Sunday, March 28, 2010

Social Housing at what cost?: Allen Garr in the Courier

The following story appeared in the Friday March 26, 2010 Vancouver Courier headlined Social housing at what cost? by Allen Garr, Vancouver Courier

No matter what Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision council decide to do with those incredibly costly 252 social housing units at the Athletes Village, they'll be left with a political problem.

Their own supporters are already at odds over solutions. And, come the next election, you can be sure COPE and the NPA will feast on all of this. A project that started at $65 million is now north of $110 million; this could be the most expensive per unit social housing development on the planet.

How did we get here? One significant decision took place under COPE and former mayor Larry Campbell. But many of the decisions that drove the cost up happened while ex-mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA were running the show.

It was Campbell's council that decided to accept a recommendation from their law department that the title to the land would rest in the hands of the city throughout the development. The argument was that, because the city had an Olympic deadline, this arrangement would allow them to jump in to finish the project if the developer faltered.

I'll get back to that in a minute.

When the NPA swept to power they dramatically reduced the social and low-cost housing components, arguing they were too expensive.

But it was with council's unanimous selection of Millennium as the developer that they really drove a stake into the heart of the social housing option. And that happened before even one yard of concrete was poured.

Three proposals were considered by staff. Based on the "assessment matrix," Millennium was last. Then staff decided to include the price Millennium was offering for the land --$193 million and far more than the other two--as part of the assessment. Millennium jumped to the head of the queue. And council grabbed its offer.

Other developers were stunned at the price. Longtime Vancouver architect/developer Michael Geller figured it came in at about $225 a square foot, double what land was going for in Vancouver's downtown core. There was no way, he now agrees, that starting with that land price you could ever produce social housing.

Then there was another problem. The other two bidders were apparently prepared to self-finance the project. Millennium had to go to the market for money. And with the decision the previous council made about holding on to the title, conventional Canadian lenders were not interested. Enter a very costly New York hedge fund.

Added to the high land cost and high interest rates was a red-hot construction market. The costs of labour and materials were escalating almost daily. Then the project was fast tracked to make the Olympic deadline.

Geller says poor and inexperienced management at both the developer level and the city aggravated matters in terms of cost. The green elements of the building could have been done for a lot less money. The architects had Champagne tastes. The change orders to the social housing portion of the project were dutifully followed by a developer who was working on a cost plus basis. Costs on the Athletes Village were running over projections to the point the city had to step in to shore up its investment, which is about the time of the last election. Welcome Robertson and Vision. This problem was dropped into their laps.

Now for some options: If they keep the units as social housing they will have to dump another $55 million in to subsidize it. But that would score them points on their left wing. If they sell the units and use the money to build social housing elsewhere--an option preferred by Geller and some Vision folks--they will be denounced as traitors to the original concept of an economically diverse neighbourhood. Builders for the rich.

Holding on to the units and renting them out at market rates will satisfy neither the left or right. A staff report with recommendations for council is expected next month. It should come with two Aspirins.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Globe 2010: A few observations

I was interested in the following on-line The Tyee account of a panel discussion that I attended yesterday at the Globe 2010 conference....

No room for single-family zoning in Vancouver's future: panel

Vancouver could halve its greenhouse gas emissions simply through rezoning laws, said one of the city's leading green building architects today.

Peter Busby, of the firm Busby, Perkins + Will, joined Mayor Gregor Robertson and former mayor Michael Harcourt for a panel discussion of the future of cities, part of the GLOBE conference on business and the environment.

Rest assured, said Busby, there is no room for single-family zoning in cities of the future.

"We have this vast area of single-family residents. These are the models that emerged out of city planning post-war, when planning departments were set up," Busby said. "They largely thought this was the right thing to do. . . put all the officers together. . . you live out there in your houses, and over there is where you shop.

"But it's the wrong model today."

By creating 'nodes' around the city of dense, multi-use buildings clustered around major transit stations, the average Vancouver citizen could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from five to 2.5 tonnes, said Busby.

While all panelists agree that public education and outreach is key, they acknowledged that rezoning is a contentious issue and political hot potato. Mayor Sullivan's plan to brand and sell 'EcoDensity' was also a focal point for resident backlash against city-wide rezoning efforts.

