Archive for June, 2004

Tiny fuel cell developed by Vancouver researcher

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

The twistable, bendable, easy-to-make device marks a step beyond current technology

Peter Wilson
Sun

CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun Kevin Stanley of the Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation holds small fuel cell that has potential output of more than 200 milliwatts, enough to power low-wattage items such as a cellphone or MP3. It would run on methanol.

Vancouver researcher Kevin Stanley holds the prototype flexible micro fuel cell between his thumb and finger.

He pushes its ends together and it bends into an arc. Then he takes it in two hands and makes it twist in the middle.

Finally, Stanley lets the fuel cell — with just seven square centimetres of active area — fall to a countertop. It doesn’t come apart. It doesn’t shatter.

Call this breakthrough fuel cell technology with a twist — and a bend, and even a bit of a bounce.

Oh, and it should be easy to manufacture as well.

Within a few years the descendants of this rugged, flexible methanol-based mini fuel cell could be powering everything from your MP3 player to your PDA to your cellular phone to your digital camera.

And it’s a distinct departure and almost certainly a technical step ahead of the recently hyped 5.6-cm-long Toshiba “world’s smallest” fuel cell, created using traditional, rigid technology.

That device was said by Toshiba to be able to power an MP3 audio player for about 20 hours on a single charge of methanol fuel.

“What Toshiba has done is more traditional architecture optimized to the maximum,” said Stanley. “We’re looking at taking it beyond that.”

Two years ago, Stanley, a project leader at Vancouver’s National Research Council Canada Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation Research, built a prototype similar to Toshiba’s and realized that he’d about reached the size limits of traditional design.

“That’s something we call plate-and-frame, very much like taking something that Ballard has, and shrinking it down,” said Stanley.

To put it simply, plate-and-frame — in which the various elements of the fuel cell are compressed in layers — was getting in the way of miniaturization, crucial for fuel cell use in devices like cellphones and PDAs.

“So what we essentially tried to do was to come up with a compressionless fuel cell, “ said Stanley, who is completing his PhD in engineering at Simon Fraser University.

The other goal, necessary for eventual commercialization, was to make the fuel cell easy to manufacture. Right now fuel cells are hand assembled, which can account for 80 per cent of the cost.

“At the end of the day, these things will be in commercial electronics, whether it’s in 2005 or 2006 or 2010,” said Stanley. “You will need to produce hundreds of millions per month.”

The compressionless part turned out to be tricky, because if compression is lessened in a fuel cell the power can drop.

“If you let everything mellow out and relax and take away the compression then your resistance increases dramatically and your fuel cell no longer operates efficiently,” said Stanley.

Stanley and his team came up with new materials and new methods and, along the way, worked out a way to have the fuel cells manufactured through a reel-to-reel printing process.

“As a side-effect our fuel cell is incredibly flexible because we weren’t able to use rigid materials,” said Stanley. “It had to be able to go with the flow, so to speak.”

The advantages of flexibility, said Stanley, is that the fuel cell can be twisted or bent to fit inside a small electronic device, or it could be a power source for something like a flexible computer screen.

Two patents have been applied for on the technology.

Another advantage of flexible micro fuel cells is that they protect against high humidity and the problem of water collecting in a fuel cell.

“In one of these compact little micro mini cells the weather outside is the weather outside,” said Stanley.

While the fuel cell will likely make its way into commercial development, Stanley emphasizes that, at the moment, it’s a research project and that there are hurdles on the business side as well as the technology side.

One of these is making the power source for the fuel cells easily accessible to buyers.

“In order for this to be a big success you’ve got to have little methanol cartridges in every 7-Eleven in North America,” said Stanley. “That’s going to slow things down as well.”

Stanley said that initially it’s likely that the flexible micro fuel cells will be found in niche markets.

“The U.S. military is throwing ridiculous amounts of money at fuel cells,” said Stanley. “You see those guys in Afghanistan, half the stuff they’re carrying around is batteries. I think its about 40 pounds for a six-hour mission. They’d like to reduce that load.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Floating-rate mortgage cheaper in the long run

Monday, June 28th, 2004

Gary Norris
Sun

RISK-TAKING I If you’re like the people in TV commercials, you may have recently discussed this issue with your spouseNULL or long?

Choosing a mortgage term is a decision that says as much about your personality as it does about your economic analysis. It also depends on how close to the edge you are financially.

Just don’t try to pretend that it’s based on an acute forecast about the future level of interest rates.

Global financial institutions devote massive intellectual and technological resources to predicting rates, but frequently it seems they might as well flip a coin. It would be unwise to bet your financial comfort on being able to do better than people who have billions of dollars at stake.

Think of Long Term Capital Management, the U.S. hedge fund staffed by Nobel Prize winners that collapsed in 1998 after an errant wager on bond yields.

Closer to home, consider the Conference Board of Canada’s confident prediction that short-term interest rates would rise by 2.25 percentage points in the next year. That was in late 2002, when the Bank of Canada overnight rate was 2.75 per cent.

It’s two per cent now, though most economists expect an upward move in the second half of this year.

At the Bank of Nova Scotia, whose advertisements play on the short-or-long conundrum, the solution is to split the mortgage principal in two, with part paid by a five-year, fixed-rate mortgage and the rest by a five-year floating-rate mortgage.

Scotiabank’s floating rate is 75 basis points — 0.75 of a percentage point — below the prime lending rate. Prime currently is 3.75 per cent, so the floating or adjustable rate is three per cent.

The rate on a five-year fixed-rate mortgage, posted at 6.7 per cent, is negotiable but probably about 5.5 per cent.

This means that short-term interest rates would have to almost double before you’d be ahead of the game with the fixed rate.

So why not just go short?

The short answer is that you probably should — if you and your financial situation can tolerate uncertainty.

“Economically speaking, if you think like a machine and if you have a stomach for this kind of risk, taking variable rates has always been the best thing to do,” says Benjamin Tal, an economist at CIBC World Markets.

“Of course, can you sleep at night? You have to absorb fluctuations in interest rates.”

The window for low rates is closing and “many, many people have been borrowing like there’s no tomorrow,” Tal observes.

In addition to increasing debt-service costs, rising interest rates would have other effects — for instance, you might lose your job. “Higher interest rates are designed to slow down the economy,” Tal said.

“To the extent that people have been borrowing so much — and we have to remember that the current expansion in consumer spending is the most leveraged in recent history — this also means that as a society we became more sensitive to the risk of interest spikes and to the risk of any other economic shock.”

At the same time, an analysis by Tal and colleague Avery Shenfeld suggests that — because consumers are so deeply indebted — central banks will need to impose smaller rate increases than in the past to cool the economy.

“The likelihood that the Bank of Canada will raise interest rates by 200 basis points over the next two or three years probably is not very high,” said Tal.

Still, the key issue is your margin of safety.

“One has to make sure that when interest rates start rising, even by 100 basis points — and the impact will be immediate — you have to be able to absorb it.”

