Sunday, November 12, 2017

Opinion: How to keep young people from leaving Vancouver Vancouver Courier November 9, 2017

According to columnist Michael Geller, it’s time for Vancouver to allow additional shared living arrangements in single-family zones and zone more land for alternative communal living arrangements, especially co-housing developments. Photo Dan Toulgoet

      While much is written about our region’s affordability crisis, Barrett’s poignant tale about returning to Alberta after many years in Vancouver seemed to hit a nerve with many — myself included.
      While most millennials could relate to Barrett’s difficulties finding decent, affordable housing where she might ultimately raise a family, not everybody was sympathetic.
      Many commenters thought she should lower her expectations, or move to the suburbs, and stop whining. I disagree.
      Barrett’s article prompted me to think about what might realistically be done to keep more young people in our city.
      While imposing a 15 per cent Foreign Buyers’ Tax temporarily dampened the price of West Side single-family houses, it isn’t going to benefit people like Barrett.
      Similarly, the Empty Home Tax might bring expensive rentals to market, or prompt owners of second homes to list their properties for sale. But this won’t help either.
      Rezoning land for condominiums will be beneficial in the long term. However, as recent statistics reveal, new condos are not the solution.
      In October, it was reported the average sales price of a new Vancouver condominium hit a record high of $906,650. This equates to $1,045 a square foot and a 17 per cent increase on a year-over-year basis.
      In the long term, the province’s promise to build 114,000 affordable rental housing units over the next 10 years will most certainly help, if fulfilled.
      But what can be done in the shorter term?
      As a university student in Toronto and Manchester, I shared larger houses with other people. While some had rooms with private bathrooms, most of us shared bathrooms and living spaces.
In Vancouver, sharing a house with unrelated people is becoming an increasingly popular choice for those who can’t afford a $1,500 to $2,000 a month apartment. However, it can be illegal.
      Currently, Vancouver has a bylaw that limits the number of unrelated people who can live together to five. While this may be appropriate for smaller homes, larger houses could accommodate more. For this reason, it may well be time for city politicians to revise this bylaw, especially if they want to fill up large vacant Shaughnessy mansions.
      While some millennials will settle for just a room, many more would prefer a self-contained suite in a house. Throughout Vancouver, formerly single-family houses have been subdivided into studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites. However, in most cases this is illegal.
      City officials close their eyes to these situations until there is a complaint. This is not the answer. We need a better solution.
      During the recent byelection, there was considerable discussion about the need to create more affordable housing choices in single-family neighbourhoods, in addition to legalized basement suites and laneway houses.
      I think the time has come to change zoning regulations in many RS-1 neighbourhoods to permit houses to be legally divided into multiple suites.
      In 1972, I lived in Ottawa’s Pestalozzi College, a Trudeau government-funded highrise experiment in cooperative living. Torontonians will remember Rochdale College, part of the same failed experiment.
      However, what made Pestalozzi College unique was its design. Half the building comprised communal suites of varying sizes offering partially furnished bedrooms, shared bathrooms and living areas with kitchens, not unlike some student residences.
      The other half offered one-bedroom apartments. However, these apartments differed from typical Vancouver one-bedroom apartment designs since there was a lockable door to the living room. As a result, they were easily shared by two unrelated people.
      At SFU’s UniverCity, the Cornerstone building is designed with similar flexible one-bedroom suite layouts, thus offering more affordable housing choices. More apartments should be designed like this.
      It is now time for Vancouver to allow additional shared living arrangements in single-family zones. City officials should also zone more land to allow alternative communal living arrangements, especially co-housing developments.
      Sadly, it is too late to keep Jessica Barrett in Vancouver. Hopefully more shared affordable housing choices will keep others from leaving in the future.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Some musings on 105 Keefer and the future of Chinatown

I recently allowed myself to become embroiled in a debate over the design of a building on a high-profile former gas station site in Chinatown. This has caused me a real dilemma. On one hand I don't support the scale of development being proposed for the site. On the other hand, I believe the Development Permit Board made the wrong decision in rejecting it.