Robertson said 'EcoDensity' was really just a bundling of existing city practices and planning, and said residential groups felt left out of the process.

"My approach has been, let's embrace this all together," Robertson said. "Keep them in the dialogue."

He pointed to city council's recent approval of laneway housing as a positive for density and individual property values.

Although it will take a "Herculean" effort to change zoning patterns, not just here but around the Western world, Busby said two trends offer a great opportunity for densification: Single-family homes passing from one generation to the next, and growing immigrant populations from countries like Asia where high-rise apartments, walking and public transit are typical.

"Single-family ownership of a place to live is incredibly important in this society," said Busby. "But there can be many forms of that."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

The following are a few observations on this panel discussion, and the Globe conference as a whole...

The first Globe conference took place 20 years ago in 1990, just as concern for the environment was beginning to become a regular front page story. As the President of UDI Canada, I was invited to speak at the inaugural event on the topic of real estate development and the environment. Working with my then speech writer Frank O'brian, we prepared a talk on how real estate developers could actually enhance, rather than destroy the planet. My speech outlined things like brownfield development/site remediation, densification, and transit oriented development as three examples of what should be done.

Just before starting my talk with panelists from other parts of the world, I realized that I was the only speaker from North America. So I decided to start out with how proud I was to be representing not just Vancouver, or British Columbia, or Canada, but my continent. At this point, from the back of the room, a lady stood up and shouted out "And I don't think there could be a more inappropriate person to be speaking!"

She wasn't a delegate, but rather one of the people who had been protesting the Spetifore Lands Development, with which I was involved at the time. She had read in the newspaper that I was a speaker, and had decided to crash the event. I never really recovered from her intrusion!

At this year's event, I attended the session described above in The Tyee story. There was no one there to heckle the Mayor, or Peter Busby, or Roland Aurich, President of Siemans Canada, or Mike Harcourt who moderated the panel. But it was a very interesting discussion and worth commenting upon.

Just after the Mayor finished his presentation, the person next to me whispered "he looks like Clark Kent but sounds like a politician". It was true. However, I will say that the Mayor seemed very comfortable and relaxed talking about the future planning of Vancouver, and comes across as a much better speaker than two years ago, when I first heard him.

Peter Busby's presentation is a must see for anyone who cares about the future of the city. While he somewhat wavered on whether we really need to replace all lower density single family housing around the city, his basic notion of creating a network of mid and higher density mixed use 'nodes' is worthy of careful consideration. Essentially, he is proposing an arrangement that would result in densification not only along main arterials, but at the intersections of secondary arterials...such as 16th, King Edward, 49th, and 57th and corresponding north-south streets. This would allow people to walk to shops and offices, rather than always having to get into their cars. The following image was not in his presentation, but is an illustration of an idea his firm put forward in a recent Vancouver design competition....Peter illustrated the GreenHouseGas impacts of different forms of development...comparing the West End with Kerrisdale and lower density areas. His conclusion was that the nodal approach would allow single family areas, with a mix of low and mid density forms to continue, while still allowing us to reduce GHG's significantly.

The first questions from the floor all addressed the most obvious to get neighbourhood residents to accept increased density nodes, on lands currently occupied by single family homes. The mayor correctly talked about the need for political will. I'll be curious to see if he is prepared to demonstrate such political will when rezonings do come far he and his councillors did rightly support a higher density proposal at W41st and Balaclava.

However, I do have to somewhat disagree with the Mayor's assessment of why EcoDensity failed and the beneficial impacts of Laneway Housing. While I have been a longstanding proponent of this housing forms, and statistically he is right...there are 70,000 single family properties where laneway houses could be built, I doubt whether we will see any really significant take-up of this idea, as it is currently structured.For one thing, the forms of housing most people would like...a small flat over a two-car garage, or a single story inexpensive 'modular' home, such as I was proposing, are not permitted on most lots. Secondly, with the complex approval process and considerable fees, the total cost for a small rental unit is too high for most homeowners. (My understanding is that to date, about 33 laneway homes have received City Hall approval, and another 36 are in the system... quite modest numbers. I am also told the total cost is closer to $250,000 than $150,000 for a unit not much more than 500 sq.ft.) If the units could be sold off, the response might be quite different.

