West Van scuttles heritage house protection proposal; Hewitt House may be torn down

A deal that would have preserved a piece of West Vancouver heritage is history.

West Vancouver council was on the brink of allowing the owners of a Radcliffe Avenue heritage home to add a 1,500-square-foot infill house in exchange for their commitment to: “conserve, protect and maintain” the 95-year-old Hewitt House. However, that deal was scuttled Monday when Coun. Marcus Wong reversed his vote at the last possible opportunity.

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Despite misgivings around parking, Wong cast the decisive vote in favour of the project at an Oct. 28 meeting, calling the 1920s-era Craftsman cottage, “beautiful.” But after noting high emotions in the community, Wong said he took the weekend to reconsider the proposal. “Regardless of how this turns out tonight, there will be people who will be unhappy with me and other people will be happy with me,” he said.

One of the unhappiest seemed to be Mayor Mary-Ann Booth, who urged Wong not to change his vote before the show of hands on Monday. “You voted to support this, and if you change your mind on this vote, you are disappointing a family,” she told him.

These are not developers, Booth said, these are residents trying to allow their family to age in place by submitting an application “consistent with all our policies.”

The project “didn’t make sense from the get-go,” Coun. Sharon Thompson disagreed.

Rather than a modest coach house, the proposal subdivided the lot, Thompson noted. “There’s a lack of sensitivity here,” she said. “I don’t think this makes the neighbourhood feel comfortable at all.”

Coun. Bill Soprovich agreed. “I think it’s foreign to the neighbourhood.”

While Coun. Peter Lambur said he supported “the idea,” he voted against the project, suggesting there was too much house and not enough lot. Lambur explained that his vote was based on the workability of the site. This has “nothing to do with heritage preservation,” he said.

The proposal has “everything to do with heritage preservation,” countered Coun. Nora Gambioli. If the proposal is rejected, the owners will likely raze the house to build a structure that can accommodate their entire family, Gambioli warned. “Those who vote against it are condemning that heritage building, a very significant heritage building, to demolition.”

Coun. Craig Cameron seemed perplexed by his colleagues. “We’re talking a good story about housing diversity but when the chips come down it’s never the right place, never the right neighbourhood, it’s never the right house,” he said. “I don’t know how you scale back from this. Do you go to zero or half a house? A lean-to?”

Built by rubber stamp manufacturer George H. Hewitt, the Hewitt House was the first permanent cottage in West Bay.

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