Heritage Beltline house could be saved or sunk by unique zoning
As the only house on 13th Avenue in Calgary's popular Beltline, it sits defiantly amidst a row of condos
In February, 1988, amidst the buzz of the winter Olympics, Beverley Downey was house hunting.
"The first time I saw the house was when I passed it on my way to see the Olympic flame go down 14th Street. I was walking with a friend and we were talking about how my house search was going. I saw this one sitting amidst all these high rises with a For Sale sign outside and I said, 'I mean, look at that one, who's going to buy that?' Two weeks later, I did."
The property Ms. Downey purchased was on 13th Avenue in the Beltline. It was, and still is, the only house on the block at the heart of what is today one of the city's most desirable areas for buyers and developers. Built in 1927 with just three previous owners, the house was on the market for $125,000.
"I just fell in love with it," says Ms. Downey, now 60. "It's a really special house; a surprising house. From the outside, it looks so plain but inside, it has this incredible warmth and character. It's also right downtown. I walk everywhere; I wouldn't change that for anything."
Ms. Downey secured the home for just $100,000 including all fixtures and fittings.
"Nobody was buying at that time in 1988. Everybody was all about the Olympics. The previous owners were divorcing so I got a good deal."
Now, 28 years later, the lilac-coloured house, which sits defiantly amidst a row of condos, is back on the market with a $1.198-million price tag and a unique land-use designation that could save it or see it demolished.
"It has a direct control land-usage designation, which means it's zoned for commercial and residential, so you could run a business from the house if you wanted, like a studio or a law firm or something. It also has an RM-7, which means it's zoned for a seven-story condo tower. The city doesn't give those out anymore," explains Ms. Downey, who ran a fragrance wholesale business from the house at one time.
Ms. Downey's agent Mark Evernden says the house is the last remaining property in the city to have this specific land-use designation, which gives potential buyers extensive options in an area of the city in which development is booming.
It's something Ms. Downey admits "will likely be a double-edged sword."
"I know at some point, someone will build a condo here but I'd love to see it have one more owner live in it. So little of the Beltline is owner occupied houses anymore. This house is like a little downtown oasis. It would be sad to see that disappear."
It's not a predicament Ms. Downey anticipated when she bought her home back in the eighties, when "people thought I was crazy to buy a house where I did."
"Back then, nobody talked about the Beltline," she says. "And it certainly wasn't a particularly desirable or trendy place to live. Areas like Kensington – that's were where everybody wanted to be."
The rising popularity of Beltline can best be seen through Ms. Downey's home's impressive appreciation.
Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) sales records start from 1990, two years after Ms. Downey bought her property. At that time, the average price for a detached house in Beltline was $144,000, which was also the average property price for the city as a whole.
In 2015, the average house price for the city as a whole was $537,000, giving it an annual appreciation rate of 5.2 per cent. The average price for a detached home in Beltline was $810,000, giving it an annual appreciation rate of 6.9 per cent.
If Ms. Downey achieves her asking price, her home will have achieved an annual appreciation rate of 9.3 per cent a year and more than 1,000 per cent during her ownership.
"I'm glad I signed up early; it's been a pretty good return," Ms Downey agrees.
"But then, it has been 28 years," she laughs. "I certainly haven't made a 'fast buck.'"
Far from seeing the house as an investment, Ms. Downey says she's always felt "more like its custodian than its owner."
"It has all the original Douglas-fir woodwork, a large formal dining room, French doors. It has a real warmth about it. You couldn't put that warmth back in if you built it today; that's something that comes with age."
The three-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home is built on an extra-wide 37-by-130-foot lot with four parking spaces at the rear. It also has an upper and lower deck, several outdoor seating areas plus a good-sized yard at the front. There's even a secure gated parking area which Ms. Downey installed to park her 1964 T-Bird.
"I have a bi-fold gate, which means you can park a car right in front of the house if you want. When I had the T-Bird, I'd always keep it behind the gates where I could keep an eye on it."
But despite the home's many unique characteristics, Ms. Downey reluctantly admits that "the real value in this house is in the zoning."
"Especially in a city like Calgary, which is so pro-development. It's unfortunate that it's not more pro-historic buildings but that's just Calgary. Maybe if more character homes were zoned for residential and commercial use, people would be less keen to tear them down. That might help add to their perceived value."
Since the "for sale" sign has gone up outside her property seven months ago, Ms. Downey has become used to having passers by express their sadness that the house's history could be coming to an end.
"People often stop and say how nice it is to see a house like this downtown. Since it went on the market a few folks have asked if it's going to be torn down and I've said 'I sure hope not'."
Ms. Downey is planning to downsize but is in no hurry to leave her "little gem." She plans to remain in the Beltline area.
"I always hoped I'd be the little old grey haired lady they'd be hauling out of this house," she says laughing, "and maybe I am, I just don't see myself like that quite yet."