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Lindsay Fischer and her husband are moving from Ottawa to Calgary and have bought this 1912 heritage house.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Representing roughly a third of the assets listed in Calgary’s inventory of historic resources, residential buildings have been slow to obtain heritage designation and legal protection. Despite existing grants and incentives, only 49 out of 300 residential buildings in the inventory have been designated by either the municipality or the province – but that’s starting to change.

According to Josh Traptow, CEO of Heritage Calgary, a civic partner of the City of Calgary focused on the preservation of historic buildings, in recent years, “Calgarians are having a better appreciation for their heritage.” While in the past the loss of heritage buildings coincided with the city’s boom-and-bust cycles, today heritage buildings are being recognized as an important factor to talent attraction, so the outlook of heritage preservation in Calgary is looking up, Mr. Traptow says. “We’re adding 20 to 30 sites every year to the inventory.”

Unbeknownst to many, there already exists a niche market for character homes in Calgary, and because well-maintained properties are not easy to come by, they can even sell for a premium, says Sano Stante, a Calgary realtor and former board member of Heritage Calgary.

“If a property has issues then it’s harder to sell,” he says, noting that outdated mechanical and electrical installations in properties constructed before 1950 are common, and that buyers prefer to avoid properties that need costly repairs. “But if it’s been well maintained, updated and upgraded, then I would say that there is a better market, as there’s less supply. [And] some people love the unique character aspect and heritage of older homes, [so] they’re willing to overlook some of the quirks that come with an older home, many of which can be rectified, just as any home.”

After viewing about 12 properties and bidding on two over the course of six months, Lindsay Fischer and her husband, Ian Wylie, moved on the home of their dreams in June: a 2,455-square-foot Craftsman-style home built in 1910 in Elbow Park, one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods. Given the excellent condition of the property, the couple paid $110,000 over the asking price (an amount they’d prefer to maintain confidential) before it hit the market.

Interior photos of a 2,455-sq.ft. Craftsman-style home.RE/MAX REAL ESTATE (CENTRAL)

“We were interested in a home that had character,” Ms. Fischer says, noting they were open to new-builds as well as older homes as long as they were located at a walkable inner-city neighbourhood. “We wanted to be inner city and close to our family and friends. … We wanted to be close to the bike paths and the river.”

Located on a quiet street framed by the shade of white spruce trees and ashes, the home is just a stone’s-throw away from the Elbow River pathway and amenities at Mission’s hip 4th Street shopping and entertainment district. It’s a coveted setting that combines the seclusion of a residential neighbourhood with the hustle-and-bustle of urban living.

Furthermore, the home’s design features provide the character and uniqueness Ms. Fischer and Mr. Wylie tirelessly sought. “The more recent tenants painted up all the dark wood, which I would have never been able to do because I would have felt guilty about it,” Ms. Fischer says about her drive to preserve the historical integrity of original features such as the wainscotting. “But I also really love how it works. It’s a really interesting mix between traditional and contemporary design.”

In Calgary, buildings constructed before 1945, such as Ms. Fischer and Mr. Wylie’s, can be considered for municipal designation, explains Mr. Traptow, provided that they meet the city’s criteria of integrity among nine character defining elements: activity, events, institution, people of interest, style, design, construction, landmark or symbolic values. But ultimately, identifying a property for potential designation depends on a property’s owners.

“The property owner would reach out to the heritage planners in the City of Calgary, and then the heritage planners would work with the property owners to craft the designation bylaw,” Mr. Traptow says. “So the homeowner very much gets the input to say what they want designated in the designation bylaw, and then – like any other bylaws – it goes through three readings at city council, and then [the property] is registered on title [as a] historic resource so it’s legally protected.”

The Elbow Park home in Calgary was built in 1910.RE/MAX REAL ESTATE (CENTRAL)

Ms. Fischer and Mr. Wylie’s home is one of 4,000 potential heritage assets identified by the City of Calgary in a survey conducted between 2019 and 2020. Even though this doesn’t guarantee that their 1910 home would qualify for heritage designation, Ms. Fischer says that they would consider having their home evaluated in the future, as she recognizes the value of preserving the design features that strengthen a neighbourhood’s sense of community. “Older houses were designed to be a bit more communal, making use of your outdoor space and having a front yard and a porch – not just using the entire property for your own private space.”

Having homeowners like Ms. Fischer acknowledge the importance of buildings of historical significance is key for their preservation, as redevelopment potential looms over inner-city homes, despite incentives such as a municipal grant for residential buildings that matches funds to up to 50 per cent of conservation costs for eligible designated properties. In a 2019 survey conducted by the city, 40 per cent of non-designated building owners said they would designate their property if there were a tax credit in place.

“We’re hoping that, come the next budget, there will be a residential tax credit that properties will be able to make use of,” Mr. Traptow says. “We’re already getting inquiries of one to two a week, on average, about getting on the inventory and possible designation.” This incentive would either credit up to 80 per cent of the property tax for up to 15 years, or up to a maximum amount of $50,000, whichever comes first.

“Heritage property owners are very passionate about their homes, whether they’re on the inventory or they’re designated,” Mr. Traptow says. “And a lot of people that do designate, designate because they don’t want to see their property redeveloped and demolished.”

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