Archive for May, 2009

Bylaw can define gas use as ‘exclusive’

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Tony Gioventu
Province

Dear Condo Smarts: Back in the ’90s, our strata building was an older apartment building in Victoria that was converted to condo units for sale.

Our building is well maintained, the owners comply with bylaws and we never have any problems for funding of special projects or the annual budget.

We do have one bone of contention with the owners that has caused much debate over the years and we would like to resolve this.

The top-floor units have gas fireplaces and gas stoves. The rest of the building, including heating, is electric. Is there any legal way to separate the cost of the gas to just those strata lots who use it?

– JC, Victoria

Dear JC: There are many strata corporations where there are “exclusive” services or circumstances where a “types” bylaw may be considered. If the service, which has to be an annual operating cost, is exclusive to one or more strata lots, the Strata Act makes a provision where your strata may adopt a bylaw that allocates that exclusive operating expense solely to those units. Those units then share that cost based on their unit entitlement and consumption. This would show as a separate column on your annual budget for just those units affected. Gas, fireplaces and hot water services are some of the most common “types” bylaws.

There are two principles that must be adhered to in adopting any such bylaw.

The first is that the cost must be exclusive, not a share of a bill that is otherwise apportioned to another strata lot or section.

The second is that the cost can only relate to operating expenses. Those are expenses that occur once a year or more frequently. In the example of consumption of gas, the bylaw would define the use of the gas with fireplaces and stoves as an exclusive expense of those specific units, to be reflected in the annual budget.

Of course ratifying the bylaw by a 75 per cent vote is still the first hurdle as every eligible voter, including those affected by the bylaw, get to vote.

Remember, a three-quarter vote is based on only those who vote for or against the resolution in person or by proxy at the time the vote is taken and who have not abstained.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association. E-mail [email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Province

Millennium Water is a “Eco-friendly” development on the south side of False Creek & socially sustainable too

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Residents will interact as an environmentally friendly community, rather than exist in isolation inside the towers

DERRICK PENNER
Sun

The Millennium Water development on the south bank of False Creek, which will serve as the Vancouver Olympic athletes village, has raised the bar for future eco-friendly residential developments

Ian Mayall checks the overhead blue channels of the heating/cooling system during a tour of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village to see its environmentally sustainable features. IAN LINDSAY/VANCOUVER SUN

The Millennium Water development on the south bank of False Creek, the 1,100-unit housing project that will serve as Vancouver’s Olympic athletes’ village, will certainly be environmentally sustainable, design manager Roger Bayley assures visitors.

A so-called district energy system will sop up residual heat from city sewer pipes to warm water feeding the vein-like capillaries in the development’s ceiling-mounted radiant heating system. (In the summer, those same capillary-mat panels can reverse, running cool water, to draw the heat out of homes.)

Buildings in the development will feature wider, naturally lit and ventilated corridors and thicker, more deeply insulated exterior walls, and exterior, automatic shading to keep units naturally cool in strong sunshine.

Unseen, drains will siphon rainwater falling on the project’s buildings into basement cisterns that will irrigate its copious green roofs and gardens in the summer and be enough to flush its toilets in the fall and winter.

However, beyond those features, which will combine to reduce Millennium Water’s energy use by 50 per cent and potable water use by 40 per cent (compared with its neighbours on the north side of False Creek), Bayley takes his visitors to the internal courtyard of the site’s Parcel 10 as the best vantage point to paint a picture of its overall sustainability.

Parcel 10 is still only dusty concrete, but here Bayley, with the firm Merrick Architecture, the planning firm for developer Millennium Development Corp., layers on images of what it will become.

Verdant gardens will be added, he said, including evaporative rainwater ponds that will act both to irrigate the shrubs and plants and cool the air on currents as they flow around gaps in the buildings designed to take advantage of air movement.

The courtyard is a perfect vantage point, Bayley said, to look up at the windows of the homes under construction, their proximity and how they all look out on this common space where neighbours can interact as a community rather than exist in isolation inside the towers.

“A lot of people think of sustainability in environmental terms only,” Bayley said during a recent tour of the construction site.

“They don’t think to take the next step of the social issue and what the social circumstance [of the development] feels like, and how those inter-relationships work.”

Notwithstanding Millennium Water’s environmentally sensitive features, that sense of community arising from residents’ ability to interact is a big element of what it means for a housing development to be sustainable.