My concerns with the scale and design of this building and other recent buildings in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown date back to 2007 when I joined Milton Wong, Ray Spaxman, Mike Harcourt, Joe Wai, Gerry Zipursky and others as a member of the Building Community Society (BCS). BCS was formed by a group of volunteers who shared a personal desire to contribute positively to the future of the Downtown Eastside and nearby Chinatown. We hoped that in collaboration with community leaders, we could offer professional advice to be shared with the Vancouver planning department and others on the future of the area.

After a year, I left the group having found the experience too frustrating.  The most outspoken community leaders opposed any new condominium developments since they feared they would gentrify the neighbourhoods, and make them less comfortable for low-income residents. I disagreed. I subsequently decided to run for Council in the hope that I could effect neighbourhood change and improvements in the Council chamber. As my daughters often tell their friends, I was the first loser!

Four years later the City of Vancouver planning department recommended changes to the Chinatown zoning to allow taller buildings. I thought this was wrong, since it would compromise the neighbourhood's unique character and expressed my views in the media and in a blog posting in January 2011 

I found it somewhat ironic that I was now on the same side as many of the people whose views I had previously opposed.

Unfortunately staff and City Council listened more to some local businessmen who na├»vely believed  taller towers would revitalize Chinatown and the zoning was changed. A number of new condominium projects were built.

Fast forward to 2017 when the Beedie Group came forward with a proposal for a 12 storey building on a prominent site. While the outright permitted height was nine storeys, the extra height was being requested  in order to include some social housing units, which many staff, politicians and community leaders wanted to see in the project.

However many others in the community, including Carol Lee were opposed to the resulting 12-storey scale of the development and I was approached to join them in opposing the development, which I did by writing the following letter:

Vancouver City Staff and City Council, I am writing this email because I do not support the 105 Keefer St and 544 Columbia St application. I care about the historic area. For many years was a Director of Building Community society which was concerned with future plans for Chinatown and DTES

I am very concerned about the application for many reasons including the following:
- It is taller than every other building in the surrounding area.
- The density proposed in this project is not reflective of Chinatown.
- The design is put simply, inappropriate for its context. While I am aware of city policy to allow taller buildings, this was a mistake. If a larger building must be built, it has to be very, very, very well designed. This isn't.

The following uses of the site are more appropriate:
- My concern is less about the alternative uses, but more about the current design.

The 105 Keefer rezoning application is not suitable for Chinatown. Staff should not recommend City Council to approve it.

Regards, Michael Geller

While I acknowledged that social housing was needed, I thought the extra 3 storeys was too high a price to pay. (pardon the pun!) Nonetheless, I, along with most others, was shocked when City Council rejected the proposal.

Following the refusal, the Beedie Group decided to prepare another submission in accordance with the existing zoning. Again plans were prepared by Merrick Architecture, one of the most respected names in British Columbia. These plans did not include any social housing, but did include street level retail and a community space to be used by various community groups.

Prior to the application going forward, CBC spoke to city staff. Responding to a question from CBC's Justin McElroy, Anita Molaro, the city's assistant director of urban design said the Development Permit Board typically looks at 30 to 50 projects a year that need approval but don't require rezoning.

"They're often more complex projects...that have a lot of public interest in the application," she said.
Molaro added amendments are often made to proposals but full rejections by the board are rare.
"Pretty well all projects that go to the DP Board have had enough input and direction provided by staff to an applicant that they are approvable under the parameters of the zoning and guidelines.
"It's generally refinement at that point."

This proposal went to the DP Board on October 30. I did not attend the meeting; however I heard from media reports that over a hundred protesters objected to the application, mainly over concerns that more condominiums would gentrify Chinatown; that this significant site would be better used for 100% social housing; and the development did not acknowledge the cultural and historical context of the location.

Following the meeting, I was surprised to hear that the Board decision was deferred until a special meeting scheduled for a week later, a highly unusual step.

