Original Published 02:38 Jun 01, 2022

By Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The city’s new Heritage Master Plan may be ideal on paper, but it comes at considerable cost to implement, says one city councillor.

Cal Renwick said he liked that the document Our Culture and City: City of Nelson Heritage Master Plan contained much of the ideal vision that has attracted people to the city since it first underwent a revitalization in the 1980s.

The plan — delivered to city council earlier this month — was developed through consultants in collaboration with the city’s Heritage Working Group (HWG), creating over 100 statements of significance, researched and written by members of the HWG. Those statements will be presented to council later this year. 

The Heritage Master Plan (HMP) is expected to outline opportunities to retain and improve the city’s heritage assets and provides a toolbox of implementation options.

But options cost money, said Renwick, and much of the heritage look that Nelson now exhibits was brought about through the provision of grants.

“I read this (heritage master plan) and my first reaction was, ‘this is going to be expensive for somebody,’” he said. 

He wondered if there was grant money available for refurbishing buildings within the private sector. Cultural Development officer Joy Barrett — who presented the HMP along with James Burton and Denise Cook — said there was, but the eye on the real prize was the creation of the HMP.

“This was a foundation of where we wanted to go,” she said.

“It is a combination of us looking for external funding ways to do this, but also working with the private sector who, through the education process … is building that education among the residents, and encouraging the private sector.

“So I think all of this is possible. Yes, it is a big ask. Yes, there are so many things that need to be done but I think this is the first step in a very necessary and welcome journey.”

Not to be dissuaded, Renwick again brought up the potential cost of the ask.

“I don’t want to see this become that if you own a heritage building, that you must do this, you must comply, you must do that, then it becomes, ‘Oh my God, I can’t afford this building anymore,’” he said.

“You have to be fairly wealthy to own a heritage home in this town just to maintain the thing.

I know we are walking a fine line and we don’t have all of the answers, but I just think we have to be fairly careful moving forward, that’s all.”

The HMP contained some proposed key actions including, advancing heritage conservation activities that can assist in reconciliation, and embedding heritage conservation into all projects in Nelson. 

She said the plan encourages the integration of heritage houses and new construction, as well as documenting Indigenous values inherent in urban restoration and biodiversity, while promoting the adaptive re-use of existing buildings. 

“We are at a crux, we are at point in time, with the amount of money and with the amount of people coming here that, really, our heritage needs to take priority, and it is about preserving buildings. That’s definitely one of the steps,” Barrett said.

“If we lose our heritage I do believe we’ve lost a huge portion of what Nelson is.”

And those answers don’t lie within the document, said Burton.

“I think it is appropriate for the community to come up with the answer,” he said. “It’s an issue that needs to be debated.”

The Heritage Master Plan was not a considered a policy document, said city manager Kevin Cormack, and it needed to be incorporated into the Official Community Plan, in order to have any regulatory authority.

A historical need

In 2019, the city’s Heritage Working Group identified the need for the city to create a comprehensive Heritage Master Plan (HMP) to: 

– define a vision for heritage protection and use;

– provide prioritized strategies for the identification and development of our heritage initiatives; and

– complete statements of significance as previously identified in the city’s Heritage Register.

Two grants were obtained from the Columbia Basin Trust’s Heritage, Museum and Archives Grant, administered by Heritage BC, resulting in contracts awarded to Vancouver-based Denise Cook Design in partnership with Birmingham & Wood Architects and Planners. 

Once the strategies are approved, they will be assessed and prioritized by the Development Services Department in consultation with the HWG through a detailed implementation plan process. 

“A long-term strategy is needed to ensure heritage is a key consideration in future policy development,” noted a city staff report. “The adoption of the HMP could also provide future justification for additional funding opportunities. 

Source: City of Nelson

Building the tool box

The HMP outlines a variety of tools including the creation of new legislation and policy. 

Council will be consulted at a later date on implementation priorities, and external funding opportunities may be sought in the future in accordance with the implementation plan.

Five first moves 

– Enact a Heritage Procedures Bylaw (LGA Part 15, Section 590) to formalize the city’s heritage approach and procedures and its commitment to heritage conservation; 

– Prepare a historical neighbourhood context statement for each of Nelson’s distinct neighbourhoods;

– Integrate heritage into the city’s destination sign and way finding program; 

– Retain the character of Lower Uphill found in its properties and streetscapes; and

– Design and launch a heritage page on the city’s website.  

This item reprinted with permission from The Nelson Daily, Nelson, British Columbia