Nor will it be just a sense of community among purchasers of the 736 market-priced homes in Millennium Water, but also among the residents of the 253 subsidized housing units and 119 rental apartments across the site, and how they will use the public spaces of the central plaza and the waterfront walkway.

“I think that’s the big experiment here,” Bayley said.

“This intermingling of different social activities and different social structures is all going to play out here in a melting pot that I think a lot of people are going to watch and see how successful it really was.”

Four main architect groups designed the project, including the late Arthur Erickson with collaborator Nick Milkovich, Stuart Lyon at GBL Architects Group Inc., Walter Frankl and Merrick, which designed the main buildings of the Olympic Village and coordinated the design team.

Hank Jasper, with the project’s developer, Millennium Development Corp., calls the design “civilized living in urban spaces.”

“I don’t want to sound like too much of an urban planner,” Jasper, general manager of construction and development for Millennium, added in an interview, “but that’s effectively what [the developer] has become, because it is a partnership between the city, us and the community.”

Some of the challenges that city officials had to co-operate on to meet the project’s objectives included allowing the developer more floor area in its buildings than usual in exchange for constructing thicker, more deeply insulated walls to meet energy conservation goals and wider corridors and stairwells to allow for the flow of natural light and ventilation.

“It’s a learning curve for everybody,” Jasper said, but a valuable lesson for everyone — from the city’s planning and building offices, to Millennium, to the consortium of architects to main contractors ITC and Metrocan and all their subcontractors.

“ We figured out ways to do things, and creative ways to do things, so I think it turned out to be very successful,” Jasper added.

One example: The project’s tight timeline (Millennium had just 30 months to turn the site from bare brownfield into more than a million square feet of built space) required the designers and contractors to make detailed layouts of all the suites sooner than they normally would to accommodate the manufacturing of the capillary mats for the radiant heating system.

The layout of ductwork for a typical condominium is “not that exacting,” Jasper said. Builders usually have some leeway to adjust ducts around building features once the rooms are all framed in.

The capillary mats, manufactured by the German firm Beakers, had to be produced long before the rooms even existed in order for them to be shipped in time for installation.

So it was the detailed drawings for the capillary mats that dictated the framing of rooms and the placement of lighting fixtures and sprinkler heads because they wouldn’t be able to work the mats around anything once they arrived.

The result for residents who move in, however, will be a more comfortable, healthier, naturally ventilated building that isn’t sucking in massive amounts of outside air that has to be filtered, then heated or cooled, to be run through a forced-air heating system.

Jasper said he and Bayley have travelled to Germany and experienced how the radiant system works in buildings where it has been installed.

“It has an overall much more comfortable feel.”

The City of Vancouver’s overall objective was to turn southeast False Creek, where it owned a substantial portion of the land, into a showpiece for sustainable development.

Millennium secured the rights to develop the city’s portion of the land, with a $193-million bid, to build about one million square feet of residential housing and 70,000 square feet of commercial space.

Jasper said it was in the process of deciding just what “sustainability” would mean: a neighbourhood built to the Canada Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold standard.

That included designing a community centre to LEED platinum standards, and throwing in a so-called “net-zero” apartment complex, which will create more energy, through systems such as a solar heating system, than it uses.

Jasper admitted the green features did add costs to the project. His estimate is about seven per cent over more typical construction methods.

However, the systems, in their totality, create value for residents in the quality of life that the development offers.

For Millennium, the payoff is that at a time when there is more focus on creating buildings that are friendlier to the environment, they are now at the leading edge of delivering that product in residential housing.

“We have a couple of projects on the board where we’re going to pursue similar LEED standards,” Jasper said.

“I’m not going to say we’ll do every project this way, but for certain projects and high-profile projects like this, I think the future buyer, they’re making a lifestyle choice,” Jasper said. “And I guess we’d like to think we’re in the forefront of delivering on that kind of lifestyle.”

It is certainly a lifestyle that the City of Vancouver hopes will catch on for future developments.

The fact that Millennium is already looking for ways to use what it has learned about sustainability in other developments is one thing that Ian Smith, development manager of the southeast False Creek and Olympic Village project for the City of Vancouver, counts as a success.

In 1997, Smith was the city planner overseeing official community planning for the cityowned lands when they started with the simple, vague notion of making “a model for urban sustainability.”