Prior to the reconvened meeting, Globe and Mail urban affairs columnist Frances Bula contacted me to seek my opinion on the likelihood that the application would be rejected, noting that it had been years since a project was rejected outright.

I told her that based on my six years experience on the DP Board advisory panel, while I had not followed the latest application closely, if city staff, Urban Design Panel, and DP Board advisory panel members were all recommending approval, I did not expect the application to be rejected outright. Instead, I would expect approval with conditions to modify the design, since that was really the only aspect the Board could deal with. The type of housing, and other cultural and historical concerns were beyond the Board's jurisdiction.

In the early afternoon of November 6, I was contacted by CBC radio which was following up on Frances Bula's column. I confessed to the reporter that I personally thought the zoning was wrong, and as a result the building was too big. However since the applicant had been working with the city for years, the design was in conformance with the zoning, and staff were recommending approval, and most of the community's objections related to issues beyond the purview of the DP Board, I expected the application to be approved.

When I arrived at the meeting I reviewed the staff report.

It noted "the application is generally in line with the objectives of the heritage regulations and guidelines; the height and uses are outright allowances; the application meets the intent of the guidelines with respect to achieving new development that is compatible with the historic architecture and urban fabric of the neighbourhood; the applicant has voluntarily offered to provide cultural space in one of the ground floor units for the use of community groups; and in conclusion, the application has generally address the applicable policies, and will contribute high-quality housing, commercial space, and community space to the neighbourhood, within a form of development that is compatible with its context. Staff support the application, subject to the conditions noted."

Sitting with fellow Vancouver Courier colleagues Allen Garr and Mike Howell, I predicted that based on this staff report, and my understanding of the history of this project, it would be approved.

I became more certain of this when City staff were asked to comment on whether a land exchange had been considered, (it had but negotiations failed) and Anita was asked to comment on various questions previously asked by Board members.

I was therefore shocked when the City Engineer of all people recommended that the application be rejected on the grounds that the design wasn't appropriate. He of course said much more, acknowledging the 100s of objections, but as no doubt instructed by the city's lawyers, focused primarily on design matters.

He was followed by the Deputy City Manager who supported the project, noting that most objections, including concerns about condominiums and a desire for 100% social housing, or different types of retail uses, were not matters within the jurisdiction of the Development Permit Board. It was then time to hear from the Director of Planning who seemed extremely uncomfortable joking "Well, I guess the decision is up to me".

In a somewhat rambling soliloquy he said he didn't think the design was good enough for such a significant site and concluded by urging the developer, if they were going to come back with another submission, to better consult with the community. He then proceeded to vote with the City Engineer to reject the application.

Following the decision, media again noted this was the first time in many years that a project had been refused outright. When the Vancouver Sun's John Mackie asked what I thought of the decision, I told him I thought this was a 'political' decision in the broadest meaning of the word, insofar as the decision was impacted by the hundreds of mainly young Chinese protesters who had previously spoken at the Development Permit Board hearing and were sitting in the gallery. I also thought their decision was influenced by other factors including Council's recent decision to issue a formal apology for the historical discrimination of Chinese residents in Vancouver.

Following the decision, many asked  if I thought the developer would sue the city. I said it was unlikely since developers who want to do repeat business in the city rarely resort to legal action. Furthermore, because the dissenting Board members couched their opposition primarily in design terms, it would likely be a hard case to win.

Others asked whether I thought the city would seek to acquire the land from the developer with funds from the Property Endowment Fund or through a land swap.  While I thought this was an option, the developer would probably only agreed to it if they were more than amply rewarded financially.

Many in the development community were also shocked by the DP Board decision. This was not simply sour grapes. Rather, it was a concern that a developer and extremely capable and respected architect could design a project in accordance with the zoning; work with planning staff for years; receive the approval of numerous city planners, the Urban Design Panel, DP Board Advisory Panel members; only to witness the Chief City Planner ignore his staff recommendation and vote with the City Engineer in rejecting the application.

