Archive for December, 2008

Real Estate Channel bridges Web and TV

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Derrick Penner
Sun

The downturn in Metro Vancouver’s real estate market hasn’t hurt The Real Estate Channel, a relatively new multi-media property-marketing effort, nor dampened the operators’ ambitions for expansion.

“Though the market is slow, we’re still finding a lot of realtors coming to us, asking for information, wanting to use our services,” Matt White, the company’s project and sales manager, said in an interview this week.

“As bad as it gets, they still need to advertise their listings, so we’ve proven to be recession-proof in Vancouver.”

Company founder Leon Ng and collaborator Matt Grant started developing the idea of marrying the real estate business, which he had been in, with television, where Ng also had experience from running the community access channel on Shaw cable competitor Novus Entertainment Inc.

The Real Estate Channel launched in December 2006, and what it does for realtors is create 30-second video tours of their listings, stringing photographs into a moving slide show with descriptive voice-overs and music, and with the listing’s details and agent’s branding overlaid on the frame.

Then the clips, on one stream, are added to the program loop on The Real Estate Channel — broadcast on the Novus system, which currently links up to a large number of new developments, mostly in downtown Vancouver and around Metrotown in Burnaby.

On a second stream, the clips are uploaded to The Real Estate Channel’s website and the realtors’ website, and are linked to other sale sites such as Craigslist and Kijiji.

The cost is $77 to $89 per video listing, which will air for up to 60 days on the channel and as long as the customer wants on the Internet.

“We just try to market [properties] as rapidly and hardcore as possible,” White said, which he believes is what sets the effort from other traditional advertising in magazines, on bus stops and at other locations.

“We try to bring it together in a today, 2000-esque kind of way,” he added.

White said the television aspect has proven to be “one of the biggest cachets,” for realtors to use the channel’s services.

The Real Estate Channel’s program loop consists of the listing videos interspersed with neighbourhood profiles, 30-second advertising spots for realtors and realtor-commissioned interview segments.

White added that the degree of automation in The Real Estate Channel also sets it apart from other television listing services that have gone before it. Realtors can submit their listings, with photos and descriptions — and then make changes — online.

White said it is difficult to know what kind of ratings the channel gets on Novus. They only know that the Novus system has about 10,000 subscribers and an audience of about 20,000 to 25,000.

However, the channel’s website receives about 2,000 hits a day, and White said that from the broadcast codes that site visitors use to navigate it, they know hundreds have been directed to them by the television station.

Expansion, White said, is the next phase. One of his roles in signing on with The Real Estate Channel has been to syndicate it in as many markets as he can.

So far, he’s struck deals with MTS in Manitoba, which will put the channel in front of another 130,000 to 140,000 subscribers and an audience of about 250,000, and with Sasktel for Saskatoon and Regina, which will give it another approximately 85,000 subscribers and almost 200,000 viewers.

White said the company is in negotiations with Delta Cable to put the channel into that Lower Mainland city as well as the Sunshine Coast, and is in discussions with a Los Angeles-based cable provider to get The Real Estate Channel on the air in several of the city’s suburbs.

Commercial Drive’s York Theatre to be restored as live playhouse

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

John Mackie
Sun

The York Theatre on Commercial Drive, currently the Raja, will be restored. Photograph by : Ward Perrin/Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - It looks like heritage and culture are back on the agenda at Vancouver City Hall.

Vancouver’s new Vision-dominated council voted this week to “support in principle” a proposal by developer Bruno Wall to restore the York Theatre on Commercial Drive.

The entire $10-million to $12-million cost would be paid for by heritage density bonus transfers. This is a reversal of the policy of the former Non-Partisan Association council, which had suspended the heritage density-transfer program.

The program granted increased density on other projects to developers who agreed to restore heritage properties.

“I think it’s one of the most important things to happen at the city in 20 years,” said Jim Green, the former Vision councillor and mayoralty candidate who helped put the deal together.

