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Why has 7945 12th Ave. stayed vacant for more than 4 decades?

In August 1966, when the Rayonier Mill caught fire in New Westminster, the smoke billowed up, into the sky and into the view of Harry Maylor.

Maylor and his family were on the deck of the large house he lived in at the time, and they watched the plumes of smoke and the planes that flew directly over their house before diving out of sight, over the hill.

“Looking out, we could see the water bombers coming down over the city of New Westminster, literally over the rooftops, rattling the building. And they would disappear out of sight because we couldn’t see over the hill to the mill,” Maylor says.

Maylor lived at 7945 12th Ave., in one of four apartments that divided the large house, for four or five of his formative years. Born in 1960, Maylor and his family lived in the house from 1964 to ’68 or ’69.

“I never saw the house coming down when that happened in ’77. I was a teenager; really, I had no focus on anything else. So I never really paid attention to the house,” he says.

But over time, when a decade had passed and the lot was still vacant, Maylor says he became curious. And now the lot has stood vacant for around 44 years.

“This is really weird. You know how development is in Vancouver and everywhere down there. An empty lot just seems to be a strange thing,” he says.

With the help of an archivist with the city, Maylor says he was able to find out some of the history of the lot before and since his family lived there.

Exactly how old the house was is unclear, but it became a four-suite apartment after an application by a person named C.E. Fisher in 1947. Before the house was split up, Maylor says the house “must have been a mansion,” noting the size of the house and the property it sat on—though he adds “when you’re a kid, everything looks bigger.”

By 1977, however, a developer had bought the house with the intention of building an 18-suite apartment building. This would have conformed to the RM2 zoning in place at the site since the 1965 zoning bylaw came into effect. But the city “never intended that redevelopment to a, now, more intrusive apartment form would be implied by the historic zoning,” according to a 1977 council report.

Staff originally proposed to work with the developer, but instead the city ultimately intervened and bought the property. Since then, the city has reportedly put the property on the market with the intention of filling the space with small, multi-family developments.

In 1983, city staff suggested a maximum of 5 ground-oriented units, but according to a report that December, there was little interest in the property, which staff attributed to “the generally poor current development climate in respect to multiple-family housing.”

In 1998, as part of a 6th Avenue plan, council directed staff to put the property up for sale, once again, with the intention of rezoning the property and including it in a land assembly along with other properties on the block.

But still, the property never sold, and it remains in the city’s possession.

Maylor would like to see something done with the property, which has left a mark on his life. Namely, he says he’d like to see it formalized as green space, as part of the adjoining Eastburn Park.

“That’s what I would like to think, that that’s what should become of it. If they’re going to sit there and do nothing with it, at least make it usable for the kids,” he says.

But city communications director Chris Bryan says that’s not likely to happen, with the city determining during a 2013 review of the 6th Street plan the slope of the site and others along 12th Street “precludes its ability to be used suitably for recreational purposes.”

Instead, Bryan says the plans remain focused on housing—an idea that may not be so difficult to sell in today’s housing market.

In particular, it could be considered, as part of the city’s housing policy, to be made available to non-profit or senior governments for affordable housing.

In an email to the Beacon, Maylor says he found the city’s issue with the slope “funny.”

“The slope is what I played on as a kid. The slope is very slight and really poses no threat. I have seen parks with actual hills, so this is a very strange response,” Maylor says.

“I’m sure the residents would sooner have a park or an addition to the park than new homes beside them.”