While the the City Engineer and Chief Planner said they rejected this project because of design considerations, most people I have spoken to  believe they were swayed in part by the hundreds of protesters concerned by cultural and historic issues beyond the jurisdiction of the board or other considerations beyond the jurisdiction of the Board. Others questioned whether the City Engineer, in making his initial motion, was perhaps expressing the wishes of some politicians.

Regardless, many now fear this decision will encourage and motivate opponents of other future development projects to believe that if they too can organize well enough, and be loud enough, they too will succeed in convincing the DP Board to reject a project. 

While I continue to have reservations about the scale of buildings in Chinatown, and would support revisions to the Local Area Plan to reduce permitted heights and establish limits on FSR (which generally apply everywhere in the city), I object to the idea that this site, or others in Chinatown and DTES should only be with 100% social housing.

This morning, on CBC radio, I listened to the views of Shirley Chan, who I've known and admired for 45 years. She and many others would like Chinatown to be more like the old Chinatown. She too wanted social housing on this site, rather than all condos. I understand her point of view.

However, anyone who has been to Richmond recently knows that this is where you find the new Chinatown.

While I am not Chinese and probably should keep my views to myself, I too believe Vancouver's Chinatown should remain a distinct, heritage character area. However, like Chinatowns in San Francisco, Toronto, and other cities, it must be allowed to regenerate by accommodating a broader mix of people, retail establishments and so on.

Tonight I am attending the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation Gala which is raising funds to help preserve the heritage of the area. It is with some trepidation that I attend since I worry many will feel that I was wrong to appear to side with the Beedie Group in my remarks regarding the Development Permit Board decision.

While I remain convinced the decision was wrong, the current Chinatown local area plan is wrong. The sooner that that a new plan is put in place, the greater the likelihood for a revitalized, distinct Chinatown. As for the future of 105 Keefer, we will all have to wait and see. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Squamish Chief: The future of Furry Creek unveiled Residential resort proposed after foreign company buys golf course October 26, 2017

      Hundreds of townhouses framing a revamped golf course and clubhouse, with apartment units, a general store, a boutique hotel and possibly even a marina thrown in.
      The latest vision for the Furry Creek Golf and Country Club was revealed to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District on Thursday.
      This presentation was prompted by the high-profile purchase of the golf course by Fine Peace Holdings, a Chinese company that has built similar residential-resort golf courses in Australia and China.
      "What I will tell you is this is not just a company that's come here to park some money with very little experience in [developing]," said Michael Geller, the Vancouver development consultant who helped broker Fine Peace's purchase of the course and its surrounding land.
      "On the contrary, this is one of the major companies in China when it comes to the development of leisure-oriented or resort-oriented communities."
      The presentation served as a general introduction to the development and described the proposed project in broad strokes.
      "I think what we want to do is start a conversation with you today to hear what you think should be happening at Furry Creek," said Geller.
      Geller said Fine Peace would likely propose about 250 housing units around the waterfront in the future. Adding townhouses is allowed under current zoning, but Fine Peace may consider adding in single-level apartments, which could call for zoning changes, he said.
      The proposed marina would likely be on a smaller scale, for use of local residents only, he said.
Geller added that there's also a mixed-use zone in the area that would allow for commercial on ground level and residential on the second level.
      In addition to a general store, there could perhaps be spaces for doctors and businesses to set up shop, he said.
      Geller's plan in many ways appears to be a continuation of the original intentions of one of the site's previous owners.
      When Tanac Canada, a subsidiary of the Tanabe Corporation of Japan, owned the area in the early 1990s, it had proposed 920 residential units, in addition to a golf course, a marina and resort facilities.
The golf course and some housing units were built, but Tanac never reached the goals it had outlined.
Eventually, that company decided to sell the 1,000-acre property, with the Burrard Group taking the golf course and the surrounding area and Parklane Homes taking the uplands farther from the water.
Fine Peace bought the 175 acres – including the golf course – that were held by the Burrard Group, but not the land owned by Parklane.
      Geller's presentation was greeted by a generally positive response from the regional district's board.
      "Everybody I've spoken to — I can't think of a negative comment," said Tony Rainbow, the director for Area D, where the Furry Creek golf course resides. "I'm very encouraged by the approach Mr. Geller and his team are taking."
      However, there were some concerns that the directors highlighted.
      Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman, who also serves on the regional district board, questioned if housing was being built on an alluvial fan, which could present challenges with flooding.
 Heintzman also added that there should be considerations for affordable housing.
 "The areas that are being proposed for development have already been signed off by the provincial government as being suitable [for building housing]," Geller replied.
      Geller added that Fine Peace is also taking rising water levels into account, and for that reason is considering apartments.
      Because apartments allow for structural parking on the bottom and housing above, this could help mitigate flooding problems, he said.
      He also appeared to express openness to talking about affordable housing.
 Director Mike Richman said it would be important for the development to avoid creating a "commuter-only" community, as traffic and transit along the Sea to Sky Highway has been an ongoing issue.
      Geller said that adding commercial units for things like a general store would prevent people piling onto the highway for necessities.
      Furthermore, he said, Fine Peace is considering proposing live-work units, which could help keep people in the area.
      Geller also added he wanted to make the design of development a collaborative process that would be open to public input.