“We started out with an official development plan,” Smith said, “and shortly after, we won the Olympic bid to make it happen.”

Smith credits that event’s fixed timeline as an advantage to focus everyone’s attention on being decisive.

“ One of the real dangers in dealing with sustainability is that everybody loves to talk about it,” Smith said. “And there is always some kind of hope that next week there will be some new answer in Germany or Sweden that is going to be more sustainable than anything we’ve ever seen.”

However, Smith said the results so far have been better than expected in terms of the amenities that the city has gained, from the waterfront walkways and parks, to the construction of the district energy system and the legacy of influence that the planning effort to create the Olympic Village has already had around the city.

Smith said a lot of what has been learned “is being transferred to other buildings in the city. It continues to influence the way we do business.”

Discount pricing in the Okanagan

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Supply has caught up with demand after years of go-go growth in the second-home market

Steven Threndyle
Sun

Six of the Cottages at Secret Point remain unsold at Okanagan Lake. Two years ago, $829,000 was the top selling price. Today, the last homes are for sale for less than $500,000, including morage. At Kelowna Mountain, a ‘blowout’ approach to the market generated the sale of nine 2,700 – square-foot residences on one-lots with prices starting at $599,000. ‘Everyone is adjusting their expectations somewhat,’ a recreational property specialist in Kelowna comments.

The 24-lot Sheerwater property is located across from downtown Kelowna. A waterfront lot that attracted little attention at $2.2 Million is now for sale at $1.59 million.

As sure as the yellow arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in May in the Okanagan Valley, the Victoria Day weekend ushers in the tourist — and second-home –season. This year, along with apple and cherry blossoms and placid lakes perfect for waterskiing and wakeboarding, visitors looking for vacation property or a retirement home will see a significant drop in real estate prices year over year.

Albertans and Lower Mainlanders alike are in love with the long, lazy summer days out on the boat or the golf course. Improvements to the Coquihalla Connector, the twinning of a stretch of the highway just east of Merritt, and elimination of the toll booth at the top of the Coquihalla Highway have shortened the drive, from the Port Mann, to less than 3 1/2 hours.

After the five years of go-go growth that ironically followed the Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003, supply has finally caught up with demand. And while there haven’t been any significant cancellations, there certainly has been some upheaval in the second-home market and several high-profile projects are on hold for now.

At this point, primarily high-rise projects near the downtown core and along the waterfront in Okanagan Mission have been affected. With projects from the boom years nearing completion and abundant inventory available from now through the end of next year, several developments touted in billboards last year won’t likely be breaking ground until 2011 at the earliest. All of which is good news if you sat out the bubble and hoarded cash. Right now, buying real estate in the Okanagan is like buying last year’s surf shorts on the discount rack.

“Everyone is adjusting their expectations somewhat,” says Mark Jennings-Bates, a recreational property specialist in Kelowna.

Some developers have dropped prices fairly dramatically on the last few units in a complex, usually the least desirable ones.

Others have changed the product.

At Timber Ridge on the West Side Road near Fintry, what was once scheduled to be a low-key cottage resort is now being marketed as an upscale RV park. Which is actually a pretty good proposition, given that many RV parks along heavily-travelled Highway 97 have been turned into recreational condo/lifestyle resorts themselves.

Jennings-Bates reports that holiday weekend traffic at La Casa was brisk. There, 11 fully-furnished cottages starting at $279,000 are for sale on a waterfront development on West Side Road.

There are advertisements for Kelowna Mountain, a new development near the successful Kettle Valley neighbourhood and surrounded by an enormous playground of mountain biking and hiking trails.

Well-known B.C. developer Mark Consiglio and the marketing team at LandLaunch created www.goblowout.com to promote the new Kelowna Mountain project.

Similar to successful marketing strategies proven on the Lower Mainland, LandLaunch was able to quickly sell out nine one-acre fully-serviced lots complete with 2,700-square-foot homes for prices starting at $599,000.

“We wanted to really kick-start this project; it wasn’t until fairly recently that Mark got the approvals from the city to go ahead and start selling,” says LandLaunch’s Greg Lowe.

The nine lower lots, close to Kelowna and a new elementary school slated to open in 2010, sold out on May 21. The next phase of 18 lots are higher up the mountainside, where a finished home on a half acre lot will start at the same price, $599,000.

“There will be some lake view lots in this next phase,” says Consiglio, who also owns a massive 640-acre parcel above the Kelowna Mountain.

