Archive for August, 2004

Housing sales in BC took a slight dip in July

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

Sales for the first seven months of this year still ahead of 2003

Bruce Constantineau

Real estate markets throughout B.C. took a breather last month, with the number of house sales falling 15 per cent below the levels achieved in July 2003, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported Monday.

CREA said the number of Multiple Listing Service sales in the province fell to 8,433 in July from 9,927 a year earlier. The total dollar volume of those sales fell by more than six per cent to $2.376 billion.

But the year-to-date figures for the first seven months of 2004 are still far ahead of last year’s activity. Total MLS home sales throughout B.C. rose by nearly 12 per cent to 61,505, while total dollar volume increased by 27 per cent to $17.59 billion.

“The market has gone from red hot to merely hot,” said ReMax Real Estate Services owner David Andrews. “There are more listings than there was a year ago, but it’s still towards the tight end of the market, with a little upward pressure on prices.”

Vancouver realtor Bob Rennie said the dip in summer sales activity is normal, and noted that strong summer sales in recent years were unusual for the Vancouver market.

“I think people are confusing the summer slowdown with some kind of bubble bursting,” he said. “I think the market is fine. We can’t have lineups [with people snapping up new condo units] all the time.

“It’s really healthy now. People can go look at it, go home and then come back later and buy.”

Rennie noted his company sold about 60 condos this past weekend at the upscale Shangri-La project at Georgia and Thurlow, where prices range from $400,000 to $4.4 million.

“These are real buyers looking for a great place to live, they’re not looking to flip,” he said.

Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver president Andrew Peck said an increasing number of listings that come onto the market in late spring caused buyers to take more time and look at more properties.

“The higher number of listings allowed people an opportunity to take a breather and take more time for their buying decisions,” he said.

Peck said the fundamentals driving the B.C. housing market include a relatively strong economy, strong investor confidence and low interest rates.

“If any of those things were to change drastically, then you would see a real altering of the real estate market,” he said.

On the national scene, the Canadian housing market also cooled somewhat this summer from the steamy levels seen in spring with both home sales and prices easing in July for the second straight month.

But CREA said the market remains strong and should remain so through the rest of this year thanks to relatively low interest rates and strong job growth earlier this year.

The number of existing homes that changed hands in July fell to 38,337 from 39,527, once adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, while the average selling price, at $224,117, remained below its peak of $230,418 set in May, the industry association reported Monday.

Compared with a year earlier, the average selling price was up 7.7 per cent, the first time this year that the increase has been below 10 per cent.

Still, average selling prices in all provinces were at an all-time high for the month of July and the total dollar volume of sales at $8.4 billion, while down from the peak of $9.1 billion set in March, was the fifth highest monthly level on record, the association noted.

“Yes, we’re coming off record levels but the market remains strong,” association economist Gregory Klump said in an interview. “I expect sales will remain at their current levels over the rest of the year and we do expect further price increases.”

Klump predicted year-to-year house price increases to move up to the high single-digit level for the rest of this year but not back to the double-digit increases seen earlier this year.

“Many renters who could afford to buy have gone into the housing market so some of the pent-up demand has been released,” Klump said.

“Sales continue to trend higher in Quebec and remain relatively stable in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland,” the industry association said. “Meanwhile, activity continues to trend lower from its peak reached earlier this year in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.”

The number of new listings, adjusted for seasonal variations, also eased in July to 60,934 from 62,799, offering further evidence that the market is cooling off but keeping the balance between sales and listings steady.

Provincially, the average selling price of a home was highest in British Columbia at $281,750, up 10.4 per cent from a year earlier. The only other province to see a double-digit increase in prices was Nova Scotia where prices on average were 12.2 per cent higher than in July 2003 at $130,320.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Third town centre planned for Saltspring Island

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

Development is the biggest ever seen in the Gulf Islands

Doug Alexander

SALTSPRING ISLAND – A new $200-million community designed to look like an English hamlet is planned for the north side of Saltspring Island.

When completed, the town of Highbridge will be the biggest project ever seen in the Gulf Islands, according to Saltspring Island Conservancy president Peter Lamb.