@ Copyright 2017 Squamish Chief

Opinion: Development community shocked by ‘new normal’ Land costs inflate prices Vancouver Courier October 26, 2017

  Last week, members of Vancouver’s real estate and development community squeezed into a crowded downtown hotel ballroom to hear some astounding statistics about housing affordability around Metro Vancouver.
      The occasion was the annual Urban Development Institute presentation by Michael Ferreira of Urban Analytics, a consulting firm that advises developers what to build and what they can charge for new developments.
      Most attendees were shocked by what Ferreira described as “the new normal.” He told of instant sellouts of new projects, double-digit price increases, government uncertainty, grossly insufficient supply and a lot of disappointed and increasingly frustrated would-be buyers.
      There were audible gasps in the room when Ferreira reported on price increases he has observed around the region. Between 2015 and 2017, the average price of a Metrotown highrise apartment increased from $700 to $1,100 per square foot. Surrey apartments increased from $330 to $550 per square foot. Richmond apartments increased from $490 to $790 per square foot. This was just over a two-year period.
      Ferreira remarked that if he had predicted these price increases two years ago, people would have laughed him out of the room.
      In terms of absolute sale prices, the audience was astonished to be told new 475-square-foot Mount Pleasant apartments were selling for $740,000, 435-square-foot apartments in Joyce/Collingwood had sold for $735,000 and new 600-square-foot apartments in Surrey Centre were selling for $480,000.
      We hear a lot of talk about the assignment or flipping of pre-sale contracts. Ferreira’s statistics help explain why it is happening. Metrotown apartments originally selling for $595 per square foot were reselling for $1,082 per square foot.
      That is an 82 per cent increase during the period when the buildings were under construction.
Meanwhile in Richmond, assignments of agreements to purchase woodframe apartments increased 59 per cent from $435 to $691 per square foot between the time the buildings first went on sale and completion.
      One of the reasons housing prices have increased so dramatically is increased land prices. Just as meat is priced by the kilo or pound, development sites are priced per square foot of buildable area.
In the mid-1990s, many of my colleagues thought I over-paid when I purchased a Kerrisdale gas station at Larch and West 41st for $85 per square foot to build Elm Park Place. According to Ferreira, given extremely limited supply, current prices for a West Side multi-family site are $650 to $750 per square foot.
       On this basis, just the land cost for a small, 850-square-foot two-bedroom apartment is approximately $700,000. Add in construction costs, consultant fees, financing, marketing costs, city permits, and developer’s profit, and that apartment must sell for at least $1,500,000.
      Many question who can afford these prices. Is it just foreign buyers? Ferreira thinks not.
      While reporting that 1.4 million multiple-entry visas were issued to Chinese nationals over the last three years, many of whom bought property in Vancouver, he also noted that Metro Vancouver residents 55 and over had accumulated $252 billion in mortgage-free equity in their homes.
Many are using this equity to help children and grandchildren purchase housing.
      Ferreira was critical of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s recent “locals first” proposal, which he described as political meddling, not an initiative to improved housing affordability. I must agree.
Furthermore, I question whether the city could impose such a condition on developers unless a property is rezoned; and the last thing we need is more time-consuming and expensive rezonings. The enforcement of such a requirement could also be a nightmare.
      A better approach is for the city to zone more land for affordable forms of housing and speed up approvals.
      Experience has demonstrated that those cities with the most complex approval procedures have the most expensive housing. Ferreira urged Vancouver’s mayor to follow the lead of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee who recently issued an executive directive to reduce by half the time it takes to obtain approvals for new homes in San Francisco.
      Ferreira does not expect the price increases witnessed over the past two years to continue. However, if all we get is higher taxes and more complex, ill-considered municipal regulations, they might.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Furry Creek Redux!