“We’ve really opened the doors with a new council and mayor to saying that the city is ready to make this a creative and cultural city to live in, and [that it’s] going to use the tools at its disposal to allow culture to happen.”

The council decision went against a city staff recommendation that funding for the York adhere to the standard formula, where the “city portion” of the redevelopment would be one-third of the total cost.

Normally the other two-thirds comes from the federal and provincial governments. But the York proposal was put forward by the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, which is in the middle of a $21-million reconstruction project that has already received $11.5 million in funding from the province and the federal government.

Green said VECC officials didn’t think they could get more money from senior levels of government, so they decided to ask that the entire York restoration be paid for by bonus density transfer.

Council agreed.

“Our cultural facilities study clearly shows this is the type of facility most needed in the city, a theatre in that 300 to 600 [seat] range,” said Coun. Heather Deal.

“This is a rare purpose-built theatre,” Deal said. “Most of them are converted from churches or movie theatres or something else; this is a purpose-built theatrical theatre with the acoustics for musicals where you wouldn’t need microphones.”

Wall will now attempt to buy the building from the current owner, who had planned to tear the theatre down and build townhouses.

A key element in the deal is that Wall will hold on to the 20 storeys in bonus density he will receive, rather than sell them off to another developer. (The city has been worried there is too much bonus density already out there, which lowers its value.)

“Bruno Wall stepped in and said he was willing to do the project and to hold the density instead of putting it out there for trade,” Deal said.

“In theory this is a virtual bank, and the value of other people’s density wouldn’t drop, because it’s not being added to the pool.”

When it opened in 1913, the York was known as the Alcazar. It started off as a live playhouse, but by the end of the First World War it was showing movies and was known as the Palace.

In 1923 it was purchased by Vancouver Little Theatre, which converted it back to a live house. It was known as the Little Theatre until 1940, when it became the York.

In 1977 it became a movie theatre again. In the mid-80s it was a live concert venue hosting concerts by the likes of Nirvana and Metallica. In recent years it was known as the Raja, an East Indian movie theatre.

When the restoration is finished, perhaps in two years, it will be a 400-seat live house for plays and music, managed by the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

The deal to save the York was hailed by Peter Fairchild of the Pantages Theatre Society, which has been working to save the historic Pantages Theatre at Hastings and Main.

“The past city council declined all our efforts to get a bonus density in the amount the developer wanted,” Fairchild said.

“[But] they just signed off on 100 per cent, which the city has never ever done before.”

But Fairchild cautioned that saving the Pantages is a lot more complicated than saving the York.

The most recent proposal would have seen the city purchase the Pantages and four adjacent lots for $8 million, and then restore the theatre at a cost of $12 million to $20 million.

Up to 137 units of social housing could be built next door to the theatre.

“We’re not asking for bonus density any more, that’s long gone,” Fairchild said.

“We’re asking for the city to buy the building. I think what city council has stated by doing this is [that] they’re quite prepared to listen to the Pantages and figure out how to make this work.”

Deal said she has made a request to staff for a “full briefing on the current situation [with the Pantages], opportunities and scenarios for the Pantages and the block around it.”

Deal also said Vision is “open” to reconsidering the heritage density program, which helped spur many restoration projects in Gastown.

“That freeze was done at the request of the NPA and we will be looking at that again, because it certainly is a very powerful tool,” she said.

“And we will looking at all the things it can be applied to — heritage, culture, and whether or not we should open it up to have it apply to other things.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

City offers density to save theatre

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Agrees to buy, renovate and hand over theatre in exchange for tower

Christina Montgomery
Province

Council is trying to help save the York Theatre, also known as The Raja Cinema. Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province

Vancouver developer Bruno Wall has offered to spend up to $12 million to buy and restore the historic York Theatre, now slated to be torn down Jan. 15 to make way for townhomes.

Wall has also offered to hand ownership to the city — in exchange for development rights equivalent to a 20-storey building, to be built on an as-yet undetermined city site.

The 500-seat theatre, opened in 1912 near the north end of Commercial Drive, was home to the Vancouver Little Theatre, where a number of local actors launched their careers. It later hosted musical acts and Bollywood films.

