Shelagh McGinn and Linda Jenkins
The Heritage Advisory Committee of Vernon
What do you think of when you hear the word “heritage?” Most people just think of something very old and insignificant. The World English Dictionary definition of heritage is “the evidence of the past, such as historical sites, buildings, and the unspoilt natural environment, considered collectively as the inheritance of present-day society.” Vernon, the oldest incorporated (1892) city in the Okanagan Valley, has a very distinctive heritage. Vernon City Council’s Heritage Advisory Committee acknowledges that the Vernon Heritage Register can assist in providing an awareness of the many heritage sites in the city.
The Vernon Heritage Register is an official list of residential, commercial, institutional, industrial and agricultural properties recognized by local government as having special significance to the heritage and culture of Vernon. Currently there are 125 properties listed in the Vernon Heritage Register. Council’s Heritage Advisory Committee is undertaking research and review to determine if there are additional properties that qualify to be recommended for inclusion in the Heritage Register.
There is no binding legal definition of what is a heritage site. Some of the criteria used to define properties for recommendation on to the Heritage Register are the heritage value of the building, a certain style, the year the building was constructed, and an association with someone who was prominent in the community. Other criteria would be any character-defining elements of the property (i.e. location, architectural details, original elements — windows, siding, etc.).
There are two monetary incentives provided to eligible properties listed on the Heritage Register. The first is the Heritage Restoration Grant Program. The intent of this program is to encourage the restoration and preservation of heritage buildings. This grant is limited to the building exterior, foundation, and roof structure.
The Heritage Restoration Grant would not exceed 50 per cent of the cost of the restoration work. The grant would not exceed $5,000. A second heritage restoration grant may be awarded for not more than $3,000 and is not to be awarded within five years of the first grant being received by the property owner. Further details can be found on the City website at www.vernon.ca/services/pde/heritage_restoration.html.
If a property owner believes a building merits consideration for inclusion on the Heritage Register, the owner may request City Council to have the property evaluated. Council may request the Heritage Advisory Committee to assess the heritage value of the property and submit a recommendation to City Council for their decision as to whether or not the property should be added to the Heritage Register.
The second monetary incentive is the Heritage Retention Incentive Grant Program. This program refers to a maximum annual grant of $500 to homeowners which meet the necessary criteria. This program recognizes the additional costs of maintaining a heritage home and applies to exterior repairs, painting, and landscaping. All applications must be received by Jan. 31 of the year of application. Each application for a grant shall be assessed on its own merits. Priority will be given to those buildings, structures and portions thereof which are readily visible to the general public from a public right-of-way fronting or flanking the building.
Some frequently asked questions about heritage properties:
Q. If a property is listed in the Vernon Heritage Register, can the exterior of the building be repainted any colour the owner chooses?
A. Yes, unless the property has been designated a Heritage Site by bylaw or is governed by a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) bylaw. Fourteen of the 125 properties in the Heritage Register are governed by a HRA and designation bylaw. Therefore, even though the remaining 111 properties are in the Register, the property owner can repaint the exterior of the building to non-heritage colours.
Q. If a property is in the Register, can the owner undertake changes to the building exterior without having to obtain approvals beyond a typical building permit?
A. For the 14 properties in the Register that are governed by a designation bylaw or HRA, all major changes to the building exterior requires the approval of a Heritage Alteration Permit (HAP). The HAP process involves neighborhood, Heritage Advisory Committee, staff and property owner input. City Council is the approval authority for HAP’s. The objective is that any changes to the exterior of the heritage building would not unduly impact the heritage significance of the building.
For the other 111 in the Register, the property owner can make whatever changes to the exterior of the building that they wish, provided such changes conform to the B.C. Building Code and City zoning bylaw. If the changes unduly impact the heritage significance of the building, then it may be recommended that Council delete the property from the Register. Properties where a heritage grant has been awarded are not recommended for deletion from the Register.
Q. If a property owner received a heritage restoration grant, can they still remove their home from the Heritage Register?
A. No, as there is a policy in place in the heritage section of the Official Community Plan, which indicates the property is to remain in the Heritage Register if a taxpayer-funded heritage restoration grant has been provided for restoration work undertaken on the privately owned property.
Q. Is there specific criteria for a City- funded heritage plaque being installed on a heritage property?
A. There is no specific criteria, other than the property has to be listed in the Heritage Register and the property owner has to consent to the installation.
Q. What are the incentives to the homeowner to have their property listed in the Heritage Register?
A. One tangible benefit of being in the Heritage Register is that the property owner is eligible to receive a Heritage Restoration Grant and a Heritage Retention Incentive Grant. The owner can request a heritage plaque be installed, for public view, and the home recognized as a valuable Vernon landmark. Owners of heritage properties can have a sense of pride of ownership in structures that portray Vernon’s history.
Vernon’s Official Community Plan (OCP) has designated two key areas of the community as Heritage Conservation Areas. These areas are Lower East Hill Heritage District and the Historic Downtown District. The purpose is to promote the heritage value of these neighbourhoods through the development of design guidelines. The guidelines have not yet been prepared. Once a draft is completed, it would be presented to property owners and residents for input and recommended revisions.
Sources: The City of Vernon website at www.vernon.ca