Plans call for 405 homes and a town centre, with shops and amenities, spread over 36 hectares overlooking Stewart Channel and Vancouver Island — part of a 344-hectare development by Vancouver-based Channel Ridge Properties Inc.

According to Channel Ridge, the community will boast cobbled streets and a town square and will be surrounded by more than 283 hectares of meadows and woodlands.

“A big part of the village is the ambiance and the flavour of Saltspring,” said Channel Ridge president Thomas Ivanore in a telephone interview.

The Islands Trust, the governing body for the Gulf Islands, gave developers the go-ahead for the project in June. Marketing will start in September and construction is expected to begin next year.

“It’s going to have a big impact in so far as it’ll create a new town on the island,” says David Essig, Islands Trust Council chairman.

He says there’s a sense of “guarded enthusiasm” among island residents about the development. “I don’t get a sense that anyone’s saying, ‘No, stop this, it shouldn’t happen.’ They just want to make sure it happens in a way that’s consistent with the community values on the island.”

The idea has been in the works for more than 20 years, since a local family started buying up farms on the northern part of Saltspring and planning a village for the site. The Islands Trust later included those plans in its Official Community Plan. The family never capitalized on the 580 hectares it had acquired until 2001, when it sold the property to a group of 304 investors from B.C. and Alberta for $7.1 million.

That group formed Channel Ridge Properties Inc., which has been working for three years to create the community. Much of the land around the new townsite has been cleared.

Highbridge Town Centre will include 54 commercial units, totalling 80,000 square feet of retail space, and will join Ganges and Fulford Harbor as town centres on Saltspring. The new community will eventually be home to 1,200 people.

“Sustainability” is the buzzword for Highbridge. The project will have its own sewer system, which will treat and recycle waste, and will use its own rooftop rainwater collection system to cut back on water consumption, since the island has limited water.

Planned community amenities include tennis courts, a playing field, crafts workshop, wellness centre with spa and fitness area and a lounge.

Lamb said the Saltspring Island Conservancy has no objections to the project, though his group wants the natural landscape preserved as much as possible. Lamb says this will be a “significant” development for the island’s north side, which is mainly populated by single-family homes on large lots.

“It’s the largest single real estate development in the Gulf Islands that we’ve ever seen and probably ever will see, I hope,” Lamb said. “It will have a major impact, but it could be beneficial.”

One issue of concern to Saltspring residents is who will live at Highbridge. Channel Ridge plans to market the homes as multiple ownership, which means up to five people can own the property — prompting fears among islanders that Highbridge will become a haven for part-time resort dwellers instead of permanent residents.

Essig says he’s heard residents express fears that the project will become an enclave for wealthy visitors, rather than the neighbourhood envisioned in the island’s community plan.

“What we’d like to see is it become more like another Ganges and less like a Whistler,” Essig said.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Real Estate Church Specialist – on a Mission

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

They’re a match made in heaven, a Sikh and an Italian all charm and business smarts

Shelley Fralic



CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

Holy Realtors Leonardo Di Francesco (left) and Rav Rampuri aim to sell St. John the Divine, Burnaby’s oldest church, which is owned by Grace Christian Church.

They’re called the Holy Realtors and, as God is my witness, theirs is a match made in heaven.

They pull up in front of the church — Rav Rampuri in a black BMW and Leonardo Di Francesco in a black Lincoln Navigator — and step out to shake hands, virtually in unison, all charm and business smarts, here to preach the gospel of selling churches.

Rampuri, a Sikh, is gracious and composed, the quiet one. Di Francesco, an Italian Catholic and former altar boy, is the more rambunctious of the pair, full of rapid-fire detail and kinetic energy.

Their client on this day is Grace Christian Church, which has put Burnaby‘s oldest seat of worship — St. John the Divine — on the block. The reason: It’s simply too big for their needs.

The historic white wood-frame church, which Grace bought from the Anglicans several years ago, dates to 1890 and sits on 1.2 acres across from Central Park.

