Mole Hill residents concerned demolitions compromising neighbourhood heritage

Demolitions and proposals to build condos are alarming residents of Mole Hill, a residential neighbourhood in Vancouver's West End with a number of character-designated homes.

Twenty-eight houses in the area are owned by the city and operated as social housing, while five are privately owned.

This week a privately owned property is set to be demolished to make way for a four-storey condo building. The property featured a small bungalow built in 1949, and a garage built in the 1890s that once served as a stable.

Mole Hill Community Housing Society runs the social housing and says three privately owned houses on Comox Street have been sold or flipped in the past three years.

"It's the last full, mostly-intact block of heritage houses in the downtown peninsula," said Blair Petrie, a neighbourhood resident for more than 30 years. 

"I guess the new owners are not very interested in heritage and in affordable rental housing either."

Petrie said the community supports the creation of more market rental housing, but hopes development projects will take into account the historic nature of the area.

"We're just concerned about how this is all unfolding, originally the whole block was supposed to be protected by the city, and they never did that." 

City involvement 'too late'

In May 2016, the City of Vancouver passed a motion asking staff to investigate a proposal to make the entire block a heritage conservation area and also add restrictions on proposed developments.

Quentin Wright, executive director of the Mole Hill Community Housing Society, said that because staff were given a year to act, the city's action will come too late.

​"There's been a lot of concern from the community in the west end that the intact heritage nature of the block is going to be compromised by putting up kind of a large condo building right on the street," he said.

Wright said that one condo proposal has been approved, and two more are expected to come down the pipeline.

He said that many people falsely assume that the area is already protected. 

"It boils down to the idea that a lot people have that Mole Hill is a heritage block. Because all the houses here are very old, people are under the impression that it's protected but it's not at this point."

The zoning for the area currently allows for 30-storey towers to be built. 

Wright said that even some homes leased by the city to his organization aren't designated as heritage buildings, meaning that they could eventually be torn down.

"The city does have provisions in place and heritage zoning for individual lots," said Wright. "But the notion that Mole Hill is a protected block is incorrect."