Owners of burnt-out West Vancouver mansion ordered to demolish derelict property

·5 min read

The owners of a fire-damaged West Vancouver mansion that has sat derelict for over five years and has become a growing “eyesore” in the community have been ordered to demolish the house.

The District of West Vancouver council voted unanimously at the Dec. 14 general meeting to impose a remedial action requirement on the owners of the waterfront home at 2668 Bellevue Ave. in Dundarave.

The once luxury home, owned by Rosa Donna Este and Mina Esteghamat‑Ardakani, was significantly damaged in a suspicious fire on July 6, 2015, that started in the home’s garage. Const. Nicole Braithwaite, West Vancouver police spokeswoman, said officers conducted a thorough investigation at the time, and no charges were ever laid.

Since the fire, no repair work has been done on the house, and it has remained vacant and burned out. Over the years, the district’s bylaw department has received multiple complaints about the property’s unsightliness and problems with it attracting squatters.

In an email to the district in June, one resident from the neighbourhood said they had concerns the structure on the south side of the property was insecure, and anyone could easily enter it.

"We have approached and questioned several people, mostly teenagers, over the past five years who walk up from the beachside to check out the burnt-out structure,” wrote the neighbour, according to the council report.

"Last summer, there was a homeless person who slept under the carport for two days before we encouraged him to move on. The fire damaged structure is not only an eyesore but a health and safety risk with rodents running freely along the upper floor and windowsills."

The West Vancouver Fire Department has also agreed the home is a problem in its current state, telling district staff the unsecured house is currently “a risk for additional fires started by unauthorized entrants.”

According to the report prepared for council, the owners have a history of disagreements on how to deal with the house and have been engaged in litigation regarding the beneficial ownership of the property since the blaze. The report also highlights that Esteghamat‑Ardakani has brought a court application for partition and sale of the property, which has not yet been heard.

In 2016, two assessments of the property retained by the owners, an architectural assessment by Billard Architecture and a structural assessment by Tides Consulting Ltd., both found that because of the extent of the fire damage and ongoing erosion, the house should be demolished.

Este had submitted two applications to demolish the house in 2019, but both were found to be incomplete by the district, and as they were not updated within the six-month time frame, they expired. The first permit was denied because the documents did not have Esteghamat‑Ardakani’s signature, and the second, because of outstanding issues with the property.

The council report says Este advised the district that the house was insured, but to cover the entire cost of rebuilding the fire-damaged house, the insurance provider requires that the house be rebuilt exactly as it existed before the fire.

As it stands, the house doesn’t conform with the district’s current bylaws, and to rebuild it exactly the same would require variance approvals from the Board of Variance or a development variance permit from council – which Este failed to complete and file on time.

"Dr. Este has repeatedly requested that the district commits to accepting an application for demolition and rebuilding of the house with her signature alone and without the necessary variances being in place," the report states.

"She has been advised that the demolition permit cannot be issued without the co-owner’s signature and that a building permit application for rebuilding on the current footprint cannot be accepted without a variance or development variance permit in place."

Speaking at the Dec. 14 council meeting, Este asked that the district process her latest demolition and building permit that she filed in November so she could obtain her insurance funds.

"If I do not have the building permit in my hand, there will be no funds for any demolition or reconstruction," she said.

"Unfortunately, if council proceeds with the demolition without any building replacement plan, the community’s problem with this site will not be resolved.”

However, council agreed with staff’s recommendation that a remedial action order be made to compel the owners to complete the demolition, "given the history of the property and the failure of the owners to carry out the demolition of the fire-damaged house in a reasonably timely manner, and the ensuing nuisance and hazards created by the continued presence of the fire-damaged structure in a single-family residential neighbourhood."

Council can impose a remedial action requirement under the district’s Community Charter if the property is found to be in "unsafe or hazardous condition" as well as "so dilapidated and unclean" that it’s "offensive to the community."

The owners will have to front the costs of the structure's demolition and have 60 days from receiving the order to submit a demolition permit. They then have to demolish the house within 60 days of receiving the permit, or district staff can intervene to have the house demolished at the owners' expense.

The owners have also been given 28 days to request that council reconsiders the orders.

Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News