Workers with jackhammers punched openings in a 122-year-old heritage wall in a quiet Oak Bay neighbourhood Thursday, in defiance of a stop-work order from the municipality.
A small crowd gathered at the property and Oak Bay police were called. But the work proceeded on the wall and officers were eventually called away.
“We’d hoped to preserve the wall for 200 years or more,” said nearby resident Ken Grant, watching the jackhammers at work.
At issue is a stone wall dating to 1897, when it surrounded the home of Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, a federal politician and son of Sir Charles Tupper, one of the Fathers of Confederation. The wall is in Oak Bay’s community heritage registry but is not officially protected.
It fronts two sides of a 1.7-acre lot at Prospect Place and York Place. Mike Miller, owner of Abstract Developments, owns the lot and has said he plans on building a home there for his family.
The company says it wants to build a single-family home.
Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said a stop-work order was enacted last week on the Prospect Place property.
But the order was removed when Abstract indicated it didn’t intend to work on the wall.
Murdoch said the jackhammers returned Thursday to clear the way for a planned driveway. Oak Bay tried to respond with another stop-work order, but this time, Abstract indicated the order didn’t apply because no permits or approvals were required to knock down a wall or fence.
Oak Bay responded with a 60-day temporary protection order at 11:30 a.m.
By then, the jackhammers were finished. Abstract said it would comply.
Murdoch said he was disappointed by the developer’s behavior, even if it was legally correct.
“That stop-work order reflected accurately the intention of the community,” said Murdoch. “I don’t think it will be well-received by the community to see a stop-work order ignored.”
The Prospect Place property has been controversial for several years. The municipality and residents are discussing whether the property could be part of a heritage conservation area to protect features such as the wall.
Municipal councillors have given three readings to a Heritage Control Period bylaw for the neighbourhood. A fourth is scheduled for Oct. 28.
After the Heritage Control Period bylaw is enacted, a developer would have to apply for a heritage alteration permit to modify the wall.
Miller was unavailable for comment Thursday, but an Abstract official released a statement saying the work was done in anticipation of the bylaw.
“Abstract commenced the 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,” said an emailed statement.
Murdoch said a heritage alteration permit would have taken Abstract only a few extra weeks and any resulting work would have occurred with less controversy.
“[A heritage alteration permit] doesn’t prevent the homeowners from having any rights,” said Murdoch. “So a driveway access like this, I anticipate they still would have been allowed to do that.
“But if the process had been allowed to go through, the openings would have been a little smaller, because they removed a few extra rocks and I would expect it would have been less controversial.”