“We’ve had interest locally and from both the Vancouver area and Alberta.” These homes will be close to the new Kelowna Mountain Snow Park, a small ski hill that is slated to open next winter.

Another Consiglio project, the Cottages at Secret Point, has six out of 20 waterfront cabins left in a strata-title project on West Side Road.

At their height in 2007, these properties sold for as high as $829,000, and some are currently priced at under $500,000 — complete with boat moorage.

The only catch is that Secret Point is quite a ways up Westside Road; great if you love seclusion, maybe not so if you want to hit the casino at the Delta Grand Okanagan on Kelowna’s waterfront.

Speaking of waterfront, prices have also plummeted at Sheerwater, a gated waterview and waterfront community bordering on Knox Mountain. The Mission Group’s Bob Anderson says that seven out of 24 lots are still for sale.

“Due to the rugged nature of the building site, this is one place where lakeview lots actually sold better than lakefront.”

A waterfront homesite that listed for $2.2 million is now down to $1.59 million.

One unique aspect to Sheerwater is that prospective purchasers can “buy and hold” their property. Another is the absence of design guidelines.

A high-end waterfront spec house is expected to fetch more than $5 million when it’s completed later this summer.

One thing is for sure, the days of the deposit-paying flipper are over. “Today’s purchaser had better be prepared to use their property or put it into a rental pool,” Jennings-Bates says.

The days of easy profit-taking between first deposit and construction-completion are also over.

What that means is that a lot of people who actually intended on relocating to the Okanagan to either retire early or for recreational purposes will have an even wider range of prices and options, though CHMC analyst Paul Fabbri expects that resale prices will remain soft as increasing supply is absorbed into the market.

It’s not all cut-rate pricing and bargain hunting, however.

Up in uber-prestigious Woodland Hills in Kelowna‘s Okanagan Mission, developer Gaby Wager still has a $7.9 million house on the market.

Wager has found a unique vehicle for marketing this property — it’s going to be featured in Relationships, a TV series being produced by Antares Media.

So, while some dramatic cost cutting has happened over the past year, living the Okanagan dream is still within reach.

After all, everyone has their fantasy vacation home, don’t they?

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Dunbar townhouses a start-to-finish addition

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Older households have an ‘aging in place’ choice, younger a chance at a west-side address, Stirling developer hopes

Sun

‘West-side, romantic, garden architecture’ is the Stirling developoer’s dexcription of the new-home project. ‘We’re not building stuff for investors. We’re building for end users,’ howard Airey comments.

Not images of another Vancouver Kitchen-and-bath update, these interiors are Stirling on Dunbar artist impressions. Why renovate, when you can move into something new, and in the neighbourhood?

STIRLING ON DUNBAR

Project location: west-side Vancouver, Dunbar at 39th

Project size: 16 townhouses

Residence size: 1,547 sq. ft. – 2,037 sq. ft.; 2 – 4 bed

Prices: From the middle $800,000s

Sales centre: by appointment

Telephone: 604-267-0039

Web: stirlingliving.ca

Developer: The Airey Group

Occupancy: February 2010

- – -

In an older Vancouver neighbourhood in which the principal housing-type is the detached home, it’s no easy feat to persuade neighbours to accept an attached-home project. But that is exactly what happened with The Airey Group’s debut attached-residence project in Vancouver.

It didn’t hurt that company founder Howard Airey grew up three blocks from the property: he has an understanding of the Dunbar neighbourhood that would likely surpass any opponent of the densification incursion.

It also didn’t hurt that city hall, since the 1990s, has encouraged ”demonstration projects” of alternative housing types. As important, the project demonstrates EcoDensity principles. It will incorporate green building-techniques and will densify a neighbourhood outside the downtown.

In the 3 1/2 years that preceded rezoning, to multi-family from single-family, Airey faced more than his share of opposition. Recently he recalled just one such critic at an information meetings.

“I started to get the comment, ‘you’re just a greedy developer coming in to wreck our neigh-bourhood.’ So I asked the guy, ‘where was your house?’ I knew that house and I asked if he knew who built it. He didn’t, but I did. The house was built in the 1930s by a developer in an area that was all just swampy forest. Some guy back then took a chance. We’re doing the same thing here.”

The difference, of course, is that instead of constructing more single family homes on former swamp land, Airey is building a multi-family project in a location where lots alone sell for $1 million plus.

