency? What a good idea! That would stimulate the local economy, too! Jobs, jobs, jobs!
Of course, this is really the purview of the Provincial and Federal Governments, but the Conservative federal government killed the EcoEnergy grant program and BC’s Liberal government has passed the buck to the utilities. In the absence of leadership from higher levels, we are left with our over-burdened municipal governments who may offer tax incentives, but can barely afford that. Maple Ridge can certainly use all the property tax revenue it can get.
After Councilor Masse spoke, Councilor Spiers said,
It’s a great pleasure to vote for this and support it. What I would like to do is mine this for further opportunities where we can offer incentive for folks that own a heritage home–it’s three or four generations that have gone through these homes…and make the process a little easier. I know that there was a little bit of frustration on the proponents side but we could use that to make it easier next time. This will come through the heritage commission and I’ll certainly mention that we could bring other mechanisms forward that would make it easier for people to step up. These folks were stepping up no matter what, so I really appreciate what they’ve done.”
“Things like this are dear to my heart because I used to live in a heritage home, so for me I think the idea of preserving heritage homes is fantastic. I’m very happy to support that. It’s a great way to not only preserve history in our own community but also add to the character. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t come up very often, but when it does I think the community is very much behind it. It’s what helps build a really unique community. People love seeing these houses restored and kept. I think it’s great we’ve got an application coming forward and I hope that we have more and I would agree that if there is any way we can help support that, I think that would be great.
“It’s an impressive piece of work. I think it’s going to make a real contribution to both the neighbourhood and the community.
Finally, Mayor Read,
“I just want to myself give a big shout out to James Rowley and Leanne Koehn for all of their hard work. It’s amazing. Heritage is so incredibly important to this community and all communities, so I’m grateful. I trust that there were probably some learning experiences along the way so I really look forward to having those shared potentially through the heritage commission and Councilor Spiers and back to Council. Anything that we can learn from the process will help us to improve our process going forward. I support Councilor Speirs in saying I’d like to do all we can to encourage further revitalization of heritage homes.
All in favour? None opposed. That’s carried.
That was it.
Sort of anti-climactic.
Now the real work begins!