After listening to Peter promoting grey water recycling and a variety of other engineering innovations, I had to ask the panelist how to deal with government bureaucrats who are usually reluctant to allow such innovations to be constructed. Former Mayor and Premier Harcourt jumped on the question, pointing out how the Fire Marshall often determines the width of roads in communities, to ensure that two fire trucks can pass each other....etc. etc. The Mayor astutely observed that it is often a question of risk, and politicians have to encourage and support officials to take these risks when they have environmental benefits. He pointed to the 'district heating' system at South East False Creek as a good example of what can be done.

As for the gentleman from Siemans, he preferred to focus on the global perspective...his company is one of 70,000 truly global operations, with a very impressive array of products in energy, transportation, health care, etc. His company is keen to serve the increasing number of mega-cities rising around the world. So the challenges of a rezoning in Dunbar didn't really cross his radar. But he had some nice pictures.

In the afternoon, I moderated a panel on Smart Cities with David Helliwell, co-founder of Pulse Energy (a company that can measure energy consumed by buildings and communities), Eamann Percy, President of Powertech, BC Hydro's subsidiary specializing in clean energy; Anthony Haines, the new President of Toronto Hydro, and Hellmuth Frey, a gentle engineer overseeing a major project in Germany. I learned about new technologies that allow electric power to be distributed and energy to be priced according to the time of use, and other innovations to reduce consumption and GHG's.

In the audience was Dianne Watts, Mayor of Surrey and some of her councillors. I was impressed that they would take the time to attend Globe and learn about such innovations. It seems that Helliwell is already working with Surrey....he's someone to watch! And so is the Mayor of Surrey!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Images of Phoenix

Travelling around Phoenix earlier this month I came across some interesting sights. Here are a few images that I thought were worth documenting:Along Scottsdale Road, I came across this motel which I thought noteworthy for its decorative concrete blocks. It's a very simple detail...but most effective. I'm wondering whether it might work might look terrific with some snow.

I can't help but wonder how the architects managed to convince the client for this Waterworks Building to agree to this unusual, and probably expensive detail, which combines local rock with reinforcing bars. I was surprised to find a similar detail at Spaces, the new condominium project that I described in my earlier Vancouver Sun article.How can you not be intrigued by a city that names a major street after a major architect?I was surprised to see people holding signs at major intersections, until my friend Craig explained that signage bylaws prevent permanent signage!I didn't see a lot of Toyota Prius' but those I did see had special license plates...Along the highways...and there are a lot of highways, I was very impressed with the public art incorporated into the walls...this is much better than anything along our recently completed Sea to Sky highway.Just north of Scottsdale I visited the Boulders Golf Course, one of the top 100 courses in America. Why do they call it The Boulders?Had space permitted, I would have written about Optima Camel View Village in my Vancouver Sun story. This development, on Scottsdale Road, across from the Fashion Mall, includes some very attractive mid-rise apartments with large terraces, outdoor gardens and interesting panel details. Inside, the units featured very large kitchens with adjacent 'utility rooms' with washer/dryers, storage cupboards, and a large built-in freezer. This is a very attractive feature for most households moving out of a house. Far too many Vancouver developments forget that many households have shouldn't have to give them up when you move to a condominium apartment or townhouse.And finally, there are some very good steak houses in Phoenix, and I had an excellent steak with my friend David, but the best meal I had in Phoenix was this bar-b-q'd tuna prepared by Craig and Coralie. With a few Waddell-tini's (half gin, half vodka).

Reserved Parking: Mayor Derek Corrigan and Michael Geller

You just know there's a story here! I mean, what circumstances could possibly lead to the Mayor of Burnaby and me having reserved parking spaces side by side?

The occasion...the opening of Nat Bosa's Affinity project in Brentwood...we were both invited to speak at a special opening for realtors. Even though Bosa has been one of the most active developers in Burnaby, it turns out it was the very first time that Nat had met the Mayor.