It’s 11,000 square feet of thick timber trusses and gothic arched windows, with a lovely cupola towering over the street front. The old wooden pews, covered in plastic sheets to protect them from an ambitious renovation, seat 500.

In the huge, high-ceilinged basement are a meeting hall, kitchen and classrooms. The whole works is being refitted and refurbished, to the tune of $600,000, including a new cedar-shake roof.

The site, which includes an aging church hall, is $4.3 million. The church alone is listed at $2.5 million.

How, exactly, does a church come to be for sale?

It’s not as unusual as you might think.

Many congregations, facing declining attendance but sitting on millions of dollars worth of real estate, will opt to sell a big property and either rebuild a smaller church elsewhere, or be absorbed into another congregation.

Sometimes, a growing church will come looking for a larger property.

“One of the reasons a church sells is because they run out of room,” says Rampuri. “And one of the reasons is because they have too much room.”

The holy realtors, who also sell houses, have specialized in Lower Mainland churches for 10 years, selling properties from $250,000 to $5 million. Such is their expertise that they often field calls from interested parties, and advice-seekers, from the U.S.

Their first church sale was a Catholic property, and it took a year to find the right buyer — it is, after all, a very specific market and often requires a time-consuming communal decision — but the business today is a vigorous one.

In fact, says Di Francesco, there are usually more prospective buyers of churches than church properties available.

“We don’t carry many at a time — it’s not like a house market — but we’re always bombarded with calls,” says Di Francesco.

A huge factor is the demographic of this region. The pair has dealt over the years with religious diversity that includes Buddhists, Sikhs, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, the Vietnamese, Koreans, Christians and even lesser-known congregations like The Love Society.

Mostly, the transactions are between churches, but occasionally, a church will be bought by an individual.

CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

Holy Realtors Rav Rampuri (left) and Leonardo di Francesco, who specialize in selling church properties, outside one of their listings, just off Kingsway.

They sold one church to a California woman who was going to convert it to a residence. But the market was so hot, she promptly resold it to another church group.

In East Vancouver, a couple bought a small church several years ago, and live in it today, though Di Francesco says the owners have grown weary of a curious public knocking on the door asking for a tour.

Another Burnaby church sold by the partners was converted to a seniors’ care facility.

And it’s not just a Lower Mainland trend.

In Boston, according to a recent article in the U.S. publication Realty Times, the Catholic archdiocese, in financial crisis following recent sex-abuse cases, put 60 churches on the market. One has already been converted to luxury condos, featuring cathedral ceilings, original stonework and a bell tower., a website dedicated to the sale of holy land, currently has 87 religious properties looking for new owners, ranging from a “mega church” in Charlotte, N.C., which seats 2,400, has a restaurant and is going for $7.9 million, to a little charmer in Wichita, Kan. with stained-glass windows and a kindergarten, on the block for $105,000.

Across Canada, the story’s the same.

In Moose Jaw, for instance, four Anglican churches, also victims of declining attendance, were recently put on the market, including century-old St. John’s Parish, asking price $1 million. The diocese intends to build one uber church with the proceeds.

In Greenwood, N.S., the 1870s wood-frame Tremont Church is 2,200 square feet, sits on half an acre, has 14-foot ceilings, a choir loft and bell tower, and is available for $79,500.

The Unitarian Church of Edmonton has a Westmount property, with 14,000 square feet, 12 parking stalls and a Montessori daycare mortgage helper, for $465,000.

Back in Burnaby, Di Francesco and Rampuri say their latest listing will be ready for prayers by October’s end.

And, yes, there is an offer on the table, but this is the church-selling business, and there will be no confession until the deal’s done.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004


Vancouver’s housing costs are the highest in Canada

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Bruce Constantineau and Michael Kane

The prospect of paying nearly half one’s household income toward home ownership costs is clearly daunting to first-time home buyer Raj Issar.

But despite Wednesday’s news that Vancouver has become easily the least affordable housing market of any major Canadian city, the 31-year-old entrepreneur is still looking to spend up to $450,000 on shelter.