But it has been empty for several years. EDG Homes bought the property for $960,000 in August 2007 after being assured by city staff that there was no historical significance or interest in the theatre.

The city has approved EDG’s townhouse proposal, which is now eligible for building permits. Demolition of the theatre is legally permitted as of Jan. 15.

Yesterday, EDG’s Peter Phillips warned council that ongoing development costs and liabilities would force him to demolish the theatre and proceed with the townhouses if no deal for a sale is completed.

In March, the city’s attitude toward the site changed. The Vancouver Heritage Commission ruled that it was eligible for listing in the Vancouver Heritage Register.

Arts groups that want the theatre saved argued its restoration would provide the hub for a cultural district when combined with the nearby Vancouver East Cultural Centre and the cafes and galleries bordering Commercial Drive.

Yesterday, after learning that Wall had stepped forward with cash that arts groups and theatre fans have failed for years to raise, council agreed to offer Wall the unusual density deal to encourage him to proceed with the purchase.

Heather Redfern, director of the Vancouver Eastside Cultural Centre that would run the new theatre, applauded the move.

Redfern described the theatre as “the perfect place” — an ideal, mid-sized venue that would provide affordable space for small projections and art showings in a city where theatre space of any kind is at a premium.

© Copyright (c) The Province

 

Mortgage rates at 37-year low: average 5.19% for 30 years

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Alan Zibel
USA Today

WASHINGTON — Rates on 30-year-fixed mortgages dropped this week to their lowest levels in at least 37 years, as the Federal Reserve pledged to pour money into the mortgage market to spur home sales and refinancings.

Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that average rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 5.19% from the year’s previous low of 5.47%, set last week.

The rate is the lowest since Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey began in April 1971.

Mortgage rates started falling after the Fed launched a sweeping effort in late November to help the U.S. housing market by buying up to $600 billion of mortgage-related securities and other debt issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

A daily survey found the national average rate fell even lower Wednesday. Rates on 30-year, fixed mortgages averaged 5.06%, according to financial publisher HSH Associates, lowest since the 1960s and down from 5.3% Tuesday.

On Wednesday, some mortgage brokers were quoting interest rates close to 4.5% for people with strong credit and hefty down payments.

It is the best news in months for anyone looking to lock in a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. But it is not expected to be a cure-all, and borrowers already in danger of foreclosure probably won’t be able to take advantage because only borrowers with stellar credit can qualify for the lowest rates.

“It’s a call to action for homeowners looking to get out of adjustable-rate mortgages,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “Unfortunately, it’s not an equal-opportunity party.”

Rates also fell this week on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages to an average 4.92%, from 5.2% last week, Freddie Mac said.

Rates on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 5.6%, vs. 5.82% last week. Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages dropped to 4.94%, from 5.09% last week.

The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The nationwide fee for 30-year and 15-year mortgages averaged 0.7 point last week. The fee on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 0.6 point, while the fee on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 0.5 point. A point is one percent of the loan amount.

Mortgage application volume jumped last week, fueled by borrowers seizing on lower rates to refinance home loans, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.

The trade group’s seasonally adjusted application index rose 2.9% for the week ended Dec 12.

The Federal Reserve, aiming to free up lending and jolt the economy back to life, on Tuesday cut its federal funds rate target from 1% to a range of zero to 0.25% and pledged to keep funneling money into the market for mortgage investments.

Mortgage brokers are already reporting a surge of calls from borrowers trying to take advantage of lower rates.

Falling interest rates mean Americans could suddenly find billions of extra dollars in their pockets at a time when consumers have sharply cut spending in the face of rising unemployment and declining household wealth. But many experts believe interest rates alone won’t be enough to jump-start the economy.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press

Amorosa can easily satisfy hearty appetite for pasta

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Chef’s love of food shows in side-by-side Burnaby restaurants

Alfie Lau
Sun

John Chow says he’s always loved Italian food. At Amorosa, he serves it for a North American audience. Photograph by : Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun

John Chow is the first person to admit it appears strange that he runs both Italian and Greek restaurants in the Edmonds area of Burnaby.