The townhouses, Airey says, are at a price point that will allow some young families a chance to get into the neighbourhood.

Airey also believes the townhouses will appeal to older residents who have lived for years in Dunbar, but want to downsize to a smaller home with easier maintenance.

Airey points to the example of his own 91-year-old mother who owned a Dunbar bungalow, originally purchased for $12,000, but had to sell for health reasons 10 years ago and leave the neighbourhood.

He says at the time his mother would have loved to stay in Dunbar but a townhome option wasn’t available and she didn’t want to move to an apartment block because she loves to garden.

She ended up moving to a basement suite in Kitsilano. Stirling on Dunbar has private front and back yards for all 16 townhouses that are small enough to make maintenance easy.

And for 10 of the homes, there will also be the option of having an elevator installed when residents feel their health prevents them from taking the stairs.

The project was designed in such a way that these particular homes would allow residents to “age in place” since the wall panels could be knocked out and an elevator installed.

Airey estimates the cost of installing an elevator later would be between $30,000 and $40,000.

Besides the elevator, the Dunbar townhouses can also be adapted by offering choices for use of space. For instance, on the first floor, the space can be used as a pantry, storage or powder room.

The master suite is on the third floor, but the second floor has a “cheater” master almost the same size as the third-floor bedroom.

The elevator would have three stops — the basement, first and second floor — so the second-floor bedroom could be used as the master bedroom, if necessary.

Airey says the fact the townhouses would provide a new housing option for older west-side households helped it gain approval from some residents.

“Quite often, some of the negative people who came out to the two public meetings changed their view. We also had people come out just to support us because they realize they will have to sell their house some day and will have no where to go,” Airey remembers.

The director of planning at city hall, Brent Toderian, and the co-chair of the Dunbar Residents Association, George Pinch, favoured the development. (Pinch told The Vancouver Sun in 2007 he felt Dunbar could handle a bit more density.)

Stirling on Dunbar in effect was a demonstration project that tested the city’s EcoDensity plan, of reducing the ecological footprint by building denser and greener.

At the time, Airey stated he felt the project’s acceptance or not would indicate how EcoDensity would work out, especially in areas of the city that hadn’t embraced density in the past.

“If we can’t get this done, there is no future for [EcoDensity]. I know there are developers sitting watching this, they won’t even try if this gets turned down,” he told The Vancouver Sun in March 2007 a few months before a public hearing on th proposal.

One opponent, realtor Brian Roche, says he, too, considered the townhouse project a ”demonstration project” – whether city hall would respect community preferences about density or approve any project deemed “environmental.”

Roche estimated opponents numbered 83 per cent of the homeowners within a two-block radius of the development. He says they wanted city hall to permit no more than what Dunbar residents have said they were willing to live with 10 years ago: rowhouses and townhouses along Dunbar.

Airey says he brought a number of options of housing configuration to the public meetings and is building the choice the residents selected

The final project has the higher townhouses on the busier Dunbar Street, while a fourplex is on 39th and a cottage duplex is in a courtyard, backing onto a lane.

The fourplex and duplex have a “single family massing” which makes them transition with the single family streetscape, says Airey. The materials used fit in with the existing homes.

“The homes have a 1930s, 1940s west-side, romantic, garden architecture with a slight twist with the brick work,” says Airey.

“We’re not building stuff for investors. We’re building for end users. We think we do a better job than anyone else [for this market]. I wouldn’t build anything I wouldn’t want to live in,” says Airey.

The 10 homes fronting Dunbar have the entire top floor devoted to the master suite with a balcony overlooking a landscaped courtyard.

“The courtyard is a great size. Usually they are quite tight, but because we are a medium density we have lots of green space,” says Airey. “It’s bigger than normal for a Vancouver townhome.”

