Protecting heritage sites through legal designation

Designating a site as a protected heritage property is a legislative tool we can use to help maintain a legacy for the future.

The purpose of designation is to protect a heritage building from unsympathetic alteration, and subsequent loss of character or value. A designated landscape can also be protected from unsympathetic construction or excavation.

However, some alterations may be required for the ongoing use of a designated building, interior, or landscape.

The Vancouver Charter both gives Council the power to designate heritage properties, and dictates the process we must follow to protect a property.

How sites are designated for protection

Buildings, interiors, or landscapes that merit designation are recommended to City Council by the Director of Planning, with the advice of the Heritage Commission.

As part of the designation process:

  • The property owner is sent a notification letter
  • Council places notifications in local newspapers
  • A public hearing is convened

The property owner is compensated by us for any possible loss in property value, perceived or real. The property owner is also compensated for rehabilitation and ongoing obligations of the designation. Compensation can be in money or - most often - through bylaw relaxations.

A majority vote of Council is required to pass a bylaw designating a building, any portion of its interior, or a landscape. The designation is then noted on the property title.

Once a site is designated, we enact a new bylaw specifically for that site.

Requirements for altering a designated site

Designated sites are protected by the Heritage Bylaw, which provides for two types of municipally designated heritage buildings:

  • Schedule “A” designations, which include buildings where the exterior is fully protected from inappropriate alteration. In certain cases, protection may also apply to selected interior or landscape features.
  • Schedule “B” designations, which include protection for specific features or portions of a building.

Under the bylaw, you cannot alter the exterior of any designated building or (where applicable) a protected interior element or landscape feature without first obtaining a heritage alteration permit.

Applying for a heritage alteration permit

Before a heritage alteration permit is issued, we will carefully review the proposed changes, to make sure they will not affect the integrity of the building, the interior, or the landscape.

Changes required to upgrade buildings to meet our building bylaw standards are often successfully integrated without affecting the integrity of the building exterior.

Heritage plaque program

Vancouver buildings that are protected by heritage designation or other legal agreements are marked by a special plaque.

Learn More

Apply for a heritage alteration permit

Do you want to make alterations to a heritage designated property? Before you start, you will need to apply for a heritage alteration permit from the City.

How to apply