Chow has run Amorosa Pasta House for 16 years and when the space next door came free three years ago, he took it over and opened Santali Souvlaki House. Chow splits his time between both places, with manager Allen Ching chipping in as well.

“I’ve always loved Italian food,” Chow said. “I don’t know why, but I’ve always really loved the Mediterranean foods. When we got the space for Santali, I wanted to have a Greek menu . . . but I think I’ll always really love Italian food.”

Chow, who last visited Italy in 2000, admits that Amorosa serves Italian food for a North American audience, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t brought some ideas back from his trips.

“We use real pepperoni and everything is cooked with olive oil,” said Chow. “We’ve added chili peppers to some dishes and we’ve added some seafood dishes because I love seafood.”

On a recent weekday, several co-workers decided to see what Amorosa was all about.

There aren’t many appetizers to choose from — probably because Chow knows that the main dishes will be more than filling enough — so we started with some calamari ($7.95), Stracciatella alla Romana soup ($4.25) and the small Caprese salad ($6.95).

There was nothing small about the tomato and bocconcini salad drizzled with red wine vinaigrette. Four of us had more than enough between us, with the bocconcini packing just enough of a bite to go well with the vinaigrette.

The soup featured egg swirls, parmesan cheese and parsley in a chicken broth.

And it’s hard to complain about the calamari, which Chow makes sure can feed an army. Crispy and not too oily, the calamari is an appetizer that is hard to beat.

We were noticing a trend at Amorosa: The prices are affordable and the portions are huge. Nothing would change when our mains came.

Pasta lovers can have no complaints at Amorosa because there are 28 different pasta dishes to choose from. And with 10 different pasta shapes to choose from, you can literally have something different every time you come to Amorosa.

Our marathoner went with the Arcobaleno, which is green peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and chicken broth sautéed in olive oil, and added a twist by having it served with spinach cheese tortellini. The tortellini was not only visually pleasing, it melded well with the tomatoes and mushrooms.

His wife went with the Genovese, which is chicken, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in a creamy tomato sauce, served with rotini. The chicken chunks were plentiful and the portion so large she could finish only half of it, with the other half being a great lunch the next day.

Our vegetarian didn’t want to gamble by mistakenly ordering a dish with meat in it, so for $13.95, he made his own large pasta, from a choice of 10 pasta shapes, five sauces and any two of 12 toppings. He went with the spaghetti in a creamy tomato sauce with zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes, which he hungrily downed, leaving nary a morsel for the next day’s meal.

I went with the cartoccio ($13.95), which was a seafood delight of clams, squid, prawns and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce and baked with mozzarella cheese.

The cartoccio came baked in its own aluminum foil wrap. I had linguine as my pasta — never a bad choice when paired with seafood — and couldn’t get over how many clams, prawns and squid Chow can pack into one dish.

Simply delectable, a sentiment echoed by the chef himself.

“That’s my favourite dish,” Chow said. “I love seafood and it’s a great dish.”

Hard to believe we had any room left for the tiramisu ($5.50) and the crème caramel ($3.95), but there can be no more refreshing way to finish a meal.

“I think the secret to the success here is we have the best quality, quantity, price and service,” Chow said. “As a chef, I love it when people compliment us on our food and we see them coming back. It makes me feel good and tells me we’re doing the right things.”

Amorosa Pasta House is located at 7874 Edmonds St. and is open seven days a week for dinner starting at 4:30 p.m.

It’s also open for lunch Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Call 604-525-3343 for more information.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

High-end Miku has sushi with fiery style

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Eye-catching presentations on the menu include blowtorch-seared aburi chicken

Mia Stainsby
Sun

A chef at Miku torches sushi to create Aburi Sushi, which is a specialty of the restaurant. Photograph by : Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

MIKU JAPANESE RESTAURANT

Overall 3 1/2

Food 3 1/2

Ambience 4

Service 4

$$$

1055 West Hastings St., 604-568-3900. www.mikurestaurant.com. Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday; dinner only on Saturday and Sunday.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

- – -

In North America, there’s only one response to eating raw chicken and we all know what that is.