A drawing prepared in 1990 to illustrate how the completed community might appear one day
      "How would you like to design Carmel North?" This was the question posed by a real estate agent at Colliers International late one Friday afternoon in 1990.
     The next day, he introduced me to representatives of Tanabe Corporation of Japan, who retained my planning and real estate consulting firm to carry out a Due Diligence study for approximately 1,000 acres of land along the Sea-to-Sky Corridor at Furry Creek. We were given just two weeks to assess the feasibility of accommodating a new golf course, 1000 housing units, a marina and a resort.
    At the time, all I could think of was Terry Jacks and the Save the Howe Sound Society; and having just come off a dramatic highly publicized failure trying to rezone the 753 acre Spetifore Lands, I did not want to be associated with another high profile failure.
    To begin the process I assembled a consulting team including Mark Adams at Envirowest, Duncan Hay, geological and geotechnical consultants, and telephoned then NDP Opposition Leader Mike Harcourt to hear what he thought of the idea of a resort-oriented community on the site.
     "As long as you're not proposing a pulp mill, you should be OK" replied Mike, who also told me to get in touch with Dan Cumming, a Director of the Squamish Lillooet Regional District.
  Based on our study, the company purchased the property and Tanac Canada was formed. For the next 4 months Kabel Atwall and I oversaw the planning with golf course architect Robert Muir Graves, Davidson Yuen/Michael Jordan, and others, and subsequently obtained approvals from the Ministry of Highways in 11 and 1/2 months. I remember the time frame very well since Tanac offered a significant bonus if we could get Preliminary Layout Approval in less than 12 months.
     During the approval process I recall walking the site with Ichiro Sakakura, an official at Tanac when he saw something on the ground. "What's that Gellersan?" he asked. "It's bear shit" I replied. "Bears!, are there bears here?" he exclaimed. "Yes" I replied. "But don't worry. They don't like Japanese food."  He didn't get the joke.
     Working on the planning and approvals for Furry Creek was a gratifying process, but I recall not seeing eye to eye with Bill Kolker, one of the local directors and others, and I was soon dismissed.
Over the years, I watched with mixed emotions as Furry Creek progressed, but was never the complete resort-oriented community I had envisioned.
     For a while, we did not receive our bonus, since I was told that Tanac had thought we had tricked them into thinking approvals would take longer than they did. But eventually Kabel Atwall and I did receive most of our bonus, but only after Bank of Tokyo put a new president in place at Tanac. I remember the day well, since I phoned Kabel and told him we were going to get our money.
     "How can you be so sure?" he asked. "Because the new president isn't Japanese. He's half East-Indian, and half Jewish!" Others may remember Meyer Aaron who is now in Ottawa with the Bank of Canada.
  25 years later: So imagine my delight when David Eger of Altus Group sent me a note to see if I would be interested in meeting one of his clients who was considering the purchase of 175 acres at Furry Creek. Over the next two months I assisted Fine Peace Holdings Canada Limited, a subsidiary of a Chinese company with considerable experience in the development of leisure-oriented towns, in assessing the feasibility of completing the waterfront portion of Furry Creek, and transforming the property with an upgraded golf course and clubhouse, and new boutique resort.
One of Fine Peace's communities comprises 40 million sq.ft. (yes 40 million) around a golf course.
Initially the 10th hole, this is now the first hole. The typical golfer loses at least one ball on this starting hole!
On October 10th the company purchased the property and we are now underway. Next week, I will once again meet with Directors of the Squamish Lillooet Regional District, this time with representatives of Fine Peace and our new consultant team, to begin discussions on the next phases of development.
If you haven't been up to Furry Creek, Oliver's Landing is a superb 56 unit waterfront townhouse development originally developed by United Properties. Units sell in the $1.3 to $1.5 million range.
       It's not often one gets the opportunity to work on a project after 25 years, but I am looking forward to it. Already Fine Peace is planning significant improvements to the clubhouse and golf course, to make it more playable and friendly (after all, who enjoys hitting the middle of the fairway, only to find their ball has rolled into a ravine?)
     I have recommended that everyone receives free golf balls when they check in, and a second discounted round of golf if playing for the first time, since too often I meet people who say they played the course once, but never returned! Those who do return enjoy it much more.
     I have always hoped and believed that one day Furry Creek would become a premier, high-quality complete leisure-oriented community with neighbourhood shops, resort and variety of housing choices. This time it might really happen
Some of the 100 +/- impressive single family homes that have been built on the Uplands portion of Furry Creek, on lands owned by Parklane Homes who acquired the assets of Tanac, around the golf course.
Another look at Oliver's Landing over the area being considered for a small residents'-only marina