“It motivates you to work harder and increase your income,” Issar said of the news that an average Vancouver resident has to spend 47.3 per cent of pre-tax income on housing — $2,076 a month — the worst level in four years.

“For long-term financial health, you need to own your own home,” said Issar. He and his girlfriend, Harj, only recently re-entered the market after trying to find a house this spring.

Skyrocketing costs are not limited to the Lower Mainland. The Royal Bank of Canada’s housing affordability index placed British Columbia behind all other provinces for affordability.

RBC, Canada’s largest bank, found the price of a benchmark bungalow in the city has risen by 9.5 per cent in the past year to $345,800 while mortgage rates increased slightly in recent months.

The index measures the percentage of pre-tax household income needed to own a detached bungalow and pay for mortgage costs, utilities and property taxes.

“While this has not slowed B.C.’s frenetic housing market yet, sharp price increases along with rising borrowing costs could begin to slow housing demand if other factors like income growth and net migration levels do not dramatically improve in the coming months,” said RBC economist Carl Gomez.

He said that while Greater Vancouver house sales have slowed recently and the number of listings has increased sharply, Vancouver’s housing affordability is likely to get even worse over the next year.

“Mortgage rates are expected to rise while a dearth of housing supply and limited developable land is expected to continue putting pressure on house prices, particularly near the downtown core,” Gomez said.

Vancouver realtor Derek Love said the housing market has cooled off considerably since the January-through-May period this year, when multiple offers were common and homes often sold for more than the asking price. He said the number of listings has doubled in some areas, giving buyers more choices and more time to make decisions.

“The number of phone calls and showings is less than a third of what it was back in April — it’s like night and day,” said Love, a principal in Coldwell Banker Love Realty. “For a buyer, it’s a heck of a lot better than it was six months ago. It’s 10 times more relaxing.”

The B.C. Real Estate Association reported this week the number of home sales throughout the province fell by 16 per cent in July to 8,106.

Love said many of his first-time-buyer clients look for homes in the $400,000-to-$420,000 price range and with a down payment of just five per cent, they often need to rent out a suite to help with mortgage payments.

“Sure, interest rates are at five per cent but I tell some of them they’d really be paying top dollar for the home and maybe should consider lower price ranges,” he said.

Issar, who operates a company that supplies products to the spa industry, is looking for a home in the New Westminster/Burnaby area in the $400,000 to $450,000 range.

“We were serious about putting offers in back in April and May but the market was just ridiculous,” he said.

“You’d put an offer in at the asking price and lose out. So we decided to wait and now it seems the market is a little more advantageous for the buyer.

“We have seen a couple of places we like and we just feel a lot more comfortable about buying now.”

One answer to declining affordability is to follow the example of Cynthia Leyland, a 25-year-old who recently sold a single-family home she had owned for just a year and bought a condo with two bedrooms and a den in a 30-year-old building.

Leyland didn’t want to disclose dollar amounts but says the condo near Capilano College in North Vancouver cost just two-thirds of what she got for the house in East Vancouver, and she made a profit of 23 per cent on the house.

“I bought the house in April of 2003 and decided to sell because there was a chance to make a big profit,” Leyland said Thursday.

“I had planned to rent for a while but I had renegotiated a five-year mortgage in April at 4.3 per cent and I was able to transfer it to the condo. It didn’t really make any sense to rent and I love my new place. It’s in a great neighbourhood.”

She plans to rent a suite in her new home to help with mortgage payments.

Leyland, a single person with a commerce degree from the University of British Columbia, has been nicknamed “the real estate mogul” by her colleagues in the marketing department at VanCity Credit Union where she works as an investment products specialist.

Buyers who want the security of a five-year mortgage today are looking at posted rates of 6.3 per cent, although most can negotiate 5.05 per cent, and qualified borrowers can get 4.9 per cent, says Dean Marsland of the Vancouver office of Invis mortgage brokers. On a typical $200,000 mortgage amortized over 25 years, the monthly payment at 5.05 per cent is $1,168.91.

Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association chief executive Peter Simpson said declining affordability is expected to have little impact on the region’s house construction market, which has surged in the past year. Housing starts for the first seven months of 2004 rose by 40 per cent over last year to about 11,200.

