Controversy has a way of bringing an air of excitement to the council chambers, even virtual ones, as a reprieve against the usual items like boulevard encroachments and cemetery bylaws.
Last night, Monday October 6th, the excitement boiled to the brim as a staff recommendation was on the table to proceed with demolition of the Navvy Jack House, the oldest house on the North Shore, built circa 1873.
If the recommendation of staff was approved, staff could have sent in the bulldozers the next day as a coup de grâce that would ensure no appeal.
However to the surprise of many, including myself, our elected council proved beyond any doubt that they were in charge, have their own views on the future of the building and were not even going to consider demolition at this time.
Instead, an alternate set of motions had been put together by our elected representatives before the meeting that took the fate of the Navvy Jack house in the very opposite direction.
The first motion which passed unanimously was that “the [previously granted] demolition order for Navvy Jack House be rescinded.”
The many people who signed up to speak to save the building were told on the phone immediately before they spoke that they were speaking to the converted. Demolition was no longer on the table. So what is on the table?
The next eight motions passed that night, with only one motion lacking unanimity, laid out the path for considering the future of the Navvy Jack House.
The second motion was that Council allocate up to $150,000 from the Community Amenity Contribution Fund to determine the feasibility and cost of restoring and relocating the Navvy Jack House as soon as possible. Staff expressed uncertainty over the underlying state of the house.
Two prior structural assessments were positive but as anyone doing a renovation knows, when you pull off the drywall you sometimes find surprises. The first exercise will be to get beneath the veneer and see if there are any problems. This costs money and the funds have been made available. Seawall walkers going by the house will see activity any day now where the many small additions to the house will be peeled back to the original heritage structure. So far, all indications are that what will be revealed is a house built to a much higher structural quality than you would ever see in a normal home now. If that is the case, as Council hopes it will be, they then go to the next steps covered by the following motions:
- That staff work toward legally protecting the Navvy Jack House via a heritage designation bylaw;
- A District staff member be identified to work with the Navvy Jack House Citizen Group to complete a Heritage BC (CERIP) application by October 29, 2020, which envisions a flexible multi-use facility for public benefit, with a potential commercial element so as to not create a revenue deficit for the District of West Vancouver;
- Authorise a matching amount to a maximum financial contribution of up to $1 Million [to] be allocated from the Community Amenity Contribution Fund towards the costs of conserving and repurposing the Navvy Jack House pending a successful CERIP grant application, recognizing that an overall funding strategy will be required to cover all project costs;
- Staff develop a plan to respectfully and meaningfully engage with First Nations regarding their connection to Navvy Jack House, including archeological considerations;
- Staff identify the optimal structure for an advisory body, including terms of reference, for how to best work with the citizen group to move the project forward, and report back to Council by November 30, 2020, and
- The Navvy Jack House be either relocated or removed, subject to the underlying condition and movability of the 1907 form, prior to the anticipated start date of the Lawson Creek Restoration Project in order to ensure that the project can proceed as intended; and
- Staff prepare a brief report by November 30, 2020, outlining the impact of this project on Council’s identified goals and objectives, including what Council goals and objectives will have to be removed to accommodate this project.
The only “Nay” vote was over whether a promise can be made to Streamkeepers to guarantee their project, to build an artificial stream channel, could proceed on time no matter what. Councillor Cameron wisely recognized that if the timetable for the house indicates it cannot be moved in time for the project to proceed, do they really want to give priority to an artificial channel project? Should they be forced to demolish the Navvy Jack House if it can’t be moved by the deadline dictated by Streamkeepers?
That is the million dollar question which leaves the one dark cloud over the future of the oldest building on the North Shore. One could also ask, why move it at all. Is the Streamkeeper project that important? At this point, I am sure everyone who wants to see a future for this building just wants it saved so if council is willing to spend the money to move it, so be it, as long as it is not demolished.
Paul Hundal is a West Vancouver citizen and a member of the Navvy Jack House Citizens Group.