Rush House Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) proposal moves forward! North Shore News October 19th, 2017

I was pleased to read the following article in the North Shore News which appeared following Monday's West Vancouver Council meeting.Thanks Brent Richter for taking an interest in the project. Usually, my projects only end up in the newspaper when they are really controversial! 

      West Vancouver council will soon vote on whether to provide permanent protection to one of the oldest homes in Ambleside in exchange for allowing development on its lot.
      The Rush House, at 1195 12th St., was built in 1923 by Maj. Frederick Rush, a First World War veteran who developed the lot into a 0.73-hectare farm following the war.
     The house is built in the craftsman style and is notable for its “gabled roofline, wrap-around verandah, cedar-shingle cladding and its extensively landscaped setting,” according the official statement of historical significance.
     Under the proposal, developer Michael Geller would have the Rush House hoisted up and moved about 30 feet to the east and put it down on a new foundation, which would include a garden-level suite, along with a new garage and covered deck. Two new “cottages” of just under 2,000 square feet would also be built on the lot.
     The finished product would also include a recreated Edwardian garden, something the house has been known for over the years.
     “I think the heritage value is in the exterior of the house. It’s in the story of the house. And instead of having a big flat-roof boxed development that may end up on this property, you will forever be able to keep the character of that house,” Geller said.
     Coun. Bill Soprovich recalled riding his bike over the Lions Gate Bridge, as a delivery boy in 1951, to drop off prescriptions to the home’s owners. “Isn’t that amazing?” he said.
     “And in 50 years from now, it will look exactly the same,” Geller responded.
Maj. Frederick Rush is pictured in a photo taken during or slightly before the First World War. photo SUPPLIED Ian Macdonald
      Council members were warm to the proposal, not just for saving the home but for its ability to sensitively add infill housing to the neighbourhood.
     “This is a good model for addressing the missing middle – creating housing for people who live in the community wanting to downsize or people wanting to come into our community with children. This is the right size and type of housing,” said Coun. Mary-Ann Booth.
     Mayor Michael Smith, however, lamented that none of the units would be purpose-built rental.
“It’s been 50 years since we built any rental accommodation in West Vancouver and the community is crumbling as a result. That’s the feedback I get from our residents,” he said.
     Neighbours were cautiously supportive of the plan when it was presented to council Monday night. The official public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 20.
     West Vancouver council has approved a number of similar heritage revitalization agreements in recent years.