“We’re concerned about rising prices but we still expect the market to remain strong through 2005,” Simpson said. “Unfortunately, most of the increasing costs are beyond a builder’s control.”

He said rising land prices, building material prices and labour rates — along with development cost charges and other government fees — have all combined to force house prices higher.

“Like any manufactured product, the end user winds up paying for it,” Simpson said.

He said the market is unlikely to experience a significant downturn until interest rates shoot up a lot higher than they are right now, which would eliminate many potential buyers.


Vancouver and British Columbia both have the dubious distinction of leading the nation in housing unaffordability. Percentage of pre-tax household income needed to pay monthly housing costs:

Vancouver 47.3%

Toronto 37.2

Ottawa 31.6

Montreal 31.2

Calgary 28.7

British Columbia 43.1%

Saskatchewan 28.2

Quebec 30.8

Ontario 30.5

Manitoba 29.4

Alberta 26.7

Atlantic Canada 26.7

Source: CP, Vancouver Sun

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Home sales slip back

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004


VANCOUVER — Home sales dropped across B.C. in July compared with the same month a year earlier, the first such fall since January. With 11 of the province’s 12 real estate boards reporting, the B.C. Real Estate Association recorded 8,106 home sales worth $2.33 billion last month, representing a 16-per-cent drop in units sold and a 6.8-per-cent decrease in dollar volume over July 2003. “Sales have moderated somewhat in areas that have had many months of record-breaking sales activity. Other areas, like northern B.C., are seeing continual growth after years of decline,” said BCREA president Gordon Maroney. “More homes sold in the first seven months of this year than in all of 2000.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Buyers rush to buy slice of Britannia Beach site Despite minimal fanfare, 91 undeveloped lots sold in four days to a wide cross-section of buyers

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Michael McCullough


Tiny Britannia Beach was the scene of a miniature land rush last week. With minimal fanfare, Britannia Bay Properties Ltd. sold out 91 undeveloped lots located on the village’s northeast side in just four days.

The sale, advertised only in Squamish, represents the first phase of a plan to redevelop the old copper-mining town, long the site of massive groundwater contamination, into a bedroom community and tourism attraction for the Sea-to-Sky corridor — an area that has seen a spike in development interest since Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympics a year ago.

“It was a little faster than we expected,” Britannia Bay president Jerry Bordian said of the sale.

He said there was a wide cross-section of buyers, including young families and seniors, tradespeople and white-collar commuters, plus some builders. Although most buyers were from the Squamish area, a few came from as far away as the United States and Europe.

The lots, located to the northeast of the existing townsite, were priced between $174,900 and $360,000, with the largest nearly 10 acres in area.

Buyers had to place a 10-per-cent deposit. The sales do not close until June 2005, once the lots are fully serviced with road access, water and sewer lines, and obtain rezoning from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. The earliest the new owners could start building homes will be next summer.

Bordian said the developer chose to market the lots now to give a better understanding of the demand, and as a hedge against a possible downturn in the real estate market.

“We’re reducing our risk,” he said. “It gives us surety.”

A portion of the proceeds of the sale will go toward a fund to help the B.C. government defray the cost of building a water treatment plant in the community and other remediation measures.

Some realtors in Sea-to-Sky country were surprised how quickly the lots sold out, at relatively high price points, with so little promotion.

Pat Kelly, owner of Black Tusk Realty in Squamish, said people may be anticipating that the improvements being made to Highway 99 in time for 2010 will make the corridor a viable alternative to the Fraser Valley for people commuting to jobs in Greater Vancouver.

“People from Squamish will see the upside of Britannia, especially if they commute,” he said.

Britannia Bay, a subsidiary of Vancouver’s McDonald Development Corp. that acquired 440 acres of the town in a foreclosure last year, also owns the existing residential townsite of Britannia Beach, as well as 100 less-accessible acres to the north of the lots sold last week. The company expects to sell most of the 105 existing homes over the next year.