Tom Caldwell, chairman of Caldwell Securities Ltd., says he paid off his own mortgage before floating-rate mortgages became common but did well by always taking one-year terms.

“If I want to lock in a rate, I am asking the bank to take that interest-rate risk and, in so doing, they charge to take that risk,” Caldwell observed.

“I figured I would take on that risk, and in the 20-plus years I had a mortgage, I think I was ahead of the curve every year but one or two.”

His strategy worked during a “long-term secular decline in interest rates” while rates now are at four-decade lows, he added. But “if you take the risk, go to adjustable, you’ll probably work out all right.”

Debt Reckoning

Three questions to ask yourself before making borrowing decisions, as posed by CIBC World Markets economist Benjamin Tal:

- “If interest rates go up by 100 or 200 basis points [one or two percentage points] tomorrow, can I continue to service my debt?”

- “If tomorrow I lose my job, do I have enough degree of freedom to continue to service my obligations until I find a new one — that is, for six months or so?”

- “If tomorrow I have to pay an extra $20,000 or $25,000 on something — a health-related issue or some emergency repair on the house — can I do it without going into higher debt?”

Ran with fact box “Debt Reckoning”, which has been appended to the end of the story.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Convention centre gets scrutiny

Monday, June 28th, 2004

John Bermingham
Province

The public seems to support the nearly $500-million expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre, if you measure the lack of criticism.

There were four open houses and one public meeting last week, where only about 50 people attended.

The Coal Harbour project will add 383,000 square feet to Canada Place.

Senior city planner Rob Jenkins said the city has had a reasonably good measure of public reaction at this point.

Jenkins said people support the use of public spaces and public access in the project.

“Where people have voiced some concerns is around the design of the roof,” he said.

The public want access to the “living roof,” more than an acre of nature reserve.

The public is seeking direct access to the roof, to see how it works, said Jenkins.

“The other issue is just the overall urban design of the roof, and its appearance from various locations.”

The proposal goes before the city’s permit board on Sept. 13, before going to city council for approval.

The public will get another chance to view the design, and attend a public meeting in the fall.

Planners are also continuing to take public feedback by mail, or on the City of Vancouver website.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

 

610 Granville – 35-Storey Residential Building

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

Wendy McLellan
Province

Where: 610 Granville St.

What: 35-storey residential building with four levels of retail shops, one below ground. The 423 suites sold in five weeks.

When: The building is scheduled for completion in spring, 2006.

Who: Joint project between Macdonald Seymour Development and Wall Financial Corp.

How much: 2004 assessed value is $24.2 million.

For more than a decade, the neo-classical heritage building on the corner of Dunsmuir and Granville was vacant, its ornate bronze windows boarded up with painted plywood.

Built in 1928 by the B.C. Electric Railway Co. as a showroom for modern domestic electrical appliances, it has been the home of Germain’s, a high-end women’s fashion store and most recently, the Art, Technology and Science centre.

A few doors up the street along Granville, next to the SkyTrain entrance, another old Vancouver building from the 1900s was slowly deteriorating.

Originally a tailor’s shop with a residence for women upstairs, the storefront has been used for various purposes since it was built in 1892, including a liquor store, drygoods and a confectionery.

In 2001, Vancouver developer Rob Macdonald purchased the strip of dilapidated buildings between Dunsmuir Street and the Bay, including the B.C. Electric building and the old tailor’s shop.

In exchange for higher density and a zoning change to live/work from the normal commercial-use only, the developers agreed to retain the facade of the two heritage-designated buildings and include public access to the SkyTrain for people with disabilities in the project.

The building in the core of Vancouver‘s central business district is currently the only one with live/work zoning. The 423 suites range in size from 419-square-foot studios to three-bedroom, 1,450-square-foot units. Prices ranged from $141,000 to $599,000 when the development was listed for sale in August, 2003.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

Where time is money: Tandem offers residents Skytrain entry to downtown

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

Michael Sasges
Sun

CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun As if framed by their future, Tandem buyers Patrick Ah-Yu and Ali Quiros are also standing at the project model as if on Dawson Street and as if between their new home and the Gilmore SkyTrain station.

CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun Top, there’s nothing as-if about this aerial photograph, a version of which commands one wall in the preview centre, and demonstrates that, by rapid transit, the downtown isn’t so far from home.

CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun Of love at first site, Ali Quiros and Patrick Ah-Yu know a thing of two: ‘The first time we went through the presentation centre we instantly loved it. The layout was great and the cabinets, fixtures and appliances were exactly what we were looking for.’ The couple bought a two-bedroom, 10th-storey home for $253,900. Its floorplan is reproduced above.

The two-tower Tandem development in Burnaby, near Boundary and Lougheed, is an “incredible value,” especially for young couples who want

to be close to downtown but can’t afford a downtown residence, Tandem’s marketer promises.

Homes in the one tower on offer are selling for around $300 a square foot, compared to homes downtown for around $450 a square foot, Jason Craik of MAC Real Estate Solutions Inc. says.

“These buildings offer an incredible value proposition,” says Craik. “Young couples that want that proximity to downtown and can’t afford $450 a square foot are saving tens of thousands of dollars by locating 15 minutes away from downtown.”

The development is located across Dawson Street from the Gilmore SkyTrain station.

”That’s been one of the key selling points of this project,” Craik reports of the relationship between the Millennium line and Tandem.

”The Bentwood neighbourhood is already a wonderful and convenient place to live,” adds Cameron McNeill, Craik’s partner. ”And in the next five years, the entire area will transform from a mixed-use area to a vibrant urban residential neighbourhood.” Tandem buyers Ali Quiros and Patrick Ah-Yu, both 25, said they were attracted to the development because it was close to Skytrain and all the amenities.

”The first time we went through the presentation center we instantly loved it. The layout was great and the cabinets, fixtures and appliances were exactly what we were looking for,” Ali says.

”Because we are planning on having a family we were drawn to the courtyard, the child-play area, the creek and walkway that will run behind the building and the fitness centre.”

The Richmond native says the almost two years she and Patrick, a Vancouver native, must wait before taking up residency is a ”bonus for us.” The builder expects occupancy to occur in April, 2006.

”We can keep our lifestyle the way it is while continuing to save for our future.”

They paid $253,900 for a two-bedroom residence on the 10th storey, with a view to the southeast.

For a couple who currently rent the downstairs suite in a home owned by Patrick’s brother and his wife, the leap to a quarter-of-million-dollar, 10th-storey residence must have been accompanied by butterflies?

”It has been an interesting experience and one that we will not forget,” Ali comments. ”Throughout this process we found that it was important to ask questions, and check several places. We have been watching interest rates and purchase prices, keeping our options open and making it easier to be sure about our decision.”

Ali says their search for their first home has convinced them that home-ownership is achievable by most young couples in similar circumstances. Both are employed; she’s a marketing coordinator and he’s a computer technician.

