Letter to Council: 727 Johnson Street – Referral to Heritage Advisory Panel

1715 Government Street Victoria, BC V8W 1Z4

Mayor and Council City of Victoria No.1 Centennial Square Victoria, BC V8W 1P6

May 23, 2016

Re: REZ00502 – 727 Johnson Street – Referral to Heritage Advisory Panel

Dear Mayor Helps and Council,

Further to our letter of May 16, 2016 and Council’s review of this application, we are pleased that Council will refer this application to Heritage Advisory Panel to make recommendations of the appropriateness of the proposed rooftop addition. There have been several applications to add additional storeys to designated heritage buildings in the past years with varying degrees of successful execution. The DRALUC has expressed concerns regarding the lack of clear policy on this issue and recommends that a policy be defined and adopted for future approvals.

In this particular case, Staff pointed out at Committee of the Whole on May 19th 2016 that the proposed rooftop addition for 727 Johnson Street satisfied “Standards” for the rooftop addition. The reason given at the time was because it was “distinguishable” from the historic building.

It is assumed that the standard referred to by staff would be Standard #11 of the “Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada” which reads in full:

(a) Conserve the heritage value and character defining elements when creating any new additions to an historic place or any related new construction. (b) Make the new work physically and visibly compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.

The guideline goes on to explain:

Part (b) also requires an addition to be subordinate to the historic place. This is best understood to mean that the addition must not detract from the historic place or impair its heritage value. Subordination is not a question of size; a small, ill-conceived addition could adversely affect an historic place more than a large, well-designed addition.

While the proposed additional storeys are certainly distinguishable from the historic building we would point out that the proposed work appears not “physically and visibly compatible with and subordinate to” the historic place according to the guidelines. The proposed modernist styled addition with unsympathetic cladding materials appears not “subordinate” but an abrupt and jarring counterpoint to the designated building.

The bibliography for Canadian Standard #11 references “Brief 14” of the US NPS Heritage Preservation Services Division as a source document. Brief 14 is significantly more comprehensive and concise in what should be considered appropriate for additions to historic buildings. The US Summary of Standards for additions to historic buildings is as follows;

This guidance should be applied to help in designing a compatible new addition that that will meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation:

  1. A new addition should be simple and unobtrusive in design, and should be distinguished from the historic building—a recessed connector can help to differentiate the new from the old.

  2. A new addition should not be highly visible from the public right of way; a rear or other secondary elevation is usually the best location for a new addition.

  3. The construction materials and the color of the new addition should be harmonious with the historic building materials.

  4. The new addition should be smaller than the historic building—it should be subordinate in both size and design to the historic building.

The same guidance should be applied when designing a compatible rooftop addition, plus the following:

  1. A rooftop addition is generally not appropriate for a one, two or three-story building—and often is not appropriate for taller buildings.

  2. A rooftop addition should be minimally visible.

  3. Generally, a rooftop addition must be set back at least one full bay from the primary elevation of the building, as well as from the other elevations if the building is freestanding or highly visible.

  4. Generally, a rooftop addition should not be more than one story in height.

  5. Generally, a rooftop addition is more likely to be compatible on a building that is adjacent to similarly-sized or taller buildings.

We are pleased that staff appears to have recently adopted the policy of requiring the setback of upper storeys that are permitted to be added to designated heritage buildings so they cannot be viewed by the majority of visitors to the downtown area from street level. Residents and workers that occupy the upper storeys of the buildings downtown however will experience an unobstructed view of what is approved for generations making it equally important that additions comply with standards from all vantage points.

We look forward to the Heritage Advisory Panels’ findings on this issue and encourage recommendations from established “best practices” to define a policy regarding these additions to guide proponents for future applications.

Sincerely,

Ian Sutherland Chair Land Use Committee Downtown Residents Association cc Planning and Development Department

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