Bordian said Britannia Bay is offering the town’s 250 residents the chance to buy the homes they currently rent at a substantial discount. The company is offering to give the residents a down-payment worth 25 per cent of the value of their home (as determined by an assessor), which would help them qualify for a mortgage for the rest.

Bordian said most residents have expressed interest in buying, and he expects most of the homes will end up in the hands of their current occupants. Residents also have the option of continuing to rent, he said.

As for the final 100-acre parcel, Britannia Bay will take some time to study how and when it should be developed. Bordian said it would not necessarily be developed in time for the 2010 Olympics, which is adding urgency to development all along Highway 99.

The SLRD’s official community plan allows for as many as 1,000 homes to be developed on Britannia Bay’s land, but Bordian said the company did not plan to come anywhere near that limit.

“We feel that this is the appropriate density for this land,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Britannia Beach Historical Society, which operates the B.C. Museum of Mining on the south side of town, is working on a business plan to restore and redevelop a commercial main street and public square, ideally before 2010. The themed commercial section will be geared primarily to tourists visiting the museum, but will also feature amenities for residents, said museum director Kirstin Clausen. She said the society is receiving an increasing number of enquiries from prospective tenants interested in building and operating businesses in the area.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Clausen said of the keen interest in residential properties in the town. She said the residential component helps bring the revival of the near-ghost town closer to fruition. However, she cautioned, “There are a number of things that have to be put into place for Britannia Beach to reach its potential.”

Spurred by the 2010 deadline, residential development is proceeding and anticipated throughout the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Burrard International and Parklane Homes/Tanac Development continue to market homes in Furry Creek, a developable enclave surrounding a golf course just south of Britannia Beach. About 250 of a possible 900 homes have so far been built.

In Squamish, a large housing development will accompany the new Sea to Sky University east of Garibaldi Highlands. In addition, Townline Properties is developing townhouses and detached houses along with the Garibaldi Springs golf course, and the District of Squamish envisions a multi-use development — including residences — on its formerly industrial waterfront.

And as The Vancouver Sun recently confirmed, the Squamish Nation is in talks with Vancouver’s Concord Pacific Developments over a possible residential development in the area of Porteau Cove, where the SLRD’s community plan allows up to 1,000 new homes.

There is also a large tract of private land stretching of Britannia Beach, known as the Macon lands, that has been tied up in receivership for years, but could see development if rising land prices warrant.

Kelly estimates that Squamish alone has room for 5,000 to 6,000 new homes. However he fears that developers and land speculators may be moving ahead of demand, dazzled by the prospect of 2010.

“To say prices will go up because of a 17-day event in the middle of winter is a little off in my mind,” he said. “I think it’s a very poor reason to make a real estate decision.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Electric Avenue Under Construction

Sunday, August 15th, 2004

Wendy McLellan

Where: Paramount Place, 900 Burrard St., and Electric Avenue., 933 Hornby St.
What: A combination cinema, retail and residential development. Electric Avenue is the residential component, with two adjoining 12-storey towers with a total of 456 suites. The towers are set on a 30-metre podium that is Paramount Place, a commercial development that includes nine cinemas and 20,000 square feet of retail space.
When: The cinemas and retail space are scheduled for completion in December. Electric Avenue is to be finished in May 2005.
Who: Bosa Ventures Inc. is owner and developer of the property. The company presold the condos to Wall Financial Corp. in 2002.
How much: 2004 assessed value is $34.3 million. The completed project is valued at $120 million, according to Bosa.

