Today’s Poll

Nelson's heritage committee updates its role and seeks new members

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
October 14th, 2013

What does “heritage” mean in Nelson, and how much should our building designs adhere to it?

The city’s Heritage Working Group is looking for two new members to help it ponder questions like that. The volunteer group’s job is to advise the city on a variety of heritage issues.

“We are looking for two people who are willing to serve the community and who are interested in the cultural history of Nelson and with some background in local history,” says Laureen Barker, the group’s chair.

Group member Stephanie Fischer, who has background as an architect, says the main job of the group is to continue updating Nelson’s Heritage Register—an extensive document that identifies the heritage value of not just buildings but neighbourhoods, watercourses, trees and archaeological sites.

“I think preservation of authentic heritage is very important,” says Fischer. “We need to recognize them and make sure they are preserved for the future. That is a big responsibility for the city of Nelson.”

Asked how she would define “authentic”, Fischer says, “it means things that are built in a certain time. For example in our downtown we have many authentic heritage buildings and then we have buildings that are made to look like heritage, referring back to a period but are not authentic to that period.

“Many things that are built eventually become heritage,” she says. “If we build something modern today, it could become heritage in 50 or 100 years.”

This explains the appearance of some decidedly non-Victorian buildings in Nelson’s Heritage Register, including, for example, the Dairy Queen building— an authentic early 1960’s design.

There are those who think that new buildings in downtown Nelson should look Victorian, or some other style from times long past. But Fischer does not agree.

“In my opinion, we have to build contemporary. But there are certain things that need to be considered, like scale—how the scale of a building relates to rest of the street, how the mass of a building relates to the surroundings.”

She cites the example of the proposed Nelson Commons building. Its size, she says, fits well with the large size of the Civic Theatre across the street.

“Things like that need to be considered. I don’t think buildings like that need to fit in, in terms of having Victorian decoration.  When we say ‘contemporary’ it is more about things like greening it, more about making spaces available downtown that are affordable. That is contemporary development.”

Fischer says that’s the purpose of Nelson’s Design Guidelines—to guide developers and municipal planners in creating buildings and décor that fit, without being a slave to any particular style.

The design guidelines are part of Nelson’s Official Community Plan. They apply to new construction and renovation of multi-unit residential, commercial and industrial buildings in specific parts of the city.

The guidelines deal with heritage design elements such as building materials, textures and patterns, colours, roof form and finish, landscaping, building height, door and window styles, ornamentation, lighting, awnings, and signage.

The Heritage Working Group is a sub-committee of the city’s Cultural Development Committee (CDC) and acts as an advisory group to the CDC and the city planners.

Anyone interested in serving on the Heritage Working group should follow the city’s instructions here. The deadline for applications is October 18.

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