In Japan, however, chicken sashimi is a delicacy. A friend who lived there ordered it against her partner’s ardent protests and lived to say it tasted just fine, thank you very much. The thing is, the chickens are raised and processed cleanly and certainly not in industrial settings.

That brings me to Miku Japanese restaurant which recently opened downtown. The company that operates Miku is based in Miyakazu, on the island of Kyushu, home to many of these chicken farms. Miku’s parent company, Toro Corporation, operates seven restaurants in Japan and while some may serve chicken sashimi, Miku in Vancouver does not. The closest to it is aburi chicken, flame-seared, just to doneness.

Miku specializes in aburi sushi, meaning the fish is lightly flame-seared on the surface by blowtorch. “We take a stick of charcoal and place it in front of the flame so the gas smell doesn’t transfer to the sushi,” says Tai Hasumi, the general manager. If he stops by your table, talk hockey — he played pro hockey when he lived for a few years in Japan. He also was bar manager at the Nobu Tokyo, which is co-owned by Robert DeNiro.

Hasumi tried chicken sashimi in Japan. “It took me three tries to put it in my mouth but it was fabulous. I can only compare it to seafood. It has the colour and texture of tuna. Perhaps in the future, we’ll do a week of chicken sashimi. These chickens are organic and very pampered. They limit the numbers on the farms,” he says. (Do not try this at home, folks!)

Miku almost lives up to its name (beautiful sky) with soaring ceilings. Before the Shaw Tower went up, the room had a gorgeous view out to the harbour and mountains and now that it’s gone, they hauled nature indoors. There’s black granite (exactly like the stone in my kitchen), white Carrara marble, rough granite and a pebble walkway. Glass “clouds” (which looked more like Arctic ice floes) hover high above and there’s more icy glass on the walls. The effect is dramatic but a little polar.

Miku does some things well and others, not so well. The fish is fresh; they buy locally as much as possible; produce is organic; presentations are really eye-catching (tempura comes on a bed of twigs) and the room seems to be teaming with staff in the open kitchen and on the floor — but that might be just while they are in training mode. But it comes with a price, evident in some of the sticker-shock prices, like the $12 chestnut gelato with rum-infused chestnut cream that barely spoke of chestnut or rum. A small glass of beer was $6.

Dishes are somewhat unique to Vancouver. Although one of the reasons for aburi sushi is to cut down on fat, I really don’t think anyone’s complained about fish oil. In fact, the complaint is the lack thereof in most people’s diets. And frankly, Vancouver is so addicted to raw fish, I’m not sure aburi sushi will fly.

The suzuran (Japanese rose) platter, $28, has 10 sushi pieces, including tuna, shaped into a rose, aburi and oshi sushi (flat, pressed). The tora oshi sushi plate looks like sushi petits fours; tuna and salmon are sandwiched between sushi rice with toppings like crab, eel, fish roe, scallop and tuna.

Inari “with modern touch” ($9) goes one better than regular inari (sushi rice in marinated tofu pouches). The “modern touch” is the tasty toppings on each of three inari on the plate. The aburi chicken with garlic soy sauce ($16) has a tell-tale touch of flamed smokiness. Agedashi tofu in ponzu sauce, topped with spicy yam was delicately constructed and beautifully presented. In Miku’s efforts to play to the local market, they offer several udon pastas. I say leave the pasta to the Italians. Udon is too soft for pasta and the one we tried with spicy beef, jalapeno, garlic and pepperocino pepper ($18) didn’t invite a revisit.

There are two pastry chefs (one who trained in Kyoto and another, from Poland). While the chestnut gelato didn’t score points with me, another, the “chocolate parade” was really expensive ($20), but delicious. It was really three desserts — a delicious chocolate tart, a white chocolate mousse and chocolate gelato.