It should encourage a good sense of community so these people will all be looking out for each other. A lot of people don’t want to go into an apartment because you never get to meet your neighbours.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Dell netbook for students of all ages

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Gillian Shaw
Sun

Latitude 2100, Dell

Aspire One AO751h netbook, Acer

iFrogz EarPollution earphones, iFrogz

Photo Shower Curtain, PhotoShowerCurtain.com

Latitude 2100, Dell, from $495

A netbook on every school desk. Already, university and college classrooms are a sea of laptop screens and now Dell has come up with a 10.1-inch netbook geared to the kindergarten to Grade 12 crowd. Clearly a company that has peaked into the backpacks of the average 11-year-old, Dell has given the Latitude 2100 a ruggedized design with a rubber casing for easy gripping. Wireless connectivity is a given, of course, and this netbook has an optional web cam. A network activity light on the lid is a giveaway for students who may not want the teacher to catch them web surfing. Weighing in at 1.32 kilograms, and available with a three- or six-cell battery, the Latitude 2100 has a three-in-one media card reader, optional external DVD+/-RW that plugs into the USB, and an optional touchscreen. Comes in five colours. www.dell.ca/latitude

Aspire One AO751h netbook, Acer, from $430

When this netbook craze started, the whole point was their tiny size — eight inches and smaller opened this new category. The tiny screens and keyboards have been giving way to larger ones, and Acer is pushing the netbook envelope with an 11.6-inch version, but promises it is thinner and lighter than earlier netbooks. However, it is larger overall and has a larger screen and full-sized keyboard to match. It’s blurring the lines between conventional notebook computers and their junior cousins, but Acer is the top netbook seller in Canada with a 72-per-cent market share and 80,380 units shipped, so it must be doing something right. From $430 with the extended six-cell battery version starting at $470. www.acer.com.

iFrogz EarPollution earphones, iFrogz, starting at $8 US for children’s to $20 and up for adults

Customize your headphones with a lineup that lets you mix and match components from the headband, base, side piece, speaker pieces, cushions and hinge piece to create your own look. The EarPollution lineup also offers earbuds in three styles with three earfit pieces to make fitting easier. Find them at ifrogz.com/earpollution.

Photo Shower Curtain, PhotoShowerCurtain.com, from $150 US

It’s the time of year for that perennial dilemma — what to get Dad for Father’s Day that he doesn’t already have. I’m betting the average dad doesn’t have a life-sized reprint of his favourite photo staring back at him in the shower. These curtains use a process that fuses the image into the fabric to create a permanent and durable image, according to PhotoShowerCurtain.com that takes customers’ photos and transforms them into the curtains. www.photoshowercurtain.com.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Proposed CPP changes could affect your golden years

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Craig McInnes
Sun

Pension changes include a carrot to continue working beyond 65 and a stick to discourage retiring at 60. Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

Has the rally in the stock markets rekindled your dream of early retirement?

If so, you may not be happy with the proposed changes announced with little fanfare this week to the Canada Pension Plan.

According to the information paper released by the federal and provincial ministers of finance at their spring meeting at Meech Lake, the new rules are designed to “better reflect the way Canadians live, work and retire.”

It appears, however, that rather than reflecting work habits, the changes are designed to change them by adding carrots for working past 65 and a stick to discourage retiring early.

These changes won’t affect people who are already retired and would be phased in starting in 2011. Before they can take effect, they have to be approved by Parliament and two thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population, not including Quebec, which has its own pension plan.

The changes come out of the review of the CPP held every three years. Even though they will affect most Canadians, they didn’t get much attention at first because they were released the same day that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty revealed that the budget deficit was heading for the moon.

The good news is that despite recent investment losses — $23.8 billion in the last fiscal year — the CPP is still in good shape based on the current mandatory contribution rate of 9.9 per cent of pensionable earnings, which is split equally between employers and employees. The current maximum pension available at 65 is about $910 a month.

Under existing rules, you can start drawing at 60, but you lose half a percentage point a month for each month you retire before your 65th birthday.

If you retire when you turn 60, you will get 30-per-cent less than if you wait until you are 65. You also have to quit working for at least two months.

If you start working again after that, however, neither you nor your employer has to continue paying contributions.

Under the new rules, you will no longer have to quit working for two months in order to start collecting benefits. That change could be useful for people who want to throttle back as they approach retirement without quitting altogether.

The stick is that the penalty for early retirement is being increased, from 0.5 per cent per month to 0.6 per cent. That represents a 36-per-cent reduction in the maximum monthly payment if you start collecting at 60.

You and your employer will also have to continue making contributions. That has the benefit of increasing your pension over time and closes what has essentially been a loophole that made it possible to continue working without paying CPP premiums after taking early retirement.

People who continue to work after 65 will be able to continue to make contributions until the age of 70, but contributions will be voluntary.

For workers, that is.

Employers will have no choice but to keep paying if workers choose to do so.

