452 Lakeshore Dr.

Walkers pass by a house on Lakeshore Drive that until six months ago was on Penticton’s heritage registry. The property was rezoned this week for a four-plex.

Just six months after it was pulled from Penticton’s heritage registry, a stately home on Lakeshore Drive is set to be replaced by a four-plex, but not before sparking debate about how the city protects its historical buildings.

The so-called Walker Residence was constructed in 1936 and described by The Herald at the time as “a palatial $9,400 home.”

It was owned by a Dr. Walker, who was president of the Penticton Board of Trade and the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons. The house was among the second wave of prominent homes constructed on Lakeshore Drive overlooking Okanagan Lake following completion of the Kettle Valley Railway to Penticton.

In 2008, it was purchased by Drs. Blair and Barb Main.

Earlier this year, they asked city council to remove the home from the municipal heritage registry, claiming it was added to the list without their knowledge in 2009.

They told council they only found out in February, when they began putting together a deal with a developer, who was interested in replacing the house with a four-plex.

In light of that confusion, council in May agreed to the doctors’ request to remove it from the list. They’ve since sold the property, and council this week voted unanimously to rezone it.

Tony Giroux, who’s serving as agent and designer for the developer, said he appreciates people’s concerns about heritage, but urges them to take a longer view.

“Unfortunately, Penticton has limited land availability, and a number of heritage homes are on lots that are very large. To lock up these areas because of heritage, whether they are by lakes or not, is not always realistic to the needs of the overall community,” he said in an email Friday.

“The city and council have difficult decisions to make, balancing the past with the future. We are living in a period of time where affordable housing is becoming a thing of the past, and a prime reason is the cost of land. Developers work with very tight margins because of this and development is only profitable when the number of units can balance land costs. If developers can't make money, they will stop developing, and that only adds to the housing problems.”

In the case of 452 Lakeshore Dr., there was ample opportunity for the public to weigh in back in the spring, continued Giroux. “It only became a heritage issue when people felt their views would be affected.”

The house, he noted, was designed for a couple with a child and servants, and it would cost in the range of $1 million to give it a more usable layout and bring it up to modern standards.

The developer is, however, willing to give away the house to anyone wishing to relocate it.

The episode has left no doubt in Coun. Judy Sentes’ mind that something needs to be done to better protect the city’s historical buildings.

“The heritage registry as it is currently is very vague. There is, as council has observed, no real teeth in it,” said Sentes, who serves as liaison to the Heritage and Museum Advisory Committee.

Under provincial law, municipalities can apply heritage designations to certain properties that require owners to obtain permits before making any exterior changes.

That’s the approach adopted by City of Vernon, which also offers grants to cover half the cost of work on heritage properties to a maximum of $5,000.

But in Penticton, inclusion on the heritage registry, which contains approximately 50 properties, is voluntary and homeowners don’t require special permission from the local government to do major alterations.

The registry does, however, confer special status on properties that some people appreciate, noted Sentes, and could unlock grant opportunities for restoration work.

Those are the finer points of the program Sentes hoped to illuminate for the public through a formal review, but her council mates voted against her proposal to add money for the work into the 2021 budget.

“We want to educate people, primarily the real estate environment, so they have the right information, so that the community has the right information,” said Sentes.

She also now fears the city missed a golden opportunity to address heritage during a massive update of the Official Community Plan that was completed in 2019.

That work focused mainly on a proposal to create one-off heritage designations for the so-called K streets –  Killarney, King, Kensington and Kilwinning, plus Queen – and Windsor Avenue, but it was rejected by residents.

And residents in other parts of the city, continued Sentes, don’t seem to show much interest in the subject until there’s an issue that directly affects them.

“Where do we go from here?” said Sentes. “I’m not sure myself.”

Giroux suggested the community would benefit from at least having some certainty on heritage issues.

He noted it costs $15,000 to $20,000 to get a proposal in front of council, and it’s not fair when heritage gets dragged into the debate even though it’s something that’s not specifically addressed in the OCP.

“If the community wants areas protected by heritage bylaws, these need to be clear and transparent from the beginning so developers do not take unnecessary risks. Individual property owners also need to have control over their own properties,” said Giroux.

“It is unrealistic to impose your view of what is heritage on the actual owner of the property. While it may be nice to walk down a street or come on vacation and see older homes, it isn't as nice for the actual homeowner. Many of these older homes are no longer practical to live in, are not at all energy efficient, and are riddled with structural issues. Often the cost to renovate to a livable standard is out of touch with reality.”