It was most amusing watching the two of them together. It was the very first time I have ever seen the Mayor, of whom I'm very fond, struggle to get a word in edge-wise!

Meeting Princess Marta Luisa of Norway

On Friday afternoon, I was pleased to join Councillor Suzanne Anton at a reception organized by Stein Gudmundseth, the Honorary Consul of Norway for Norwegian paralympic athletes. In attendance was the Princess of Norway, a very beautiful thirty something woman named Princess Marta Luisa.

Upon being introduced to her, I had to tell her my story. I once slept on her front lawn.

It was 1969 and my friend Eli Harari and I were touring Europe. Eli had taken our little NSU Prinz 30 up the Norwegian coast to visit the fjords, and worrying that the car wouldn't make it, I decided to stay in Oslo for a while on my own. Each night I would go to a bar or club to find someone who could provide me with a place to sleep; however, one night, I was unsuccessful.

After wandering around the city, eventually it was time to find a good place for my sleeping bag. I saw a large park, and decided to hop the decorative metal railing and went to sleep.

At about 4:30am I was awoken by a soldier in full military dress, pointing a rifle and bayonet at my neck. He said something in Norwegian but I didn't understand. I pulled out my British Passport and he then said, "You can't sleep here. This is the palace". He then escorted me off the grounds. As I left, I took a photo, to remind me of the event.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be telling this story 40 years later to a resident of the palace!

The Princess was very graceful and invited me to come back to Oslo in the summer. She said the Palace is open to the public and I can see inside. But she didn't invite me to sleep over.

Thank you Stein, Suzanne and Princess Marta for a wonderful opportunity to re-live a memorable episode from my past.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This 24 Hours Story Really Upsets Me...

I was really bothered by this story in Thursday's 24Hours...please read it...I think you will know why.


MATT KIELTYKA - Look out Vancouver, more tent cities are heading your way.

About 30 people were left at 58 West Hastings Wednesday to gather the last of their possessions before vacating the Concord Pacific-owned land, which served as a demonstration of the city’s homeless issues during the Olympics. The protest spurred BC Housing into action and discussions are underway to find all the homeless at the site a place to live.

The lesson? “Tent villages work,” said social advocate Wendy Pedersen,

of the Carnegie Community Action Project. “That’s the wave of the future,

when [cold weather] shelters close April 30, there will be more tent cities.

When people put themselves in front of the media and public with their friends, they get housing.”

Richard S. Buttery recently arrived from Toronto and bounced around

between shelters and hospital stays before landing at the tent city.

Now he’s looking forward to the clean, warm bed that awaits at the end.

“There was no place to put me, but I had a good experience here,” he said. “I

agree what the people here are saying, it did something for the people here.”

But while a few dozen people can look forward to a fresh start, Buttery said the

struggle isn’t over. “Go outside this fence and go up a block or two,” he said,

pointing towards Main and Hastings streets. “Those are the people the government needs to get off the street any way they can.

So what's my problem?

It's Richard S. Buttery, who recently arrives here from Toronto, and 'bounces around' between shelters and hospital stays, but thanks to the organizers of the Red Tent Campaign, now has a clean, warm bed.

I am also disturbed by thought that we will have to see more tent cities because in a way, Wendy Pedersen is right...they do seem to work. At least, they did in this instance.

Mayor Robertson, Minister Coleman. I know you want to end homelessness by 2015, so this can't continue. We simply can't afford to find housing for everyone who decides to come from Toronto, or other parts of Canada because they know that Wendy Pedersen and Judy Graves and BC Housing will all be working together to help them get a free, nice warm bed.

Let's stop and review what's really going on here. We can't continue like this.

Phoenix Rising... and Falling

Here's my story from today's Vancouver Sun on the incredible housing 'deals' in the Phoenix market area, and what some developers are doing to attract visitors to their sales centre. The pictures featured in the story are of a house built by my friend Craig Waddell, which, as I note in the story, is currently on the market for less than what you would pay for a house half its size on a 33' lot in Dunbar!