Two years ago, the corner of Burrard and Smithe was a simple parking lot. Now it’s a busy construction zone and will soon be home to hundreds of new downtown dwellers as well as a brand-new Famous Players cinema complex, an Earl’s restaurant and, of course, another Starbucks coffee shop, among other retailers.
In 2002, Bosa Ventures Inc. bought the property from Famous Players after its plans for a huge entertainment complex were scrapped due to concerns about the economic viability of the project.
However, the sale was conditional on Famous Players becoming a tenant in the new development.
Colin Bosa, vice-president of development for Bosa Ventures, said Famous Players plans to shut down its Capitol 6 cinemas at 820 Granville St. when the new complex opens.
Electric Avenue was sold out in May 2003 after 11 weeks on the market.
The suites ranged from 449-square-foot studios priced at $151,900 to 1,200-square-foot penthouses at $460,000.
The development will provide residents with the usual conveniences of downtown living, including an IGA grocery store across the street.
But they will also be part of a unique car-sharing experiment.
Peter Wall, of Wall Financial Corp., has given a fleet of seven vehicles to his condo development, to be shared among residents who choose to join a car co-op.
The vehicles, four environmentally friendly Toyota Prius hybrids, a station wagon, van and pickup truck, will be parked on-site and available for members’ use for a monthly fee.
The car-sharing option is believed to be a first in North America.

©The Province

High-rise with a twist

Thursday, August 12th, 2004

Proposed tower would showcase Concord development on False Creek’s north shore

Bruce Constantineau

Some people say it has a helix shape, like DNA. Others call it a building with a twist.

Concord Pacific director of development Peter Webb says it reminds him of a Wankel rotary engine.

All the buzz surrounds renowned Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson’s latest project — a unique 20-storey waterfront residential tower designed to be the showcase development on the Concord site along the north shore of False Creek.

A meandering, top-to-bottom curved design feature dominates the exterior of the proposed tower that Concord wants to start building next year on the current site of its presentation centre. The floor plate rotates several degrees on every floor, creating the unique curve.

“It was Arthur’s idea, totally,” said Webb. “We charged him with the task of creating a new look for a residential tower in Vancouver, something that hasn’t been seen before, and this was it.

“He told us he wasn’t interested in doing just another residential tower. He’s at a stage in his life where he wanted to do a centrepiece building.”

Erickson, who recently turned 80, has designed other residential buildings in Vancouver, but Webb said this is his first residential highrise tower in the city.

Webb said the building, scheduled for completion in late 2006 or early 2007, will be Concord’s signature high-end development, and most suites will have views of the water.

Units with about 2,000 square feet of living space are expected to sell for $2 million, or more than $1,000 a square foot.

“It’s a very high-end project,” Webb said. “We’re trying to punch through the barrier in Vancouver and go into a new level of high-end residential.”

The highest price ever paid for a Vancouver condominium is believed to be $1,056 a square foot, which was paid by an unknown buyer last year who purchased a 5,700-square-foot Coal Harbour penthouse for $6.02 million.

Webb said the building’s unique design creates significant complications in the construction and cost of the building.

“The building rotates around while some of the vertical elements in it, like the elevators, stay in the same place so it creates unique construction issues,” he said.

Webb said the unnamed new Concord building will have three suites on each floor and four elevators, allowing each unit to have its own direct elevator that will open up into the living room. A full-time concierge will escort visitors to suites.

The building will also feature private two-car and three-car garages, an indoor/outdoor pool with fitness facilities and a media room for private functions.

Concord has submitted its plans for the project to the city and is scheduled to go before a design panel in October and meet with the development permit board in November. Webb said Concord expects to begin marketing the project late this year or early next year and many well-heeled buyers have already expressed a keen interest in the development.

“There are people who are putting down $10,000 deposits or reservations to try to get spots to see the project as soon as we’re ready to market,” he said.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Planned bridge boosts development

Wednesday, August 11th, 2004

Golden Ears affects land values on both sides of the Fraser

Michael McCullough

It won’t be finished for another four years, but the planned Golden Ears Bridge is already affecting land development on both sides of the Fraser River.

In heavily industrialized north Langley, it’s forcing some companies to relocate to make way for the bridge’s approach.

But the biggest changes are expected in relatively pastoral Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, where the market for industrial land is already heating up.

“On both sides of that bridge you have industrial land,” explained Malcolm Earle, an industrial sales and leasing agent with Colliers International in Vancouver. But there the similarities end.

The south side is essentially built out, Earle said. Occasionally a parcel here or there comes up for sale, at prices averaging $575,000 an acre. But a very large manufacturer or distribution centre has nowhere to go. The vacancy rate stands at about one per cent.

