Governance & Politics
July 25, 2018

Vancouver 2018 Civic Election Update: Summer Swelter Edition

Incremental change in the still-big field of entrants, as we edge under the 90-day mark on our trudge towards the October 20 polling date.

For those who want to strap into their world-of-wonk survival gear and get on it, the Cambie Report‘s Ian Bushfield continues to maintain his great big spreadsheet of candidates, now expanded to most, if not all, of Metro Vancouver. Hold on tight, because names and parties continue to change daily hourly — get it HERE.

My current, superficial analysis for Vancouver says 60 “confirmed” candidates, and 11 “maybes”…

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The West End is like most other parts of Vancouver — always changing.  Here’s a building nearing completion on Harwood St near Jervis.

Two things:

A. Fit with the ‘hood:  here’s maximum sleekness in a diverse place.

B. Exterior treatment isn’t green glass and grey.  The exterior in one place seems to be a randomly placed assortment of aluminium panels with an overall pattern; and in other places, complete coverage with no pattern.

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From our eclectic reader, Daily Scot:

Many longtime residents of San Francisco, Miami and other hot U.S. cities complain of “Manhattanization” when developers put up 20- or 30-story apartment complexes. In Portland, Oregon, they’re debating the wisdom of 40 stories.

They should try 100 stories on for size — or not, if they value the amenities of urban life. That’s the height of a megatower proposed for downtown Seattle. It was “downsized” from 102 stories after aviation authorities warned the tower could interfere with air traffic. …

What’s so terrible about megatowers? They cause wind tunnels at ground level. They block out the sun, putting huge swaths of city in shadow. They create canyons trapping air pollution and heat in summer. They kill others’ views.

Michael Mehaffy, an architectural critic based in Portland, Oregon, has likened super-tall residential buildings to vertical gated communities cut off from the neighbors far below. Furthermore, the buildings are often half empty.

That’s because these ultra-expensive spaces are being marketed to a global elite seeking a safe place to stash their money. Billions are pouring in from Russia, China,Saudi Arabia and Latin America. …

Seattle’s proposed 4/C megatower — so named for its location at Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street — would be the tallest building on the West Coast. Why would Seattleites want such an outlandishly high structure?

“Vancouver envy,” Mehaffy responds, referring to the tower-crazed Canadian city about 150 miles to the north. “The irony of that is a lot of people there are upset at the development.”

Such discontent may explain one Vancouver developer’s announcement that his project’s $18 million penthouse would be sold only to a local resident. …

The theme this campaign season is ordinary Americans’ wanting their power back. That should extend to politics on the very local level. Residents have a right to determine the destiny of their neighborhoods.

The real estate barons often call the shots in America’s city halls. The people must tell the politicians inside that there will be consequences to ignoring their opinions.

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Ian Young has produced another remarkable story for the South China Morning Post.

The implications are profoundly disturbing.  Not only is the real-estate market disconnected from local supply-and-demand considerations but increasingly the ability of the City to plan for its residents looks to be threatened.  When the West End plan was being considered a year or so ago, no one imagined the deal outlined below: a 60-storey tower priced out of the realm of even affluent Vancouverites, valuable accommodation being left empty, and unimaginable pressure being put on the West End and its affordable housing stock.

This will only add to the seismic forces that are building just under the surface, waiting for a political earthquake to shake the status quo – that sense that our leaders, public and private, are incapable of responding or, at higher levels, do not care about the consequences.

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Stampede: the inside story of Vancouver’s wildest property deal, gone in 7,200 seconds  . It was in fall last year that Bruno and Peter Wall received an offer too good to refuse.

The prominent Vancouver property developers behind Wall Financial Corporation had spent C$16.8 million (HK$102 million) to buy two ageing walk-up apartment blocks on adjacent lots on Nelson Street in 2013. They had big plans for the downtown site: a glittering 60-storey residential skyscraper, taking advantage of the location within the city’s West End Community Plan, where a building could rise 168 metres tall under new zoning. The project was dubbed “Nelson on the Park” and the Walls turned to favourite designer Chris Doray to come up with what they hoped would be a new Vancouver landmark.

But now a consortium of investors was proposing something even more remarkable.

They would pay the Walls C$60 million for the site alone, which had just been valued at C$15.6 million by BC Assessment. The huge profit was impossible to resist, and the sale was completed in late January.

Doray, a 25-year veteran of the Vancouver development scene whose design has now been shelved, said he was “astonished” by the transaction, which he said set a new benchmark for commercial real estate in the city.

“The price on this block of land has now thrown everybody in the industry out of whack,” said Doray. “The property is worth, what, C$20 million, and somebody pays C$60 million? One wonders what’s going on. Is this New York? Is this Hong Kong?”

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The scale of the purchase, orchestrated by Sun Commercial Real Estate (Suncom) – a firm that specialises in pooling wealthy investors from Vancouver’s Chinese immigrant community – was exceptional enough.

But an investigation by the South China Morning Post now reveals the strange and frantic backdrop to the transaction – including a two-hour stampede by Suncom’s investors, desperate for a slice of the deal. It is a transaction that also sheds light on the rush of Chinese money fuelling Vancouver’s soaring real estate market.

