Developer may save old Vancouver mansion

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Heritage agreement reached in Mount Pleasant, Grandview-Woodlands

Naoibh O’Connor
Van. Courier

Heritage Vancouver is hopeful it will be able to scratch an entry off its 2012 top ten endangered sites list thanks to the prospect of a heritage revitalization agreement.

The Wilmar estate at 2050 Southwest Marine Dr. in Southlands landed in the No. 7 position on the list after news reports revealed it was listed for sale at $8.5 million. Speculation was the property had only land value and high upgrading costs meant the historic mansion would likely be torn down.

A developer, however, has approached the city about the possibility of heritage revitalization agreement (HRA), which could save the main house and coach house, which is a three-car garage with space above it.

An open house is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 3 to allow the public to “share ideas” on how the house can be saved, according to a public notice.

Architect Timothy Ankenman of Ankenman Marchand Architects, who’s working on the project, said they’re not at the stage where they’re making a formal proposal.

“The public open house is much more to see if there’s a real willingness within the community to save the house and then if so, explore what values are most important to the community in order to do so,” he said in an email. “It will be more of a workshop format where we will be seeking preliminary feedback from the community before we make any real formal proposal. There may be various preliminary options that people can sink their teeth into so they can digest what the site has to offer, but we are still in the process of working up those sketches and ideas, and how many (if any) will be presented at the Oct. 3rd open house is still being worked on.”

The Tudor-style, five-bedroom house was built in 1925 and sits on a large two-acre lot.

Kent Munro, assistant director of planning, told the Courier a city staff person will be at the open house to observe and he confirmed an HRA application hasn’t been filed with the city yet.

“We’ve encouraged them to go out and to share the idea and to get feedback-that’s the way we normally like these things to go, so nobody’s surprised when the application comes in and there’s a bit of an understanding before we even start,” he said. “There’s a number of heritage buildings and resources in that stretch of Marine Drive with pressures to re-develop at times. So there’s an issue there that needs to be looked at-is there an interest in the community to protect these heritage resources and, if so, how and what’s acceptable.”

Munro said it’s up to council to approve or reject a heritage revitalization agreement application, but the basic idea is to insert infill housing in the open space around the heritage building and preserve, protect and rehabilitate the historic house.

“It’s a trade-off basically. You allow a little bit of new development, which creates value and then the expectation is the value that’s created gets turned around and put into the cost of rehabilitating the heritage building. The formula basically is that the infill that’s allowed is only what’s need to offset the costs of the rehabilitation and no more.”

Listing agent Larry Yatkowsky wouldn’t name the developer, but said a sale hasn’t gone through yet. A deal is contingent on an agreement with the city and other stakeholders and other matters.

Heritage Vancouver spokesman Donald Luxton is encouraged by the news. The society considers the Wilmar estate to be historically and architecturally significant.

Wilmar, Heritage Vancouver notes on its 2012 endangered sites list, is the combined names of Willard and Mary Kitchen. Their family and descendents occupied the house until 2006. When the last living member, Judith Jardine, passed away, the home was bequeathed to the Vancouver Foundation.

“Willard Kitchen was a director of The Pacific Great Eastern Railway, later to become B.C. Rail. It was designed by architects Benzie & Bow, the prominent partnership of James Anderson Benzie and William Bow that produced a number of significant buildings in the Lower Mainland,” Heritage Vancouver noted. “Wilmar was designed in the Tudor Revival style, with typical features such as half-timbered gables and notable brickwork and chimneys. Tudor Revival was popular with clients throughout the British Commonwealth as it reflected a long lineage of English country manors, prestige and an aristocratic lifestyle.”

Luxton said he’s “extremely happy” the mansion might be saved.

“I think everybody understood there was potential there to go the heritage route. It was just at that point [when news of the sale was published] nobody had stepped forward to actually start negotiating it with the city. The potential was there. It’s just whether or not somebody would actually put the investment in to it. [This is a] privately owned site. You have to hope for the best in these cases and hope you can push things along in the right direction. But, yes, this one is looking very positive.”

Munro said he doesn’t believe there have been any HRAs in the neighbourhood around the Wilmar property, but such agreements have been reached in areas such as Mount Pleasant and Grandview-Woodlands.

“They tend to be in the neighbourhoods in the city where the housing stock is older. This [Marine Drive] area historically was an area where people built their estate houses years and years ago. So now they’re at an age where they have some heritage value,” he said. “They’re big properties. They’re expensive to upkeep. The original owners have passed away or moved on and we have this issue of these [houses] falling into disrepair and temptation by some to knock them down. We’ll find out whether this community has these concerns and at the end of the day it’s a balance-are people willing to accept a little bit of infill housing on these large lots in order to save the heritage resource.”

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