The chefs will also do omakase (Japanese tasting menu) for $60, $80 and $120. Should you be served a raw whole prawn in any of your dishes, the server will ask if you’d like the kitchen to deep-fry the head for you. Hasumi says when his Caucasian server suggests it, diners are more willing to give it a go. He’s like the passport to exotic Japanese fare.

All in all, Miku acts high-end and looks high-end but falters here and there in delivering silken high-end fare.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

 

Fine ways to dine and ring in ‘09

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

SHINDIG TIME: 8 ways to tickle your tastebuds

Canadians lose $191B in falling stocks, house prices

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Eric Beauchesne
Sun

The ratio of debt — in consumer credit and mortgages — to net worth edged up during the quarter to 20.9 cents of debt for every dollar of net worth and to $1.27 of debt for every dollar of disposable income. Photograph by : Fred Greenslade

OTTAWA - The plunge in the stock market last summer and early fall, along with the ensuing loss in pension savings and lower housing prices, wiped $191 billion off the net worth of Canadian households, the steepest loss in a decade.

And that was before the even steeper drop in the market since the end of September.

“Canadian stock prices fell significantly during the third quarter of 2008, resulting in a 3.2 per cent drop in household net worth . . . the largest percentage drop since the third quarter of 1998, when Canadian stock prices fell in response to the Asian financial crisis,” Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

That, in turn, is more bad news for the outlook for consumer spending and the economy, according to Patricia Croft, chief economist at Phillips, Hager & North Investment Management Inc. in Toronto.

It’s the reverse wealth effect, she explained.

“As stock prices fall and house prices decline and we look at our portfolios and our pensions, and instead of buying a car we decide to walk,” she said. “That’s the implication for the economy.”

But as bad as it was here, the loss was even worse in the U.S., Statistics Canada noted.

“In comparison, household net worth in the United States fell 4.7 per cent in the third quarter, their fourth consecutive quarterly decline.”

In Canada, the stock market fell 18 per cent in the third quarter.

“The corresponding loss in directly held equities, combined with the related loss in the value of pension and life-insurance assets of households, was the principal factor behind the drop in net worth,” Statistics Canada said, noting that the value of total household assets fell 2.2 per cent in the July-through-September period. “Also contributing were slower growth in residential real-estate values and continued household borrowing.”

But for it’s not just the stock market that has darkened the outlook for pensions.

Results of a survey by pension-research firm Mercer found that over the past three years one-third of Canadian companies have made reductions to the benefits they provide for retired employees.

Further, 21 per cent expect to make reductions in the next three years, while only five per cent expect to make improvements, the Mercer report noted.

“Overall, companies are being forced to realign their total rewards spending, with the most significant cost savings being achieved by the elimination of retiree benefits for new hires and current (workers),” it said.

The Statistics Canada report, however, also revealed that growth in household debt slowed in the third quarter, reflecting lower new mortgage borrowing. Still, the ratio of debt – in consumer credit and mortgages – to net worth edged up during the quarter to 20.9 cents of debt for every dollar of net worth and to $1.27 of debt for every dollar of disposable income.

The increase in household debt relative to net worth was larger in the U.S., Statistics Canada noted.

Meanwhile, increased borrowing in the Canadian corporate sector translated into a slight increase in the non-financial private corporations’ debt-to-equity ratio, which has trended down for much of the last two decades, it reported. In the quarter, corporations had 53.6 cents of credit market debt for every dollar of equity.

In contrast to businesses and individuals, the government net debt-to-gross domestic product ratio declined further, the agency said, noting the federal government’s credit-market debt decreased thanks to funds received from the sale of wireless spectrum licences.

The drop in federal debt, however, was partially offset by increased borrowings by other levels of government, it said.

Overall, total government net debt as a percentage of the total value of goods and services produced by the economy edged down to just over 35 per cent in the third quarter, compared with the peak of 92 per cent in mid-1996.

