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.

As Vancouverites go the polls, a Vancouver Column worth re-reading

From the Vancouver Courier November 2014

Michael Geller / Vancouver Courier
November 10, 2014 04:02 PM

As I reflect on the 2014 Vancouver election campaign, I am reminded of a short story I received during the final days of the 2008 municipal election:

The most eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching third grade this year. The U.S. presidential election was heating up and some of the children showed an interest.
I decided we would have an election for a class president. We would choose our nominees. They would make a campaign speech and the class would vote.

To simplify the process, candidates were nominated by other class members. We discussed what kinds of characteristics these students should have. We got many nominations and from those, Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for the top spot.

The class had done a great job in their selections. Both candidates were good kids.
I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he got lots of parental support.
I had never seen Olivia’s mother.

The day arrived when they were to make their speeches Jamie went first. He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place. He ended by promising to do his very best. Everyone applauded. He sat down and Olivia came to the podium.

Her speech was concise. She said, “If you will vote for me, I will give you ice cream.”She sat down.
The class went wild. “Yes! Yes! We want ice cream.”  

She surely would say more. She did not have to. A discussion followed.

How did she plan to pay for the ice cream? She wasn’t sure. Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it. She didn’t know.

The class really didn’t care. All they were thinking about was ice cream.
Jamie was forgotten. Olivia won by a land slide.

All candidates running for office offer ice cream. Fifty per cent of the people react like nine-year-olds. They want ice cream. The other fifty per cent know they’re going to have to feed the cow and clean up the mess.

During this past campaign, while no one promised ice cream, all parties made a lot of other promises.
We were promised a subway along West Broadway even though the Mayors’ Council says Vancouver will have to pay for under grounding, if required for aesthetic reasons.

We were promised the most open city hall in Canada.

We were promised free swimming lessons and more swimming pools.

We were promised a $30/month transit-pass and a tax on vacant foreign-owned properties.

We were promised a reduction in harbour oil tanker traffic and no more pipelines.

We were promised counter-flow traffic lanes and more free parking times.

We were promised 4,000 plus units of rental housing and 1,000 plus childcare spaces.

While many voters may be influenced by these promises, others will wisely question which are realistic given the city’s limited powers and funding constraints.

Wise voters will also question which candidates are most likely to deliver on their promises.
In last week’s column, I urged Courier readers to learn about the candidates running for council, park and school board. I suggested we choose the best candidates, regardless of party affiliation, and the letter with which their name begins.

With this in mind, and given a desire for both experience and new ideas, I will be giving serious consideration to the following candidates.

Vision’s Geoff Meggs is a very intelligent, experienced politician with much to offer; as does Heather Deal.

NPA’s George Affleck and Ian Robertson are two experienced politicians who could again bring a practical perspective to council debates.

The Green Party’s Adriane Carr has proven herself to be a dedicated politician. I would expect the same from thoughtful newcomer Cleta Brown, who cares very much about social justice.

At park board, the Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon along with NPA’s John Coupar, and newcomer Stephane Mouttet could all bring greater balance to deliberations.

For school board, the Green’s Janet Fraser has a most impressive resume. Fraser Ballantyne, Penny Noble and Chris Richardson could also be good additions.

For mayor, I believe Kirk LaPointe is the best person to manage what could be a very diverse council and hopefully fulfill his promise to create a more open and transparent city hall.
What prompted me to re-print this are some of the promised made in this election. One candidate is offering to end homelessness in a year, if her tax proposal is adopted. Another is promising a 4-year freeze on rents, suggesting that without such a freeze, a one-bedroom suite will cost $4,000 in 4 years. Both are ridiculous assertions.
If you want to learn more about the candidates running in this election, go here

As for who to vote for, I'll leave it up to you this time. But I will not be voting for either Jean Swanson or Judy Graves, in part because of their naive and misguided solutions to address housing affordability and homelessness. They are little more than offering free ice cream to young children. You can find my Vancouver Courier column on the forthcoming election here: