NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

Vancouver dairy farmhouse takes on new life as part of residential project

The Globe and Mail

Harald Underdahl, 74, is photographed outside the old Avalon Dairy farm house in Vancouver on Tuesday. (RAFAL GERSZAK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

A 104-year-old farmhouse on Vancouver’s east side awaits a new life as the centrepiece of a multiunit residential project in the Killarney neighbourhood, where town met country after the Second World War.

The site of the old Avalon Dairy has been a notable holdout over decades of urban development. The 1.25-acre farmhouse property, located near a row of Vancouver Specials, is now the subject of much local chatter.

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Residents are anxiously scrutinizing a developer’s plans to construct 52 to 68 units in a townhouse complex smack dab in the middle of an area where the landscape is largely defined by single-family homes built in the 1960s and 1970s.

On the land where Jeremiah Crowley began his dairy business with six cows, the new owners are operating under the name Avalonna Homes, including local builders and a real estate agent whose office is in Killarney. Avalonna Homes has pledged to restore the farmhouse’s exterior to its former glory, while doing a major renovation on the interior to create three units.

Hywel Jones, a residential architect hired by the developer, insists that keeping the farmhouse on its existing footprint is the best option. “If done right, neighbours will be your allies and friends of the project,” said Mr. Jones, who is overseeing the design and planning phase, as well as navigating the rezoning application through City Hall.

Harald Underdahl, who lives across the street from the former dairy, reminisces about a time when a driver on horse and buggy delivered milk in glass bottles. On some winter days as a kid, he would go outside and find cream frozen at the top of the milk bottle. The cream went straight into his cereal. Now 74, he fondly remembers the good old days in the 1940s, when he played on the dairy’s grass field.

Lee Crowley, a grandson of Avalon Dairy’s founder, sold the family’s property last year for $6-million. He closed down the Killarney bottling plant and retail store, while shifting milk processing to new facilities in Burnaby.

The Killarney site’s industrial buildings, including a large garage, will be demolished to clear the way for clusters of townhouses up to three storeys in height, with units ranging from one to three bedrooms. Underground parking is in the offing, and Mr. Jones is vowing to preserve mature trees that dot the property while allotting space in front of the 1 1/2-storey farmhouse for community vegetable garden plots. It is meant to be a nod to the site’s bucolic, agricultural roots.

Mr. Underdahl wants the developer to move the Craftsman-style, wood-frame farmhouse so that it rests along Wales Street, where the home would be easily visible to passing pedestrians and car traffic. “If you keep that house hidden in the middle where it is now, nobody is going to see it except for those people who live on the development,” he said.

But heritage consultant Donald Luxton, retained by the developer, said it is best to leave historic buildings where they stand, whenever possible. “You end up with a tighter development that uses land, in my estimation, more wisely. One way to deal with affordability is to cut land costs and put in more housing units per acre,” Mr. Luxton said. A typical single-family detached home in Killarney fetched more than $940,000 recently, while a townhouse unit went for $426,000.

Mr. Luxton, who is also president of the Heritage Vancouver Society, has recused himself from commenting in that role due to his conflict as a consultant. But Anthony Norfolk, a retired lawyer who serves as chairman of the society’s advocacy committee, is giving the thumbs up to the transformation of the old dairy land into a townhouse project. “It is pity that a lot of the green space will be lost along Wales Street, but we understand the economics and the need for additional buildings,” he said.

While some residents fret about higher density ruining the neighbourhood, Mr. Norfolk said the farmhouse will be given a purpose again as Killarney takes a new step in its conversion from rural to suburban to urban.