Phoenix value decline creates opportunities

Two-bed, two-bath sells for $34,500, for example; builders now pursuing Canadian customers

While homelessness and home affordability dominate real estate stories in Vancouver, Phoenix is dealing with some different housing problems.

During a recent visit to the Valley of the Sun, I discovered that stories about falling house prices, "short sales", foreclosures and evictions are front-page items in the local papers.

The Phoenix housing market is unlike anything in Canada. The median price of a home has dropped from $250,000 to $130,000. Since mid-2009, purchasers have been able to snap up incredible deals, and current listings reveal that it is still possible to buy a house at a fraction of the price of a comparable home in Vancouver.

In a recent North Scottsdale Times I came across a feature called "After the Bubble", which illustrated recent sales. An attractive two-bedroom, two-bathroom, double-garage home that sold for $175,000 in 2002 had just sold for $34,500.

A 10-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bathroom detached home of 1,182 square feet that sold for $212,000 in 2006 recently went for $89,100.

In Carefree, just north of Scottsdale, a 4,400-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom house on an acre of land that features a 1,000-square-foot guest house, pool, movie theatre and elevator sold last month for $630,000. In 2006, it sold for $1.75 million.

Each was a "short sale" -- that means the lender allowed the homeowner to sell for less than the amount owed on the mortgage. Selling the property at a loss was a better option than foreclosing and attempting sale by auction.

The auctioning of foreclosed properties has become a daily occurrence in Phoenix. Sadly, increasing numbers of homeowners are not aware their homes have been sold until the new buyers show up at the door with eviction notices. Generally, owners have five days in which to vacate. In some instances, a new purchaser will agree to rent the home back to the original owner. In many others, however, upsetting events can occur, leading to property damage and violence.

REOs, or real-estate-owned properties, often sell for a third of their peak prices. These are properties that are owned by a lender after they fail to sell at foreclosure auctions. "Short sales" and REOs have accounted for a significant percentage of home sales in the metropolitan Phoenix area over the past year.

Not surprisingly, some local developers, especially operators of retirement communities, are now targeting Canadian buyers. A full-page ad in the Arizona Republic recently promoted the "O Canada Weekend" at Robson Ranch featuring Tim Horton's coffee and a 50-per-cent discount for a round of golf for those who could present a Canadian driver's licence.

During my stay in Phoenix, I was guided around by Craig Waddell, a former Vancouver architect and developer who has been active in the local market for the past 25 years.

He told me that leading up to the bubble, it was much too easy for borrowers to arrange mortgage financing. However, now the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Many locals cannot take advantage of the excellent deals since they cannot qualify for bank financing. Furthermore, real estate appraisers who have been spooked by fluctuating markets in recent years are now often too conservative in their valuations. As a result, sales that could be closing are not closing.

Waddell's companies built a variety of projects, including some very luxurious homes at DC Ranch, one of Scottsdale's most exclusive gated communities. (When you are cleared for entry by the gatekeeper, you are given a printout with the address and detailed directions to the designated property.)Waddell lives in a spectacular 4,650-square-foot DC Ranch home that overlooks the sixth hole of the golf course. Like many Scottsdale properties, it is planned around a majestic great room with a huge entertaining kitchen. A variety of outdoor living spaces surround the pool and open-air fireplace. After seven years, he is ready to downsize; however, like many owners of luxury properties, he is having difficulty selling at a price that is less than what one would pay for a home half the size on a 33-foot lot in Dunbar.

Given the number of existing homes on the market, new home developers face difficult challenges. To attract buyers to sale centres, some are experimenting with new product types for the area. On one rainy Sunday afternoon (yes, it rains occasionally in the winter) Waddell and I set off for "Spaces", developed by Shea Homes, one of the area's larger builders. Designed with what the architect called a "mid-century modern" esthetic, the homes offer a surprisingly high degree of flexibility and energy efficiency.

The flexibility is created by expansive spaces and numerous sliding doors. To help potential buyers appreciate it, the project's website allows users to try out different furniture arrangements using furniture cut-outs. At the click of a mouse, a living room becomes the dining area, or an office, or den.

Energy-saving features include an electric vehicle charging outlet, radiant-barrier roof sheathing and "solatube" day lighting. A compact, on-demand hot water system eliminates the need for a bulky, conventional hot water tank.