(Below are some additional images of how the completed project will look.)
View looking north across the lane. Laneway and Garden Cottages in foreground. Rush House and garages behind.
View looking along the lane
View looking along Jefferson Avenue
View along 12th Street

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Opinion: Vancouver Courier Byelection favours A, B, C and D candidates

       This Saturday, Oct. 14, Vancouver voters will be going to the polls for a by-election.
Let me rephrase that.
      Nine candidates are running for council and 19 are vying for nine positions on school board. In addition to independent candidates, Vision Vancouver, NPA, Green Party, COPE and OneCity are running candidates.
(You can find candidate bios in the Courier’s online voter guide. See city council candidates here and school board candidates here.)
      My longstanding complaint about Vancouver municipal elections is the ballot. Candidates are always listed alphabetically, which in my opinion gives the A, B, C and Ds an advantage.
I would be worried if I was Joshua Wasilenkoff, an independent council candidate, or Judy Zaichkowsky, a Green Party candidate for school board.
      It would be so much more equitable if future ballots were redesigned so every candidate had his or her name on top an equal number of times.
      For many, electing the school board is the most important aspect of this byelection. New trustees must repair the considerable damage caused by the firing of the previous trustees, and deal with the debacle caused by reinstatement of smaller class sizes.
      (Given the severe shortage of qualified teachers, why didn’t some smart person decree that smaller class sizes would be phased in over two years?)
      Homelessness and housing affordability are significant issues in the council election. Indeed, they have been the only issues, as everyone seems to ignore councillors’ role in overseeing an $1.8-billion capital and operating budget.
      Running for the NPA is Hector Bremner, whose fortunate name will put him at the top of the ballot. While I do not know him, he appears knowledgeable, well-spoken and has been around politics for many years.
      Based on his remarks at a recent SFU all-candidates’ forum, and response to a survey by Abundant Housing, a group of non-partisan volunteers advocating for all types of additional housing, I generally agree with his proposed solutions to address housing affordability.
      Bremner is running against three relatively well-known, left-leaning candidates, and the Vision Vancouver candidate, Diego Cardona, a 21-year old Colombian refugee with a remarkable life story.
I cannot comment on Cardona’s views on housing affordability. He was a no-show at the SFU all-candidates forum, and after reading his responses to the Abundant Housing survey, I doubt whether he personally penned his answers. Rather, they were prepared by Vision Vancouver staffers.
Pete Fry is the Green Party candidate, having run for council in 2014. I find him to be a knowledgeable, credible and likeable candidate.
      Judy Graves, running for OneCity, has for decades been a respected advocate for the homeless, and for many years city hall’s homelessness expert.
      More recently, she has been critical of Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson who, in 2008, promised to end homelessness by 2015. Vancouver’s homelessness problem is now worse.
Jean Swanson is running as an independent, but endorsed by COPE. She’s been a poverty and social justice activist for more than 40 years, and I first met her in 1975 when I was CMHC’s program manager for social housing.
       Swanson is certainly not seeking support from Vancouver landlords with her false claim that four years from now the average one-bedroom apartment will cost close to $4,000 a month. Her proposed four-year rent freeze is also wrong-headed.
      While it will no doubt attract many votes, she won’t have mine. I know from experience that if ever approved, it would discourage landlords from maintaining existing buildings, and deter others from creating new rental housing.
      This council byelection is important. If Bremner wins, it will give NPA some much-needed momentum going into the 2018 election. A Fry victory will give Green Coun. Adriane Carr someone to second her oftentimes thoughtful council motions.
      I prefer not to think about other outcomes.
      The city now estimates the cost of this byelection at $1.5 million. If only 10 per cent of eligible voters turn out, Vancouver taxpayers will shell out $36 for every vote. The more who vote, the greater the value for money spent.