On the north side, by contrast, prices average $300,000-$400,000 an acre and there is raw land for the taking, already zoned for industrial use. In the year before TransLink committed itself to the bridge project this spring, vacancies rose to 8.1 per cent.

It’s not difficult to imagine what’s going to happen, Earle said. With the bridge, suddenly Maple Ridge becomes a viable option for industrial users seeking large plots of land. It becomes easier to move materials in and out of the area, as well as attract employees from other parts of the Lower Mainland.

Colliers is marketing a vacant 90,000-square-foot waterfront building in the municipality.

“There has been a heightened amount of interest because of the bridge,” Earle said. “We all know it’s a reality now.”

The Golden Ears Bridge will cross the Fraser at the 200th Street north-south alignment. It is expected to have six lanes and feature tolls of $2 to $3 for passenger cars. TransLink plans to announce a winning bid in November from among three consortia vying for the $600-million contract. The builder will also operate and maintain the bridge for a period of 20 years.

An economic impact study commissioned by TransLink from Hudema Consulting Ltd. and TyPlan Consulting Ltd. last year suggested that the crossing would boost the rate of population growth in Maple Ridge to 2.9 per cent per year, from 2.2 per cent currently. That will in turn increase residential property values by $332 million.

The crossing will also result in the creation of an additional 800 businesses on either side of the river by 2021 — 370 in Maple Ridge, 172 in Surrey, 155 in the township of Langley, and 44 in Pitt Meadows, the report predicted. Commercial building space will expand by an estimated 1.1 million square feet more than it would without the road link, with half of that growth concentrated in Maple Ridge.

Rainer Weininger, owner-manager of Re/Max Ridge-Meadows Realty, said TransLink’s commitment to the bridge has generated both interest from investors and calls from homeowners worried that it will obstruct their views.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said.

Overall, however, he has no doubt the bridge will accelerate the rise in property values.

While some lament possible loss of Maple Ridge’s small-town character, Weininger said that would happen regardless as suburbia spreads east of Vancouver.

“On our side of the river, there is nowhere to go except Maple Ridge,” he said.

He is confident there will continue to be rural acreage available in the community, although growth nodes such as Albion and Silver Valley will gradually be transformed from rural to residential areas.

The district of Maple Ridge is in the midst of reviewing its official community plan with the certainty of the bridge looming large over potential changes to land use, said director of public works and development Frank Quinn.

Planners will also have to consider surveys that suggest residents strongly value the rural character of much of the municipality, Quinn said.


Development-related impacts of the $600-million Golden Ears Bridge

Number of new businesses 800

Number of new homes 7,100

Residential property value increase $332 million

Added commercial space (by 2021) 1.1 million sq. feet

Bridge construction related employment (person years) 6,600

Source: TransLink

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

Local housing starts dip in July

Wednesday, August 11th, 2004

Michael McCullough


Greater Vancouver housing starts dipped in July after a spectacular June, figures released Tuesday by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. show.

Work began on 1,465 units last month, 13 per cent fewer than in July 2003. But both the latter month and June were exceptional for the region, said CMHC senior market analyst Cameron Muir.

“We don’t see a change in direction,” Muir said, noting how single-family house starts rose three per cent year over year to 533 in July. Detached starts tend to better reflect the trend than starts of multi-family housing projects, which due to their very size fluctuate month to month, he said. In the city of Vancouver, there was a lull in new starts after a new development cost levy came into effect on July 1.

Muir said last month was still a solid one from a historical perspective. CMHC forecasts 19,500 housing starts in Greater Vancouver this year, more than double the 8,203 units built in 2000.

“We’re going to see strong starts and activity for the balance of this year.”

The only bad news is for landlords, who will see residential rents remain the same or decline slightly over the coming year while first-time buyers vacate the rental pool to move into new condominiums as they reach completion. CMHC anticipates the regional vacancy rate will rise to 2.5 per cent this year from two per cent in 2003.

Muir also expects price increases to moderate in the resale market as the supply of homes for sale increases. When prices rise rapidly, as they have in the past two years, more homeowners decide to put their homes up for sale, he said.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004