”With all the new developments these days, they are really geared towards lifestyles, whether ‘downtown living’ or a ‘family village,’ there is one out there for everyone.

So as new home-buyers we recommend that you find a development that suits your lifestyle and you’ll be sure to be happy. It is definitely better to invest in your lives, instead of renting and paying off someone else’s mortgage.”

One of the reasons Ali is certain they’ll be happy is that one of the cats who permits Ali and Patrick to share his life says it will. Ali recalls that after two months of visiting presentation centres they decided to consult one of their two cats, all the competing information packages at hand:

”The final test was when we laid all the packages on the bed and asked one of the cats where he wanted to live? You guessed it! He walked over to the Tandem package and sprawled out all over it.”

TANDEM

Location: Gilmore and Dawson, Burnaby

Developer: Anthem Properties

Architect: Lawrence Doyle Architect Inc.

On offer: 320 one-bedroom, two-bedroom, one-bedroom-loft and penthouse residences

Prices: One bedroom, 631 – 638 sq.ft, $171,900 – $197,400 ($273/sq.ft. - $308/sq.ft.); two bedroom, 855 – 880 sq.ft, $236,900 – $271,900 ($277/sq.ft. – $309/sq.ft; one-bedroom loft, 741 sq.ft., $243,900 – $253,900 ($239/sq.ft. - $343/sq.ft.

Maintenance monthly, estimated: One bedroom, $143.50; two bedroom, $190.50

Rentable: Yes

Construction: Concrete

Warranty: 2-10-10, ”longest warranty in the business,” Cameron McNeill reports

Presentation centre: 4140 Dawson, open daily except Friday, noon to 5 p.m.

Telephone: 604-299-5777

Website: www.tandemliving.com

 

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

4345 new Realtors in Greater Vancouver signed up in 2003

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

Reporter Gillian Shaw helps you chart your course with The Sun’s A-Z of jobs and training. Today, we look at why so many are catching the real estate bug.

Gillian Shaw
Sun

CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun Realtor Aimee Gabor says being an agent was far different when she started in 1972. Then, it was hard for women to enter the business. Now, it’s ‘female-friendly.’

Vancouver‘s overheated real estate market is attracting more than buyers and sellers.

It’s also attracting people in record numbers who want to make real estate a career.

Enrollment in real estate licensing courses is up 60 per cent this year over last with 4,345 people enrolling in the hopes of cashing in on B.C.’s housing boom.

That’s way up from 691 who took the pre-licensing course in 2001. The figure has been climbing rapidly, with 1,548 signing on in 2003 and 2,688 making the move this past year. The numbers reflect Real Estate Council of B.C. tallies that run annually from July 1 to June 30.

“This usually happens as soon as the market picks up, everybody thinks people must be making a lot of money in real estate so it’s the time to come in,” said Rosemary Barnes, an agent with Park Georgia Realty in Coquitlam and vice-chairwoman of the real estate council, which administers the real estate act in B.C. “It also applies to some who may have dropped out over the years and now think it’s a good time to come back.”

With numbers like that, competition for clients is tough but Barnes said the number of sales people usually fluctuates with market demand.

“I think there is enough business to go around,” she said. “If you talk to some of the old-timers, they’d just as soon it stayed where it was in terms of numbers, but things change.

“The market takes care of it. If the market was to slow down, at some point people would drop out.”

Real estate attracts both young people just starting out and career changers. Young university grads searching for a job future, take the real estate pre-licensing course. Others are looking for new challenges after working at another job and it also attracts people who have been out of the workforce and are looking to launch or re-launch a career.

Barnes was a mother of two young children some 28 years ago when she “caught the real estate bug,” as she says, when she starting helping out doing reception and office work with a real estate firm. She found it so fascinating that she signed on for the pre-licensing course, which all agents much take as a first step and now works in partnership with her husband, Bill Barnes, selling residential real estate.

The pre-licensing course, which is done by correspondence, has a requirement to finish it within a year, although Anthony Cavanaugh, communications officer at the council, said some students finish in as little as two months.

“Then you have to find a company that will hire you, which isn’t a problem at all,” he said.

Once an applicant finds a company as a sponsor, he or she applies to the real estate council for a licence and two months after that, new licencees are required to take a one-week long post-licensing course.

“It takes the theory you’ve learned in the pre-licensing course and looks at it in a practical sense,” said Cavanaugh.

Licences, which cost $400, must be renewed every two years. There’s an additional $500 for errors and omissions insurance that must be paid every two years and is to safeguard consumers who may have to be compensated for losses suffered through agents’ mistakes.

The council receives about 330 complaints a year out of the 90,000 real estate transactions in the province and it has the power to impose disciplinary action, including removing an agent’s licence to practice. Starting next year, managers who take care of strata properties will also have to be licensed.

“There’s going to be a ramp-up period for the licensing of strata managers,” said Cavanaugh. “A lot of property managers do strata managing and they will probably be required to take a course within a year or six months, or whatever, and for people who have never been licensed, they will have to take a pre-licensing course.”

Real estate attracts people for more than just the potential for making a lot of money. It requires an entrepreneurial spirit, an ability to get along with all kinds of people and the ambition to be a self-starter. There are no clocks to punch but if you don’t work, you don’t make money. Barnes recommends people starting out be able to keep themselves for at least a few months because even if they make a sale early on, they don’t get paid until the deal closes and that could be some time.

“It’s a lifestyle, that’s for sure,” said Cavanaugh. “Some people love it because it gives them the flexibility to be with their kids, to be able to pick them up from school and still work in a professional industry.

“It is very entrepreneurial. The more you put into it the more you get out of it.”

It’s now a female-friendly business, but it wasn’t always the case. Aimee Gabor, an agent with Macdonald Realty in Kerrisdale, started her real estate career in 1972 when her children were aged two and four.

“It was a challenge for women at the time, there were only a few women in the business,” she said.

Gabor said when she started, one manager of a 40-person, male-only office refused to take on a woman as an agent. A male colleague who went on to become very successful recalled being told at 24 that he was too young to be in the business and should grow up a little first. All that has changed.

“Today it is a woman-dominated business,” said Gabor. “I sometimes look at all these women who go through my agents’ opens and they have no idea what it was like.”

While the most successful agents are the ones we read about, not everyone is making a lot of money selling real estate.

“It can be as low as almost zero and as high as you want to go,” said Barnes. There currently isn’t a regular earnings survey of agents in B.C. but the Canadian Real Estate Association reports that this year so far in B.C., 48 per cent of sales people gross from zero to $75,000 annually. Another 34 per cent are in the $75,000 to $150,000 range and just more than 11 per cent make between $150,00 and $225,000. Just fewer than four per cent earn from $225,000 to $300,000 a year.

From that, sales people have costs to pay, which can depend on the arrangement they have with their office. There are signs, business cards, advertising and some of the more successful sales people have assistants.

“You’re running your own business,” said Barnes. “A lot of people who enter the industry think they can set their own hours and you certainly have the option of doing that, but if you get busy and your clients are calling you, you need to be available.