And even with the large decline in the household sector’s net worth, growth in national net worth, which is the value of total assets less liabilities for all sectors, rose by a “robust” 3.3 per cent to $180,000 per person, up from $174,800 in the second quarter of 2008, the agency said.

National wealth amounted to just over $6 trillion as growth accelerated to 2.8 per cent.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

No grandfather clause for owner needled by Xmas tree ban

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Tony Gioventu
Province

Dear Condo Smarts: Three years ago when I purchased my condo, real Christmas trees were allowed. This was a huge deal for me when I was looking.

Two years ago the bylaws were updated and now we can only have artificial trees.

Because of this, I did not have a tree last year. Someone mentioned that I may be grandfathered in the same way as if I had a pet and they changed the rules.

Could you please clarify as I have never had an artificial tree and would love to enjoy Christmas with a real tree this year.

— GO, Langley Dear GO: If the strata changes their bylaws and prohibits live cut trees then those bylaws apply to everyone.
There are no grandfathering provisions in the act for general building-use bylaws. However, there are specific exemptions under certain conditions that apply to pets, age and rental-restriction bylaws.

For example, a pet residing in a strata lot at the time a bylaw prohibiting pets is passed is exempt for the duration of the pet’s residency. When the pet ceases to reside in the strata lot, that exemption expires and the owner cannot replace the pet.

Real trees pose a number of hazards to buildings systems, including an extreme fire risk when trees are not cared for or when located next to heaters or gas fireplaces.

Unfortunately, it only takes one person to spoil it for everyone, but we receive numerous complaints every year from strata corporations that have had to clean up the mess from trees dragged down hallways, tossed off balconies, or had to repair damage to elevators jammed with needles or scratched and scraped by trees.

It’s not surprising that strata corporations have had to prohibit cut trees to avoid serious problems. It only takes one tragic fire during the holidays to remind us of the shared risks in strata living.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association (www.choa.bc. ca)

Photo frame is also a movie screen

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Sun

Portable DVD Player/Digital Photo Frame, LG Electronics

Talk Mobile, YUBZ

iPanda, audio system with built in iPod docking station, Speakal

Micro Grip for iPhone, Belkin

1. Portable DVD Player/Digital Photo Frame, LG Electronics, $249

I know digital photo frames are so last year when it comes to Christmas presents — or was it the year before? But I’m making an exception for LG’s latest entry, which I’m putting high on the list as a great gift for a family. At first glance, it’s just another digital photo frame, complete with three-in-one memory card slot and a USB port. Take a closer look and you’ll find the DVD player that turns this into an all-around portable entertainment machine. On the road it will keep kids entertained with movies, or they can plug in a game console. Its battery lasts 3.5 hours on a charge, and it comes with dual headphone jacks, so no fighting in the back seat — although there are speakers if you want to play it for everyone. Also comes with a car charger and A/V outputs to connect to a TV when you arrive wherever you’re going. It even has its own mini remote. All with an eight-inch portable photo frame. Even better, we have seen it for $220 at bestbuy.ca, a drop from the suggested retail price that helps the Christmas budget. www.lge.com

2. Talk Mobile, YUBZ, $45 US

I’m just waiting for the chance to pick up this receiver when my cellphone rings at a meeting. The retro headset plugs into your mobile phone and comes in yellow, orange, red, black and pink. May need an adaptor to work with your phone. At www.YUBZ.com.

3. iPanda, audio system with built in iPod docking station, Speakal, $140 US

Four speakers and a four-inch subwoofer on this eye-catching little system deliver 25 watts of sound. It comes with cradles and standard auxiliary 3.5-mm input jack to connect to most portable and non-portable audio players, gaming consoles, mobile gaming devices, wireless phones, laptops and other devices.

www.speakal.com

4. Micro Grip for iPhone, Belkin, $25

A solution for the “Oops, the iPhone slipped out of my fingers” problem, which is not covered under the warranty. Gives you a grip on your iPhone, and ismade of durable rubberized material to protect it. www.belkin.com.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun