In the City of Victoria recent development proposals which involved historic masonry buildings in the downtown area have had engineering opinions put forward that, under the current Building Code and the pending next step, it is either uneconomical or extremely difficult to seismically upgrade these structures. In September 2020, when discussing the Duck Building proposals, Leon Plett of RJC Engineering stated that “previous approches no longer work for the much higher seismic loads and design constraints enforced by the City under new building codes (2018).”
This has led to City Councilors, when discussing similar development proposals, to paraphrase this statement and fail to protect and seismicaly upgrade Victoria’s many unreinforced masonry buildings.
We have the financial tools to help preserve these buildings. Grants from the Victoria Civic Heritage Trust, property tax rebates and deferrals, but these policies date from the 1980’s and do not refelct current costs and building codes. If the City of Victoria is sincere in its stated Official Community Plan statement that “…a key challenge is to balance the accommodation of new development and population and employment growth with other values such as the retention of heritage resources…”, the City must start to pay more than lip service to retention of historic masonry buildings.
The City of Seattle has many unreinforced masonry buildings. There is a risk to these buildings in the event of a major earthquake. It was reported in December 2021, that Seattle is taking steps to address these risks on a general basis, not as individual buildings but as a whole. The report stated that there are over 1100 URM buildings in Seattle and that Seattle Council has passed a resolution to develop a program to retrofit these buildings to provide protection to its citizens and preserve the historic structures. (LINK TO STORY).
Building codes must be similar. Building costs must be similar. What is different is Seattle is exhibiting greater vision and determination in recognizing and acting in preserving its historic core.
Will the City of Victoria act? Will we hear more plaintive cries that it is a provincial or federal problem? That it is a Building Code problem?