As my plane was taking off, I calculated that Metro Vancouver's median house price is about four times that of Phoenix. I could not help but wonder whether Metro Vancouver could ever experience similar drops in house prices.

While between 1980 and 1983 we did see some homes drop almost 50 per cent, I do not think Vancouverites will ever witness what has happened in Phoenix. For one thing, our banking system is very different, and recent changes will further control who can build and who can buy into the market.

Secondly, Vancouver's land supply, unlike Phoenix's, is constrained by the ocean, the mountains and protected agricultural lands.

However, an old Blood, Sweat and Tears song did come to mind: "What goes up, must come down ..." It's a song many are singing in Phoenix.

Michael Geller is an architect, planner, development consultant and SFU adjunct professor and occasional Westcoast Homes contributor.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Some Musings on the Vancouver Art Gallery expansion

As a former trustee of the Art Gallery until 2006, and member of the expansion/relocation committee under the chair of Michael Audain, I have a particular interest in the discussion currently taking place regarding the need for expansion and possible relocation of the Vancouver Art Gallery. As a result of my time on the board, and subsequent discussions with with various individuals, I have an appreciation of the pros and cons of the different proposals.

While my preference has generally been to more fully explore the design and development options to expand on the current site, there are some convincing arguments to relocate to Larwill Park.

Here are a few considerations that have not been fully reported:

1. Some say the gallery could expand underground, like the Louvre. The gallery already has some space underground. While the idea of further underground expansion seems a possibility, I am not aware of any planning studies to assess just how much space could be created. I doubt whether the current expansion program could be accommodated by underground expansion.

2. Another possibility that intrigues me is the concept of enclosing the current building in a glass box to create a more inviting structure, with additional area. However, this would likely result in the loss of the front plaza, which many regard as a cherished open space…(especially if the current fountain could be removed.) In the past, others (including Arthur Erickson and Larry Beasley) have also been concerned how an above grade expansion might compromise the design integrity of Robson Square.3. The proposed expansion program effectively doubles the current facility. This expansion was contemplated to allow the gallery to exhibit much more of its permanent collection, as well as accommodate travelling exhibits. I suspect that if the decision is made not to move, it will be necessary to scale back the program, and/or contemplate a second facility at some time in the future. There are examples of art museums with more than one facility. Most Directors and administrators do not like this approach, but it is another option.

4. Many people in the art world believe that it would be easier to raise private donations for a fabulous new facility, rather than a renovated facility. This is an important consideration that should not be ignored.5. While I was opposed to the relocation to the False Creek waterfront site, I disagree with those who suggest that the Larwill property is too far away….it’s really just a few blocks away, as many of us discovered when we wandered around the city during the Olympics. It is also part of an emerging ‘cultural precinct’ with the renovated theatre, an expanded CBC, the library and other related facilities.6. I can understand why the gallery would like the site for itself. A stand alone building would offer the potential for a truly magnificent structure. (Maybe even designed by some of the city’s own accomplished architects). However, we must acknowledge that the city previously agreed to generate approximately $50 million or more from the sale or lease of the property’s development rights. One option could be a major office tower adjacent to a gallery; another would be an exclusive residential tower (although it should be noted that this site is not zoned for residential since it falls within the area being reserved for commercial development).

I personally would support a significant residential or mixed use ‘Shaw Tower’ model adjacent to to a new gallery, provided the building was allowed to be tall enough…(you’ve got to watch out for those view corridors, you know!) to help generate revenues from the property to support both the theatre renovations and the cost of a new gallery.

7. I appreciate that some will argue that once again, I am trying to accommodate everyone with my opinions, but that’s because in this case there is no one obvious solution (at least not to me). However, before a decision is made, I do think the gallery should revisit the earlier planning studies to determine just how much expansion potential there is on the current site, and whether the earlier concerns re: the loss of the public open space in front of the gallery, and impacts on Robson Square are still valid.7. Finally, I would like to completely disagree with Bing Thom’s claim that relocating the gallery will suck the life out of this part of the city. If the gallery goes, the Vancouver Museum or other museums/public attractions would likely move in. Depending on the design approach, the space in front of the existing building along Georgia will always be a special place. And as we have seen during the Olympics, much can be done with the spaces behind.