“People who want to put a lot into it will get the return. It is all based on how much time you’re willing to put in and how much work you’re willing to do.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

BMW-745LI – Best of the Best In Automobiles

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Grant Yoxon
Province

The 745Li corners flat and sure and is surprisingly agile, both at speed and in the parking lot

Luxury is found everywhere in the 2004 BMW 745Li

OTTAWA – When well-equipped family sedans come with leather seating, tilt and telescoping steering, six-disc in-dash CD changers and 250-plus h.p. V6 engines, what defines a luxury automobile?

Even entry-level luxury sedans have standard features such as electronic throttle, brake assist, traction control, vehicle stability system and “dynamic” steering.

Check off a few boxes on the option sheet on many cars costing more than $50,000 and you can add features such as a DVD-based navigation system, backup camera and even a rear-seat entertainment system.

So what about the ultra-luxury sedan? What sets a car costing well over $100,000 apart from more mundane luxury transportation?

What is so unique about a luxury sedan like the BMW 745Li that would make writing a cheque for at least $103,200 easy to rationalize?

First there is size. In a word — big. This is a big car — more than 516 cm long and 190 cm wide. It rides on a 313-cm extended (hence the L in 745Li) wheelbase. No one, no matter how big, will ever complain about a lack of leg-room in the back seat. There are even convenient “foot wedges” on the floor on which to rest your feet.

Then there is power. The base 4.4-litre V8 produces 325 h.p. at 6,100 r.p.m. and 330 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,600 r.p.m. Power is smoothly applied through a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with Steptronic manual shifting capability and right there when you need it. It makes the 2,025-kg sedan seem much smaller than it is.

Of course, if that’s not enough, you can always step up to the 438-h.p. six-litre V12 760Li, but that’ll set you back quite a bit more — $66,000 — than the 745Li. Probably not necessary anyway, considering that the 745Li will accelerate effortlessly from zero to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds and reach an electronically limited 240 km/h top speed.

Then there is technology, which includes the best BMW has to offer: Speed-sensitive power steering, electronic brake-force distribution, four-channel antilock brakes, ventilated disc brakes front and rear, all-aluminum suspension, electronically controlled engine cooling, and dynamic drive with active roll stabilization.

This latter feature combines sensors and electronically adjustable anti-roll bars to reduce body roll and lean in corners. It works. The 745Li corners flat and sure. The car is surprisingly agile for its size, both at speed and in the parking lot at the grocery store.

When the current 7-series debuted in 2002, many complained about the complexity of the vehicle’s iDrive system. iDrive consists of a controller mounted on the centre arm rest, which can be moved in eight different directions to shift between menu items presented on a screen in the dash. iDrive can be used to control the navigation system, heating and ventilation, audio and video and other features and settings of the car.

For 2004, iDrive has been simplified a bit and a button added to make returning to the main menu quick and easy. I had no complaints. I found the current version of iDrive to be easy and intuitive to navigate.

Perhaps the best examples of BMW technology are found in the 745Li’s passive and active safety systems. With DSC II, which includes dynamic brake control, cornering brake control, stability control and traction control, one would have to err on the verge of lunacy to lose control of this big sedan.

Helping along the way are standard adaptive (they adjust for inclines and corners) Xenon headlights with high-pressure wash system, halogen free-form foglights, heated exterior mirrors, and windshield wipers with heated wash nozzles and rain sensors.

Standard passive safety features include side thorax air bags for the driver and front passenger, knee air bags in front and ceiling-mounted inflatable head protection for front and rear passengers, as well as five three-point seat-belts and front air bags.

And, finally, there is comfort. Oh, where do we begin?

Leather is not just leather, it is Nasca leather. Cruise control is not just set, accelerate, decelerate and cancel. It is programmable — you can set your six favourite cruising speeds in memory. The steering wheel is not just tilt and telescoping, it is a “heated, multifunction, electronically adjustable, four-spoke, leather-wrapped” steering wheel.

The front seats are heated and 20-way (how do I love thee, let me count the ways) adjustable.

Illuminated vanity mirrors are mounted not just behind the sun visors, but also in roof consoles in the rear passenger area.

Despite the lofty price, there are options that raise the comfort and convenience quotient quite a bit.

Our tester included a multimedia package ($4,900) with rear-seat TV screen mounted on the centre console and iDrive controller on the rear centre armrest.

The package also includes a six-disc DVD changer. Rear-seat passengers can watch a movie, tune into regular analogue TV channels or listen to their choice of music.

An Executive Package ($8,200) added automatic opening and closing trunk lid, soft-close doors (no need to slam), ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, parking distance control, Logic7 Hi-Fi system with 11 speakers and two subwoofers, and electric rear and side sunshades.

A unique feature of this package is the “active” front seats, which slowly and softly undulate to keep blood flowing in your tired posterior.

Rounding out the add-ons was active cruise control ($2,500), which enables you to follow another vehicle at a set distance. Standard equipment on some other high-end vehicles, I’m glad BMW kept this one optional. Active cruise control is a pain on the freeway and I wouldn’t order it if I had a choice.

So what do you get for $118,800? With the BMW 745Li you get big size and big power, room to seat five in luxurious comfort and a host of electronic gadgetry to make driving easy, entertaining and safe.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

The future is now

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Towers of glass and steel forest the downtown peninsula, creating neighbourhoods that crackle with the vibrancy of the world’s great urban centres

Doug Ward
Sun

CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun

Monika Hobbs, with daughter Carina outside Elsie Roy elementary in Yaletown, says safety for kids is not an issue.

CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

Shane Nelken is a musician who loves living in Gastown.

CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

Paul LaFontaine has a billion-dollar view from his 16th-floor apartment in Metropolis, a 29-storey tower in Yaletown.

CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun

John Whistler has lived in the West End for 25 years and loves the area because it’s a ‘traditional neighbourhood.’

CREDIT: Mark Van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Elizabeth Atmore says living in the Coal Harbour neighbourhood is ‘like living in a resort next to a big city.

CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

Jennifer Taylor lives in Yaletown and walks her West Highland terriers Robbie Burns and Murphy around Urban Fare and the Roundhouse Community Centre.

Jennifer Taylor is one of the Yaletown mommies. She’s so Yaletown mommy that not only does she walk with her kindergarten kid Andrew in tow — she’s also got her highland terriers, Murphy and Robbie Burns, to tie up outside the Urban Fare supermarket, or Urban Stare or Urban Glare, as she calls it.

“I moved here because I love living a cosmopolitan lifestyle. I just can’t seem to do the ‘burbs. Not good at it at all,” said Taylor.

“But I also need the safety of a neighbourhood because of my son.”

Taylor, a 40-year-old communications consultant, lives in Aquarius Mews, a perfectly named Concord Pacific highrise condo complex.

She has a bird’s-eye view of the epicentre of Vancouver’s new downtown residential lifestyle. But it’s not all leisure. Outside Urban Fare, business deals are made over cellphones or an espresso. Other participants in the scene discreetly cock their ears.

“And the ears are burning,” said Taylor. “This neighbourhood is a treasure chest of stories. And Urban Fare has become the quintessential point of Yaletown. It’s our gathering spot.”

Taylor’s so Yaletown mommy, she’s pitching a TV series on her shiny, happy ‘hood of glittering towers — pitching it in L.A.

One group of Americans already aware of the new Yaletown and the megaprojects along the north shore of False Creek and Coal Harbour are urban planners.

They’ve heard the buzz about what’s been called the Vancouver Miracle. About how Vancouver has the fastest-growing residential downtown in North America. Close to 40,000 people — people like Taylor — have moved downtown within the past 10 years.

Since the late ’80s, said former councillor Gordon Price, more than 150 highrises have risen within a mile radius of the central business district.

Downtown condo fever is so feverish that developers now market lifestyle as much as units. “Developers can be selling the same projects but they will market them differently by suggesting they represent dramatically different lifestyles.

“They are selling the cultural premium that’s based on the neighbourhood.”

He recalled a condo development on Georgia Street with a brochure that featured a mock-Soviet-realism photo of two young couples wearing bicycle helmets, looking upwards to a bright future of downtown living.

That future is now the present for Paul Lafontaine who lives in the Metropolis, a 29-storey Yaletown tower on the site of the venerable Canadian Linen building. Lafontaine grew up in a Toronto suburb, “and I’ve never wanted to live in a suburb since.” He takes the bus or walks to work downtown where he works as investor relations manager for a silver mining company. Lafontaine’s apartment, full of beautiful primitive art, is small at 775 square feet, but the northeast view of the downtown gives it an expansive feel. From his 16th-floor Yaletown condo, Lafontaine can see the suburbs in the distance, beyond the downtown highrise forest that surrounds his own tower.

He shops at Choices Supermarket which is just next door, has coffee at Triggiano’s, which is just around the corner, eats at the nearby Glowbal Restaurant and enjoys walking through the new and peaceful Emery Barnes Park just across the street.

About the downtown, Lafontaine says: “Vancouver is not a world capital. But the sense of vibrancy that one feels walking in downtown here is similar to some of the areas I’ve seen in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.”

LOOKING EASTWARD

That vitality has been sudden. Development in Vancouver’s central city has escalated at a pace far exceeding the expectations of city hall. The Yaletown/Downtown South area, for instance, is 10 years ahead of its original schedule. The Concord Pacific and Coal Harbour communities have also developed at unexpected rates.

There are 80,000 people living in the downtown peninsula — a figure expected to rise to 120,000 by 2021. The densification of the downtown has helped make the Greater Vancouver metropolitan region about 100-per-cent denser than Seattle.

The rhythm of downtown development has been so rapid that city hall fears the astronomic rise in residential land values — if not moderated — could bring redevelopment and gentrification to the West End and prompt conversion of many commercial buildings into condo towers.

To cool the pressure on the West End and the central business district, Vancouver’s chief planner Larry Beasley has told the development industry to shift its gaze eastward and help create an extended metropolitan core that would include redevelopment in Gastown, the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, False Creek Flats and Southeast False Creek.

Ex-councillor Price said the downtown’s “centre of gravity will shift eastward so that the Grandview neighbourhood on the east side will eventually seem as close to downtown as Kitsilano.”

The mayor of San Francisco has heard so much about Vancouver’s vibrant inner city that’s he’s been trying to lure planner Beasley to his city so he can revitalize the troubled downtown there. So far he’s been unsuccessful.

Beasley has other downtown Vancouver neighbourhoods to help transform, including the Downtown Eastside, the impoverished, troubled neighbourhood that stands in vivid contrast to livable inner city neighbourhoods just blocks away. The success of the new megaprojects and Yaletown has exacerbated the problems in the Downtown Eastside by causing land speculation and disinvestment in existing buildings in the low-income neighbourhood.

In American cities, said Beasley, areas like the Downtown Eastside are either gentrified or become no-go ghettos. City hall wants to avoid both approaches and, using the lessons learned in developing other downtown neighbourhoods, bring a mix of housing and incomes to area.

“We now have experience in making mixed-use work with all kinds of people. And we know how to provide community infrastructure, and we can apply that knowledge to meet the needs of the Downtown Eastside. Plus our experience downtown gives us the nerve to go into the Downtown Eastside and work through the issues with the strong community that exists there.”

AN URBAN RENAISSANCE

In a recent book on the subject, The Vancouver Achievement, British author John Punter said Vancouver is no longer a setting in search of a city.

He described the False Creek North and Coal Harbour projects as the most ambitious high-density residential neighbourhoods on the edge of any downtown in North America in the ’90s.

Punter said that Vancouver has achieved “an urban renaissance more comprehensively than any other city in North America.”

Renaissance or not, Yaletown mommy Taylor, who has lived in Toronto and Penticton, said she feels more at home in her new neighbourhood than in any other place she’s lived.

“I feel safer here because it’s a community. The shopkeepers – they know our kids. They know my dogs. It’s very dog-oriented. It’s almost like you have to own a little dog to live here.”

Price, who until recently lived in Yaletown, said False Creek North initially seemed like a “giant stage set with nobody there.” This all changed with Urban Fare, which he said provided a place for locals to run into one another.

Kids and dogs. Neighbours meeting neighbours at the local supermarket and park. To Beasley, director of central area planning, the man most responsible for the Vancouver Miracle, they are all signs of the sense of community he hoped would evolve amid the highrises and townhouses in the new downtown neighbourhoods.

Beasley is aware of the knock on Vancouver’s residential mega-projects — that they cater to affluent and buff yuppies, have fetishized the cult of the view, promoted conspicuous consumption (see the occasional sale of $100 watermelons at Urban Fare) and created a high-density version of the Truman Show, the Jim Carrey movie set in an all-too-perfectly manufactured town.

But Beasley dismisses this criticism that the new neighbourhoods are too faux. “Every place was new once and every place shakes down in terms of the way people use it. Transformations occur over time and the environment becomes more organic.”

So he’s delighted that the new Concord Pacific and Yaletown neighbourhoods are increasingly less like resorts and more like real communities — not unlike those in other Vancouver neighbourhoods or in some suburbs.

Beasley is delighted that the downtown is having a baby boom and that city staff say there are more children now in the inner city than in Point Grey. He’s happy that a new school — Elsie Roy elementary — has opened in Yaletown. After all, when was the last time a new school opened in a Canadian downtown?

He’s pleased there are fewer cars commuting into the city every day than 10 years ago, with more than 60 per cent of all downtown trips now by transit, bike or on foot.

Beasley is also pleased with all the people he’s seen walking their dogs in the area around his townhouse near Beach and Hornby.

“Dogs are great generators of community. You have to take dogs out. This is how people meet.”

