A battle continues to brew over the future of a more than 120-year-old granite wall that sits on a historic Oak Bay property.
On Thursday, workers in hard hats could be seen breaking through two sections of the wall on Prospect Place, part of the original Annandale Estate, and one of two granite walls on the property. The 1.7-acre double lot was bought by the CEO of Abstract Developments in 2017.
Abstract Developments confirmed work began Thursday morning to penetrate the rock wall surrounding the property at 1561 York Place. According to the company, the purpose of the work was to widen two existing openings along the frontages on York and Prospect Place, as well as add two new openings on Prospect Place.
Abstract Developments said when work began at around 7 a.m., no municipal approvals or permits were required in order to modify the rock wall.
However, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said a stop-work permit was issued at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning but the landowner said he had a legal opinion that the permit was not valid.
The municipality convened the council, got unanimous approval and issued another a 60-day temporary protection order at around 11:30 a.m. That order is considered legally binding.
The company said before beginning work to modify the wall, Abstract Development contacted both the BC Heritage Branch and their consulting firm Terra Archaeology. The company also said it contact the B.C. Archaeology Branch.
It then started work Thursday in order to “protect the company’s existing rights to the property, as it is anticipated that the District of Oak Bay will be implementing a Heritage Control Period bylaw in the Prospect neighbourhood by the end of the month; the fourth reading and adoption of this bylaw is anticipated to take place on October 28th.”
Abstract said it is currently complying with the 11:30 a.m. order and will be reviewing the legal merits of the protection order. The company did not mention the first stop-work order in its statement to CHEK.
Mike Miller plans to build a family home on the property. There was a plan for an eight-lot subdivision but that was abandoned after feedback from residents.
“We understand and appreciate the concerns voiced by neighbours today regarding the work that commenced this morning to modify portions of the rock walls at 1561 York Place. Over the last three years, Abstract has been actively working with various community stakeholders to try and find a compromise that would satisfy the competing interests of municipality, neighbours and the property owner – without success.” Abstract’s Director of Development Adam Cooper said in a statement.
“This morning a difficult decision was made by our team to take immediate, and rapid steps modify the rock walls; an act that was completely within our legal rights at the time that work commenced on the site. We are empathetic to the public’s interest in maintaining this wall in its current form; at the same time, we saw the need to respond to protect the existing property owner rights, which would be substantially changed by the establishment of a Heritage Control Period and ultimately a Heritage Conservation Area.
Conservationists are concerned the old walls will be taken down or broken up to make way for amenities for the new house.
“The stone walls are major supporting features of the heritage character of the streetscapes and community character for both York Place and Prospect Place,” reads a description on the Protect Oak Bay Heritage website.
According to a 2018 Conservation Plan, the Prospect Place wall is in varying states of condition.
The report by Donald Luxton and Associates Inc. says “The historic rock wall and existing pedestrian opening and gate will be preserved in place with the exception of the rehabilitation of select locations to accommodate proposed openings.”
Sharman Minus, a resident on the street, said for three years, a group of neighbours have been working to get a heritage conservation area within Beach Drive, Prospect Place and York Place.
Minus said the whole idea was approved in February by Oak Bay council but bylaws have to be changed.
“We’re not against development in any way, shape or form. We wanted to help save the wall to minimize any ruin of it,” Minus said.
The walls were part of the original estate including a one-and-one-half-storey wood bungalow built-in 1897 by Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, a former federal cabinet minister who’d moved to B.C. to open law practices in Victoria and Vancouver.
The estate was designed by renowned architect John Tiarks, a business partner to Francis Rattenbury.
Last month it was announced that a derelict structure on the property would be dismantled and moved to a new home in Vic West.
The Annandale carriage house was built in 1897 but had sat empty for decades. Abstract Developments relocated the property to be used as a garden suite in Vic West.