All of this will take a lot of public and private money. But when I compare Vancouver with Seattle or other major cities, it is apparent that a lot of money should be spent to bring us up to par in terms of cultural facilities and amenities.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is Your House Getting too Big?

Special to the Jewish Independent Published March 11, 2010

By Michael Geller B.Arch, MAIBC, FCIP

While younger households dream of moving into a larger home, many of us often find that our house is getting too big. Our concern is not necessarily the size of rooms, but rather the number of rooms, some of which are no longer used as children have grown up and left home. There is also the cost and inconvenience of looking after gardens and having to carry out repairs…a new roof, water tank, or often much more.

Years ago, when your house was too big, you moved into a rental apartment. But over the past few decades, developers have stopped building rental projects in Vancouver, favouring condominium apartments. In a few cases, new condominium townhouse developments have been built, but often in locations where we do not necessarily want to live.

As we get older, not only do we want smaller homes, but we want different features. We want a large, modern kitchen with the latest appliances and pantries, and large spacious bathrooms with vanity drawers for an increasing amount of ‘toiletries’. We are often willing to forego separate living, dining and family rooms for one large, well designed space as long as there is room for the family Seder. We want fewer stairs and better lighting and security features.

In response to the need for new housing choices in the community, fifteen years ago, in partnership with the beloved community leader Morris Wosk, I redeveloped four large single family properties on Oak Street into Oak Gardens. It offered a choice of apartment sizes along with a live-in caretaker suite, a guest suite for visitors, a card room and other communal spaces.

In Kerrisdale, I helped transform seven lots along West 41st Avenue, between Carnarvon and Balaclava Streets into what is today The Lanesborough, offering a mix of attractive apartments and two level townhomes. At Larch and W41st Avenue, I turned the former Shell gas station into Elm Park Place providing single level suites with larger terraces and garden areas. I promoted the building as apartments for people who do not want to live in an apartment!

While condominium apartment living is the right choice for many people, it is not for everyone. Many of us would prefer to move into a nearby duplex or smaller ‘cottage style’ single family home on a smaller lot. If only we could find one. Alternatively we might prefer a larger townhouse, especially if it could be individually owned, and not part of a condominium. Some of us might even consider moving into a ‘Laneway Home’ if it was well designed, with parking and an attractive outdoor space.

One of the problems in Vancouver is that most residential areas are zoned for single family houses and there are virtually no, undeveloped multi-family properties nearby. However, as Vancouver starts to plan for a growing and aging population, city planners and politicians are increasingly willing to consider the rezoning of single family lots, parking lots, and other properties to allow more housing choices. One goal is to accommodate aging households who want to remain in their neighbourhoods.

Considerable attention is now being given to the future rezoning of land along Cambie Street. The new development at the corner of Cambie Street and W33rd Avenue is one example of a new housing form and tenure, offering three, individually owned townhouses, each with a laneway suite over the garage. Another variation, that I am currently designing offers three separate townhouses designed to look like one larger house. In some instances, these could be individually owned; in others they would be a condominium.

I am also exploring opportunities to redevelop larger single family lots into three or four detached or semi-detached houses, each with its own private outdoor space. The homes would be designed with the features many ‘empty nesters’ are seeking including two ‘master bedrooms’, and large open kitchens and living areas. In desired, the original homeowner could move back into a smaller home on the same property. This happened at both Oak Gardens and The Lanesborough.

In order to have more housing choices, I think it will be necessary for more of us to speak out. Too often, much needed innovative developments do not proceed because the opponents have a louder voice than the supporters.

I am often reminded of a couple who came to see me when I was planning a high rise building in Point Grey. “Do you have something available with a view?” the lady asked. “Unfortunately, they are all sold.” I had to reply. As they were ready to walk away, the husband turned to me and said “You know, it’s funny. For years my wife and I opposed the development of high rise apartments in this area, but now that we are ready to move into one, we can’t find anything suitable.”