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Burnaby councillor wants 'more concrete' plan to save homes from demolition, landfill

City staff say plans are underway to prevent home demolition waste from ending up in landfills, but Coun. Daniel Tetrault is pushing for more specific details.
A Vancouver-based developer has created a municipal action plan to prevent home demolition waste from clogging up landfills.

More than a year after Burnaby council asked staff to investigate a plan to save homes slated for the wrecking ball, staff came back with an answer this week: they’re working on it.

City staff responded to an action plan presented by Glyn Lewis, the owner and CEO of Renewal Home Development, in March 2023 outlining seven policy measures to encourage developers to relocate high-value homes instead of tossing them into the landfill.

The city said the action plan aligns with its goals for reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a staff report to council June 10.

But the report befuddled Coun. Daniel Tetrault, who had forwarded Lewis’ action plan to staff last year.

Tetrault repeatedly asked why the report didn’t include specific actions or timelines.

Chief planner Ed Kozak said staff are already planning to carry out the items in the plan.

“We’ve already been doing many elements of this action plan already, for many years … So we do intend, over time, to implement all the items in that action plan,” Kozak said to council.

The plan presented by Lewis included requiring a demolition deposit, a $15,000-to-$20,000 deposit for single-family homes up for demolition to be returned if the developer proves the home was relocated or salvaged.

Tetrault asked if the city requires the deposit.

Kozak said the city doesn’t currently, but it has the tools to do so and intends to implement it for houses moved for heritage or environmental reasons.

Tetrault appeared unsatisfied with the report.

“I’m hoping something more concrete would be laid out to us, that we will be requiring this demolition deposit, rather than ‘We might have the tools to.’”

Kozak said staff can report back to council.

“We’re currently evaluating on how to (follow through on the actions) and we can certainly report back on where we ended up in terms of what that process looks like.”

'Epidemic of demolition'

Lewis told the Burnaby NOW Metro Vancouver is still in an “epidemic of demolition.”

Material from building construction, demolition and renovation makes up one-third of the waste in Metro Vancouver’s landfills, according to the regional government.

Lewis told council last year about 2,800 single-family homes are torn down in the region every year, with the average 2,000 square-foot home sending about 100 tonnes of waste material to the landfill.

“The paradigm is stacked in favour of demolition first – and we need to unstack that, if we’re truly going to be committed to responsible alternatives to demolition,” Lewis said to the NOW this week.

He highlighted two alternatives to demolition: relocating the homes that can be saved and “deconstruction.”

That includes pulling the home apart, then separating and salvaging the materials.

“The wood’s, obviously, the most valuable part, but there’s other things like the windows, the doors, the appliances, baseboards – there’s a whole bunch of good stuff that they can salvage and repurpose,” Lewis said.

He pointed to two quick starts from the action plan: the demolition deposit, which he suggested should apply to pre-1970 homes, and a no-strings-attached form for developers to fill out before demolition that show due diligence in assessing whether the building can be relocated or deconstructed.

“You’re prompting the (developer) just to call a responsible removal company as opposed to the demolition-first pathway.”

Some municipalities, including Burnaby, have a demolition deposit, but if the amount is too small it’s not a strong enough incentive for developers in multi-million-dollar projects to buy in, Lewis said.

“At the end of the day, the needle needs to shift. That’s abundantly clear for anyone who looks at the sheer volume of demolition of single-family homes happening in Burnaby, and pretty much all across Metro Vancouver,” he said and added: “Let’s see some action.”