It’s how Taylor has met many of her neighbours. Which is something that shaped her answer when the prominent Canadian television mogul, Moses Znaimer, asked her for her take on Vancouver.

“I said it’s a small town with tall buildings. And that’s what my neighbourhood is.”

EMBRACING THE TOWER

Not so long ago, tall buildings, were not in favour — especially in Vancouver. Highrises, as popularized by the legendary French architect LeCorbusier and others, were seen as part of the modernist nightmare, a dystopia of skyscrapers, declining inner city neighbourhoods and car-clogged freeways.

Adverse reaction to highrises and freeways was what led to the mid-’70s demise of the Non-Partisan Association at city hall and the reign of the reformist TEAM under mayor Art Phillips.

Young activists like Mike Harcourt and Darlene Marzari helped stop the construction of a freeway that would have cut through Strathcona. Neighbourhoods were downzoned to protect them from developers seeking to erect highrises for super-profits.

“It was still possible to build some towers but it wasn’t easy,” recalled Price. “The cliche was that they were little concrete boxes filled with lonely, alienated people above crime-ridden streets.”

But over time, a perfect storm of factors led the descendants of the ’70s reform movement to embrace the tower as the form best suited to create a livable downtown in Vancouver.

There was an intense demand for housing in the period after Expo 86. Sprawl was limited by geography — the Pacific Ocean to the west, mountains to north and east, the U.S. border to the south. So it was natural that city planners looked towards the inner city.

Around the same time, there was a glut of office space throughout North America, and developers returned to housing.

Some began tearing down low-rise apartments in established neighbourhoods like Kerrisdale, prompting a public outcry.

Sensing an opportunity to meet the housing demand and protect single-family neighbourhoods, the city in the early 1990s developed its “living first strategy” to develop the margins of the downtown and waterfront megaprojects. The West End had prospered through the ’80s, showing that highrise living could thrive in the downtown.

Critical to the success of this shift was Vancouver’s deepening connection to Asia-Pacific markets and countries. Asian investment and immigrants helped accelerate the transformation of the downtown through the ’90s. The role of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing in purchasing the former Expo 86 site and turning it into Canada’s largest real estate development project was the most obvious example of the Asian impact. Vancouver’s rise as a post-industrial world-class city attracted affluent off-shore buyers of high-end condos, many of them becoming second-homes in a postcard setting.

Gradually, condo developments proved popular with a new middle class of white-collar professionals who rode the economic boom of the ’90s. Professional people became over-represented in the inner city and under-represented in the suburbs — the reverse of what happened in most other North American cities.

DEVELOPERS GET RICH

The dominant architectural form in Vancouver’s new downtown — the tower with two- or three-storey townhouses at street level — was also unique. When pedestrians walked by they didn’t see the blank wall of a monolith — they saw a townhouse door or window or a shopfront. It was high-rise living with a human face.

Beasley said the tower-townhouse prototype — developed by local architects like Richard Henriquez, Paul Merrick and James Cheng — was a modernist form that provided the mixed-use vibrancy in Vancouver sought by anti-modernists such as urban theorist Jane Jacobs, who is a huge fan of Vancouver’s downtown.

The sky-high house prices on Vancouver’s west side also prompted many young professionals to look downtown.

“People were back into sleekness again,” said Price, “and into the image of modernity.”

The growing demand made condos the popular form for developers who then whipped the demand up further with successful marketing.

“Developers successfully changed the image of the apartment unit. Now they were selling granite countertops and lifestyle in a unit that was an investment as well as a home.”

Demand for downtown condos is on the up-escalator to this day, said Beasley, as “success begets success.”

Developer Michael Geller, who moved to Coal Harbour, finds the rise in values breath-taking. “I never believed that my old car dealership would be worth about $4 million.”

Among the factors cited by Geller are low interest rates, West End renters looking to own, investors looking for good return, and the “herd instincts” of developers.

“Someone once said developers make sheep look like free thinkers,” said Geller.

“Once one or two credible people go into an area, everybody follows. I met a fellow from Indonesia who’s developing in Downtown South. He heard everyone else was there and so he felt he should be there.”

The huge land appreciation that took place on the megaprojects, land previously zoned light industrial, gave the city leverage to use development-cost charges to extract money from developers for a host of amenities, including seawalls, parks, daycares and community centres. The taxpayer didn’t have to pay a dime but gained a more livable downtown.

“The basic reality of the economics of the Vancouver Miracle,” said Beasley, “is that the large development sites were originally of very low value and then, through public decisions, became very high-value.

“So the land-lift was huge and because of that we could leverage a lot of public goods and the developers could still get rich.”

And because much of the redevelopment occurred through megaprojects, the amenities came on stream quickly without having to be built up incrementally.

The downtown beat goes on and on. There’s money to be made by housing the tens of thousands of people who will want to live close to ground zero in the coming years. And so city hall has told the development industry to switch direction.

“I’ve been telling developers that the world is moving east and that’s going to be where your opportunity is,” said Beasley.

He sees the downtown — or the metropolitan core, as he prefers to call it — spreading incrementally east, through Gastown, Chinatown, the Downtown Eastside, the False Creek Flats and Southeast False Creek.

Beasley rolled out his vision of the downtown’s future in April during a speech to the Urban Development Institute. He told the developers there are fewer and fewer available sites for development in the downtown peninsula.

And he said the city intends to clamp down — at least in the short-term — on the conversion of commercial buildings to residential in the downtown core.

Beasley said the city currently has five inquiries from developers wanting to convert commercial buildings into housing to take advantage of the demand for residential.

Vancouver, Beasley said, cannot afford to lose its ability to provide commercial space when that market rebounds. The city’s strategy of providing both jobs and housing downtown would be undermined if commercial space dried up, creating a “downtown- as-resort” scenario.

Beasley said Gastown is the new Yaletown — a historic area being steadily transformed by new residential development.

“Water Street is already showing signs of its revival and within 24 months from today, Gastown will look and feel very much better than it does now.”

Beasley said Chinatown “is where Gastown was 18 months ago.” The city is expecting 10,000 new people to live in Chinatown — in both market and non-market housing.

Nevertheless, added Beasley, the city will allow the development of some market housing – probably “modest-cost” units and live-work units. The Woodward’s project is expected to be harbinger of what’s to come.

“There’s a lot of fear there because it’s a very fragile community. We will not support the wholesale displacement of that community. I mean, it’s not going to happen on my watch, and I don’t think it will happen on the next watch.”

Beasley said he believes the city can protect the Downtown Eastside’s low-income community while allowing a controlled amount of market and non-market gentrification to occur in the beleaguered neighbourhood.

“I believe you can, if you decide to. In most cases, people either don’t make a decision about it and so let the world unfold. Or they explicitly want it [widescale gentrification] to happen.”

Beasley said there is a market in the Downtown Eastside for “consumers who are more interested in living in an environment that is perhaps a little more edgy” — people who don’t want to live in highrise towers, prefer a historic setting and are willing to put up with irritants that many middle-class people might not tolerate.

‘PEOPLE CRASHING TOGETHER’

Developer Michael Geller said the future of the Downtown Eastside will affect the downtown’s move east. “The problems in the Downtown Eastside — its drug addiction, panhandling and property theft — are affecting downtown living. Not just in the Downtown Eastside but in other areas.”

The key is the arrival of young middle-class professional people into the area. “I actually think by having more of a mix that you have potential to dilute the concentration of very low-income people without having to reduce the number of very low-income people.”

The next area for development is Southeast False Creek, where the city plans to house 15,000 residents. One-third of these residents will be on low-income, another third middle-income and another third high-income.

This development will allow the downtown to wrap around False Creek with dense residential development on all sides. An official development plan is expected later this year.

The last section of the future downtown is the False Creek Flats, an area whose unstable geology restrained development pressure in the past. The two main anchors on the site are the Finning Lands parcel, which will become the focus for post-secondary institutions, and the area north of the Pacific Central Station, much of which has been purchased by St. Paul’s Hospital for future relocation.

Beasley said what will go between these two focal points has yet to be decided. Should it be a high-tech complex, a new live/work neighbourhood, a soccer stadium and sports centre, or a casino? All these proposals have been put forward.

While there will be debate over the future shift east, few will argue that density in these areas slated for redevelopment is a bad thing. There is a strong consensus in Vancouver now about density, which isn’t the case in other North American cities where, said Beasley, “people hate high density because it’s been badly done.”

The lesson of the Vancouver Miracle, says its main promoter, is that high density works — if done right. “I’m still a great believer that it’s just people crashing together that creates energy and ideas.”

DOWNTOWN DWELLERS:

The Sun’s Doug Ward talks to four inhabitants of the city’s core to find out why they love where they live.

A KIDS’ PLACE IN THE CITY

YALETOWN – It’s not so much that Monika Hobbs likes living downtown. It’s more that she likes living in Yaletown.

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else downtown. Yaletown has more of a European feeling,” said Hobbs.

It’s a reminder that the new downtown neighbourhoods are appealing to different markets and creating strong ‘hood loyalty.

She lives in a three-bedroom condo with her five-year-old daughter Carina and her American husband, Jeff, a software engineer who works downtown.

“I wouldn’t want to live around Gastown. It’s a totally different feeling. We get panhandlers here too, but it’s not too bad.

“But I wouldn’t want to live in Coal Harbour either. It’s too sterile. It doesn’t have character.”

Hobbs and her husband bought their three-bedroom condo about three years ago. They were fleeing the suburban experience of Silicon Valley outside San Francisco.

“We lived in suburbia and hated it. It was boring. You had to drive everywhere. My husband can now walk to work, we hardly ever use our car. Whereas in California you spend most of the day in the car.”

Hobbs said downtown San Francisco didn’t have the same livability as downtown Vancouver. There was too much poverty, not enough safety or kids.

“There’s so many kids around here in Yaletown. It’s like there’s some in the water. A lot of young children, lot of babies in strollers, lot of pregnant moms.”

Safety for her child is not an issue here. “To be quite honest, the only time I ever hear something happening to children, it’s out in the suburbs. Not in the downtown.”

‘MUCH MORE CHARACTER’

GASTOWN – Shane Nelken lives in the less-safe Gastown area, but is willing to put up with the grit because of the neighbourhood’s historic look and growing sense of community.

“I don’t have a car, so it’s helpful to be central. But I’m also attracted to the history here. I like being in one of the older neighbourhoods. It has so much more character than a Yaletown or a Kitsilano.”

Nelken, a rock musician, is a member of the Vancouver power-pop band A.C. Newman, whose front-man, Carl Newman, was recently acclaimed in the New York Times Magazine. He lives with his girlfriend, Karen MacIntosh, in a condo complex near Alexander and Main.

They recently purchased a new live/work condo on the ground floor of the old Koret swimwear factory on Cordova, which is undergoing renovation.

He’s happy to be moving into a heritage building that will be mostly preserved.

“I’ve always loved the neighbourhood and I see the potential as well.”

Nelken is not unmoved by the human misery caused by the poverty, drugs and mental illness around him.

“One of the most tragic things about living down here is that you have to shut out a lot of the stuff. You are confronted by human tragedy every time you walk out the door.”

Still, he loves the sense of community emerging in Gastown. He’s optimistic about coming redevelopment and he doesn’t think gentrification is bad so long as enough housing is protected for low-income people.

“But I don’t think you are ever going to fully eradicate a lot of the problems … Nor do I want that to happen. I kind of belong down here.”

A 15-MINUTE WALK TO WORK

WEST END – Amid the new migrants to the downtown are people who were sold on living there decades ago and moved to the West End. People like John Whistler, who has lived there for 25 years.

“I just love the downtown, but I’m really speaking of the West End. It’s a traditional neighbourhood, while Yaletown and Coal Harbour are emerging neighbourhoods without that neighbourhood feel. But that will come in 15 or 20 years.”

Whistler lives alone in a condo near Comox and Denman. He walks to his job at Duke Energy on West Georgia.

“For me it’s a 15-minute walk to work. I don’t own a car and don’t need a car. Everything that I need is within walking distance or a short taxi ride away.”

Whistler estimates there are about 50 restaurants within three blocks of his apartment.

“I would say that most people I meet in the West End like the West End and particularly like it because it is safe walking on the street at any time of the day or night.”

His says the West End has more diversity in income groups, housing types and retail services than the new downtown neighbourhoods.

“Coal Harbor and Yaletown have a bit of a mono-culture, with brand-new condo buildings, all the same style, and attracting the same demographic group.

“In the West End, the demographics are more diverse. And there are more kids now than when I first moved here.”

Many of the kids belong to immigrant families from Eastern Europe who prefer downtown apartments to life in suburbia.

Nor has Whistler any plans to move elsewhere.

“Even if I won the lottery, and I don’t buy tickets, I’d just buy a nicer apartment in the West End.”

GREAT FOR A SINGLE PERSON

COAL HARBOUR – Elizabeth Atmore loves her new Coal Harbour residence, but the real estate developer isn’t sure she could live elsewhere in the downtown.

“It’s like living in a resort next to a big city. I love being near Stanley Park, riding my bike on the seawall, using the pitch-and-putt.”

When Atmore has a business meeting downtown, she walks along the Coal Harbour seawall, past the Pan Pacific Hotel, and into the city.

She lives in Bayshore Gardens, located in front of the Westin Bayshore. Atmore moved to the new upscale neighbourhood in 1999 after going through a separation.

She initially rented from an owner who lived in the Bahamas, but then, following completion of her divorce, decided to become an owner.

“It’s great for a single person. In the evenings you can get out with fun friends and there are so many places nearby to relax.”

The views are a big part of the Coal Harbour experience.

“I just love waking up in the morning and looking out the window. I see the North Shore, the marinas, the float planes coming in. The birds fly by.

“And what’s often nice in the morning is the pink reflection of the sunrise on the harbour.”

Atmore likes the proximity to Robson and Denman. “I have restaurants right on my doorstep. I have grocery shopping, salons, even a little hardware store.

“It’s a bit like a New York lifestyle but with the advantage of the serenity of nature.”

Atmore has taken art classes at the Coal Harbour community centre, eats at nearby cafes and takes her grandchildren to to the Second Beach pool.

She wouldn’t move to Yaletown. “It doesn’t have the beautiful trees. It doesn’t have nature. It’s too much concrete.”

LIFE IN THE BIG CITY:

Downtown Vancouver residents are wealthier and more likely to be married than their West End neighbours.

DOWNTOWN

Married: 32%

Live alone: 31%

People aged 75-plus: 2.4%

Average family income: $81,739

Average dwelling value: $260,743

Individuals per 1,000 stating ‘no religion’: 432

WEST END

Married: 22%

Live alone: 41%

People aged 75-plus: 5.7%

Average family income: $64,644

Average dwelling value: $212,936

Individuals per 1,000 stating ‘no religion’: 432

Source: Statistics Canada and Vancouver Sun

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

$18-million house the most expensive ever listed in B.C.

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Petti Fong
Sun

Tired of those places where “charming” means rundown, and “TLC” actually stands for major gutting required?

Make an offer on the most expensive house ever listed in B.C.

For $18 million, you can be the proud owner of a mansion with a four-car garage and swimming pool with waterfall on approximately 200 feet of natural shoreline in West Vancouver.

The house is less than four years old, and according to the listing, is 11,000 square feet of “world class living.”

Views are from the Lions Gate bridge to Vancouver Island. There are five bedrooms with full ensuites, a separate suite, and of course, to keep everything looking the way it should, maid quarters.

Taxes alone for the place in 2004 are $79,845. For $55 more, at $79,900, you could buy a two-bedroom home in Creston with a single garage and a newer roof.

But that’s Creston, and this $18-million house is on Radcliffe Ave. in West Vancouver.

If this West Vancouver house sells at its asking price, it would nearly double the record for B.C.’s priciest home.

In 2001, the most expensive property ever to change hands on MLS was a Whistler estate home on a 4.8-acre lakefront site that sold for $9.3 million. More recently, a six-bedroom mansion in Shaughnessy sold for $8.3 million, four years after it was originally listed at $11 million.

In West Vancouver, a waterfront property sold in 1996 for $8 million.

Malcolm Hasman, the listing agent for the Radcliffe Ave. home, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

West Vancouver realtor Jason Soprovich, who is selling a number of multi-million-dollar homes, including one priced at $7 million with its own koi pond and private cove, said the $18-million house will sell.

“There are a few local buyers and international buyers,” Soprovich said, who would be interested in the house. “Many homes have been constructed over the last decade that harbour an exclusiveness in value because of the rarity in size and location and the quality of construction.”

Soprovich said while the $18-million house is the highest ever listed in the Lower Mainland, “new benchmarks are set every day.

Vancouver is now coming into international focus. It probably has been undervalued for a long time, compared to what we have in limited land and the lifestyle that is offered here.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Minister pushes tax break for condo buyers

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

Market values go up while buyers wait to move in, unfairly increasing transfer tax

Michael Kane
Sun

CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun David Delusignan at the Aqua condo site. Current laws mean his transfer tax could soar by the time he moves in next year.

Finance Minister Gary Collins is offering a reprieve to buyers of pre-sold condos facing soaring property transfer tax bills.

Collins announced Tuesday legislation to apply transfer tax to the original purchase price of such strata units, rather than the market value when the units are registered with the Land Titles Office and ready for occupancy.

That’s welcome news to thousands of pre-sale buyers like David Delusignan, who bought “a hole in the ground” at Pacific and Seymour in Vancouver in June 2002 for $252,000.

His one-bedroom and den condo at Aqua at The Park is already valued around $350,000. If price trends hold his transfer tax could double under current rules by the time the home is ready in June, 2005.

“This announcement is great news,” said Delusignan, a sales manager. “I had the taxes all budgeted out when I bought, and I had no idea it could change by the time I moved in. I called my MLA and told him it was crazy and unfair.”

Collins acknowledged existing tax rules had “unintended consequences,” with many homebuyers required to pay significantly more property transfer tax than they expected when making their downpayment.

“This is especially hard on first-time homebuyers who, after saving enough of their hard-earned income to get into one of Canada‘s hottest real estate markets, receive a much bigger tax bill than anticipated.”

Extra property transfer tax bills of $4,000 and more were first reported in The Vancouver Sun in April.

“The way the system is now, people don’t know how much tax they will have to pay when they actually purchase their homes,” Collins said Tuesday. “This doesn’t make sense, it is not fair, and that is why we want to fix it.”

Buyers who have already paid the extra tax may be eligible for a refund under the new rules, Collins said.

That was welcomed as “thrilling news” by buyers like Sam and Randi Winter, who paid an an initial $11,600 in transfer tax, then were charged an extra $4,700 on their 1,500-sq.-ft. apartment at The Concord on False Creek.

“It is especially good news for the retired people who are on fixed incomes,” said Sam Winter, a dentist.

He said his luxury building also houses many “significant contributors” to the provincial Liberal party, “and they all said that they would deduct this property transfer tax increase from their contributions.

“The government also received a lot of letters from lawyers telling them they couldn’t get away with this.”

For buyers who have recently received an assessment notice, but have not yet paid the extra tax, Collins said the government will not pursue collection until the legislature has had a chance to consider the proposed changes in the fall.

“If the changes are passed, the assessment will be reconsidered under the new rules,” Collins said.

Houtan Rafii bought a two-bedroom unit at the Domus building on Homer about two-and-a-half years ago for $300,000 and moved in last November. His property transfer tax reassessment is pending on a value today that is more than $400,000.

Rafii, who works in real estate development, said the reprieve will not only help him as a homeowner but also “help to keep the market happy and healthy. We have gotten a lot of feedback from our purchasers saying this is an unfair law.”

Collins said the proposed legislation will be retroactive to Dec. 31, 2002, which the government believes will capture every buyer hit with significant tax increases. It will not apply to single-family dwellings, which generally are not sold on a sufficiently long pre-sale basis to generate a tax reassessment.

“We haven’t found a problem with single-family dwellings,” Collins said. “If it arises, we will review it in the same light.”

Nor will the legislation raise property transfer tax exemption thresholds for first-time buyers that have failed to keep pace with rising property values, resulting in a revenue windfall for the government.

The tax, which is charged at one per cent of the first $200,000 of property value and two per cent on the balance, generated about $520 million in the last fiscal year. That compares with $242 million in 1999-2000.

Subject to several conditions, first-time buyers can escape the tax if their unit is worth $275,000 or less in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, and $225,000 elsewhere in B.C.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004