… capital outflows from China were reaching a fever pitch, as companies and individuals scrambled to send money overseas last year in record volumes ahead of a feared yuan devaluation. The Canadian dollar was also plummeting, making Canadian property relatively more affordable to yuan earners, and average detached house prices in metro Vancouver soared more than 40 per cent last year, hitting an average of C$1.8 million. …

And so, against this heady backdrop on the morning of October 12, Suncom threw open the gates for the Nelson Street sale.

The result was nothing short of a frenzy.

“The 60 million dollars project at 1065 Nelson St Vancouver’s shares sold out in two hours! Thank you very much for the supporting from all my clients!” Lau announced on Facebook on October 14. …

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Fundraising tactics used in deals involving Suncom have previously drawn the attention of the BC Securities Commission, which in January announced it was reviewing the firm’s activities, partly in response to an SCMP article about whether the firm was involved in crowdfunding. …

Keeping up with the changing ownership of the Nelson Street site has been no simple matter.

The changes do not show up in land titles for the two lots,

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Michael Mortensen posted the work of Jens Von Bergmann on his blog, The Liveable City.

“Jens ran some 2011 census data to give us some idea of the population density within 800 metres for SkyTrain stations (including the Canada Line). His very interesting results are found here on his “Mountain Doodles” blog: see Link .”

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Population within 400- and 800-metre radius

Click to enlarge.

 

I would never have believed that the 29th-Avenue Station would be almost in the Top Ten, with Nanaimo not that far behind.  They seem amongst the most suburban of settings, and are typically mentioned when critics point to the absence of appropriate transit-oriented development.

Here’s an illustration of 29th-Avenue 800 metres out, done by Michael in his blog (along with all the other station areas).

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969 Burrard St & 1019-1045 Nelson St

This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground

From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):

The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:

  • restoration of First Baptist Church;
  • new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
  • a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
  • a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;

Other key parameters of the proposal include:

  • a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
  • a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
  • 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.

This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.

The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).

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809 West 23rd Avenue

The last PT Guest Editor wrote about comparing Burnaby’s density to Vancouver’s in Who Does Density Better?
A 1920s-era church at 23rd Ave & Willow could be saved if it’s turned into 6 townhouses with the flexibility of 4 lock-off suites. It’s 600m from King Edward Station and the neighbours are outraged it will no longer be a Single Family Home (SFH). There seems to be more outrage about this lot than there is about skyscrapers going up in Burnaby.
Let’s start with what we know then learn a bit more:

  • Metro Vancouver has mountains to the north, a border to the south, and an ocean to the west. Therefore it can only expand to the east, which it has been doing. We need to limit urban sprawl for all kinds of environmental, health, and economic reasons.
  • It is estimated that by 2030 the region’s population will be about 1 million more people than it is today. They will need places to live.
  • The City of Vancouver has, for about 2-4 mayors now, been encouraging density and running on platforms of density.
  • Friendly-density or “gentle densification” describes alternatives to high-rises such as 3-7 story multi-unit dwellings, townhouses, quadruplexes/fourplexes with a coach house, etc. and this density debate article is more amusing/sad 4 years later, depending on your point of view.
  • Transit-oriented development (TOD) “is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport and often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.”
  • The Marpole Community Plan, approved in 2014, allows for RM8 (Townhouse, Rowhouse) and RM9 (Townhouse/Rowhouse/Low-rise).
  • The Cambie Corridor Planning Program Phase 3 was approved by City Council in April, 2015. It covers Ontario to Oak Streets, 16th Ave south to the river. Since then the City has held launch events, walking tours, and workshops on Phase 3. It is currently in progress.
  • There was an open house in September, 2015. From the City’s website: “Staff have completed their initial review of the rezoning application and have requested revisions to the application including changes to improve the heritage conservation approach, explore further on-site tree retention and improve the relationship of the proposal to the surrounding residential neighbourhood. Once revisions are received staff will notify the public and invite further community feedback.
  • I asked staff what “improve the relationship of the proposal to the…neighbourhood” meant. Basically, due to feedback, revisions have been requested. They want to give people more time to give feedback. They would like to hear from people why this church is worth saving.
  • There is still time to provide online feedback on this development application (with no clear deadline in sight).

Hair splitting leads to split ends:

  • This property is within the Cambie Corridor near Douglas Park but about 1 block outside the area where changes are likely to be permitted.
  • Once Phase 3 is complete, it could be applicable without rezoning but this application was submitted months before the completion of Phase 3.
  • The residents who don’t want it say it’s spot zoning.
  • The City and developer say it’s not spot zoning it’s an application to rezone from RS-5 (Single Family) District to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District under the City’s Heritage Policies and Guidelines, including the Heritage Action Plan.

This Vancouver Courier article from October, 2015 explains what’s going on in depth.
What do you think?
SFH – (Single Family Home) is also the abbreviation for at least 2 other meanings. Those who don’t want more density in Vancouver – are they Stronger, Faster, Healthier or So F’ing High?
When people are outraged at building townhouses on a large lot in Vancouver, is it a sign that the reality of density, the people who want different housing options, and the future Vancouverites who don’t usually get a say are winning?

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