“Hey, that house is floating!”

I was scootering home on Dewdney Trunk Road and what should I see but a grand old house on blocks.

House on stilts. The main part of this house was built in 1911 as a farmhouse.
House on stilts. The main part of this house was built in 1911 by Joseph Beeton as a farmhouse.

Part of the plan for our house is to dig the basement deeper to give us some headroom and hey, if we do that we might as well redo the foundation and if we do that we should insulate to save on heating and on and on–you know how it goes. We got a quote from Nickel Bros. so I naturally had to stop to check out their handiwork.

We are mulling over our options while we wait for the money to magically appear in our bank accounts. We have come up with four so far.

One, we do it ourselves and replace the walls and foundation completely, section by section, supporting the house as we go.

Two, we do it ourselves and, retaining the original foundation, undercut it section by section and pour a new, deeper footing underneath.

If we go with one or two, when the foundation is done we can pour a new basement and insulate from the inside. I’m all over that insulation. Insulation is awesome.

Three, we ask our contractor to build temporary walls in the basement to support the house so that we can take out the basement walls and foundation, dig deeper, and do everything at once. For this, we make sure our contractor has insurance.

Four, we ask Nickel Brothers to lift our house for us about 30 inches so that we can dig everything out same as three.

I’ve seen the brochures, but now I’ve seen it up close and personal.

Caption contest: what is the Nickel Bros. guy saying as he watches me take this photo?





They are moving the house to the corner of the lot, exposing its underpants (as my mother would say)
They are moving the house to the corner of the lot, exposing its underpants (as my mother would say)

As I approached the site I noticed a woman chatting with her neighbour and two boys. She was holding a model of the planned changes to the lot. Two houses where now there is one. Both in similar form and character so that I couldn’t tell which one was the heritage house and which was the new one yet to be built.

Last week the Times did a story on the house and the News did one back in 2012.

When Leanne and I embarked on the journey to a Heritage Revitalization Agreement, we heard about this property. It was the first to apply for the new agreement in 2008 and the third to come out the other side. We were the sixth to apply, but we haven’t quite completed the process yet.

Before the HRA came along, there were a couple of ways to celebrate heritage buildings in Maple Ridge, but no way to truly protect them from being bulldozed.

The person who knows the most about all this is Lisa Zosiak, Heritage Planner at the District of Maple Ridge. I asked her to comment on this post and here is what she said:

Maple Ridge has a Heritage Inventory (entitled the Heritage Resources of Maple Ridge), which is a list of approximately 100 properties identified as having heritage value.  There is no legal protection or specific incentive to protect these properties and the only tools for protecting these special places that add so much character to the community are creating awareness, education, and encouragement.

In addition to the Inventory, Maple Ridge has a Community Heritage Register, which is a more formalized list of properties with heritage value and may also be found on the Canadian Register.  A property on the Maple Ridge Community Heritage Register  is formalized through a Statement of Significance, which documents the heritage value of the site and lists the character-defining elements.  Having this information is very useful to the property, as they can clearly see what makes up the heritage value of their site and helps them plan for future maintenance and renovation or restoration work.

An incentive through the BC Building Code, is that properties listed on the Heritage Register are eligible for equivalencies, which may enable less invasive (and therefore less costly) work when required to bring a building up to code during building renovations.

Additionally, through the Local Government Act, a municipality may withhold a demolition permit for a building on the Community Heritage Register for a maximum of 60 days in order to try to negotiate an alternative to demolition.  Such alternatives may be a Heritage Revitalization Agreement, tax incentive, or both as you have talked about on your blog.

Yup. 60 days. “I want to demolish my 80 year old house even though it is listed.” says the owner.

“Wait, give us 60 days to convince you to do something else.” says the District.

<60 days later>

Okay, can I have my demolition permit now please?”

“Okay, here you go.”

This means that if you want to really protect certain elements of your property the way to do it is with a Heritage Revitalization Agreement.

The stated purpose of the HRA is to help homeowners who wish to preserve these important properties do so. In return for agreeing to preserve significant “character defining elements” homeowners don’t have to pay the municipal portion of their property taxes for a certain number of years. So far the max I’ve heard of has been five years.

The District also allows latitude in certain restrictions which would normally apply to our plans for the property.

More importantly, an HRA bylaw has power over a Zoning bylaw. That means you can negotiate your house closer to the lot line or have more housing units than the property is zoned for. This is called increasing density and it means the owner can rent out or sell a portion of the property in return for preserving another portion.

That’s totally fair, say I, especially in the case of this beautiful house on the corner of Dewdney Trunk Road and York in Haney. I know from my house that giving an old house new life is expensive, and densifying your property and selling part of it to pay for all the work can make total sense. It also means more property tax revenue for the District in the future.

What we learned from our case, however, is that if your entire property has heritage value and there is no opportunity to move a house and densify, then even with the tax break and other easements it is very difficult for a family to afford their goals of preserving but also updating their home.

Updating is an important step because without it, you may feel trapped in a home that was designed for another time but is unsuitable for the way you live now. If we want people to preserve these homes, they have to be comfortable in them for the long term. (Hence the name of this blog).

As I promise to write about ad nauseum, energy efficiency is a big part of that long term comfort.

Perhaps the people who have properties that can be densified are the low-hanging fruit of preserving heritage properties. Perhaps the owners of small heritage houses in Hammond whose single lots have no room for density will find ways to take advantage of the new Heritage Revitalization Agreement, even without the cash that comes with densifying.

I hope so. The HRA is certainly a step in the right direction.

For more information on Maple Ridge Heritage Bylaws go here. If you are interested in the HRA for your property, talk to Lisa. She is awesome.

Lisa Zosiak: Phone:  604.467.7383 Fax:  604.466.4327 email:  [email protected]

If you are interested in finding out more about this house on blocks and its property, you can read the March 19, 2012 Maple Ridge Council Committee of the Whole agenda. It is item 1102 and it comes complete with the HRA bylaw, the plans and the Statement of Significance. Fascinating stuff.


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James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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