The carrot for working past 65 is that the maximum pension will be increased by 0.7 per cent for each month you continue to work and make contributions.

That is up from the current rate of 0.5 per cent a month.

One change that should benefit many pensioners regardless of when they retire is an increase in the number of low-income years that can be dropped from the calculation of lifetime pensionable earnings.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

 

Tower concept raises Chinatown’s ire

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

John Mackie
Sun

Fred Mah, president of the Chinatown Society Heritage Buildings Association, doesn’t think residential towers will improve business or solve social problems. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

300 West Hastings — building on left. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

21 East Pender — parking lot with ‘for lease’ sign. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

8 East Pender — low building on right. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

105 Keefer – garage at Keefer and Columbia. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

Cam Watt is spending $9 million converting a 1908 building in Chinatown into Vancouver‘s snazziest boutique hotel, the Keefer. When it opens in September, its four 2,400-square-foot suites will rent for “north of a thousand bucks per night.”

So imagine his surprise when he found out that the city of Vancouver had recently floated the concept of building a 30-storey condo tower next door at Keefer and Columbia, right in the middle of the historic neighbourhood.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Watt, whose building is five storeys.

“I’m doing a rooftop deck with a swimming pool and it’s becoming a little boutique hotel. The idea of a 30-storey building beside me . . . the whole thing would be in a shadow. I think that my little building is such a nice statement at the entrance of Chinatown, to have it covered up by some big tower would be a shame.”

Watt isn’t alone in his concerns. As part of its recently released Historic Area Height Review, the city proposed an additional three “special sites” that could possibly take 300-foot towers: on the Chinese Cultural Centre site at 8 East Pender, in the parking lot of the old BC Electric building at 21 West Pender and beside Victory Square at 300 West Hastings.

Many long-time Chinatown backers are aghast.

“That’s the core of Chinatown, the historical area,” says architect Joe Wai, who was part of a protest movement in the 1960s that saved Chinatown from being demolished for a freeway.

“There’s the French Quarter in New Orleans, the old city in Quebec – think about putting a highrise in the middle of those. Good grief, Charlie Brown.”

Real estate tycoon Bob Rennie is spending upwards of $10 million restoring Chinatown’s oldest building at 51 East Pender into his offices, a museum and an art gallery. He can’t believe the city would even consider building a tower on the Chinese Cultural Centre site, which is beside Chinatown‘s biggest tourist attraction, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Sun Yat-Sen Gardens is a park,” he said. “I don’t see the city, who also owns Stanley Park, looking at putting a row of townhouses around the seawall.”

Oddly, the city owns the land where Sun Yat-Sen Garden is located, but didn’t talk to Garden officials about the tower idea before it went public.

“No one spoke to the Garden about this, and I don’t know that anyone spoke to the Chinese Cultural Centre about this,” said Doug Halverson, president of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society. “It just suddenly appeared on these maps at a public meeting.”

Halverson said a tower at Pender and Carrall would destroy the serenity of the garden.

“The principle of a Chinese garden is that the walls provide separation from the noisy city,” he said.

“That separation from the city would involve having the city loom up 300 feet immediately outside the walls, so it’s not difficult for us to say we do not want a tower on the Chinese Cultural Centre site. Because if we lose a quarter of our sky — and by the way, there’s a second tower on Columbia and Keefer, so maybe we’d lose half the sky — that will so damage the garden that you may as well abandon it.”

To some people the idea of building a skyscraper on the Chinese Cultural Centre site is so ludicrous the city might be using it as a red herring to drum up opposition to any towers in the neighbourhood.

But city planning director Brent Toderian said the four “special sites” were selected because there has been developer interest in towers in the historic neighbourhood. Developer Rob McDonald, for example, has looked at a 40-storey tower at 21 West Pender, although Toderian thinks it may have not been a formal application. He stresses the special sites are just a concept for discussion, not a city or developer plan.

The Historic Area Height Review was initiated by the previous Non-Partisan Association council. The main proponent was Coun. Suzanne Anton, who argues there is a lack of “receiver sites” for heritage density transfer the city has already approved.

Under the now-suspended program, developers received a density bonus to help offset the cost of restoring heritage buildings. Basically, highrise developers would buy the bonus density so they could add a floor or five to their towers.

Anton said there is 1.4 million square feet of unused heritage density transfers, which at 6,000 square feet per floor works out to 230 floors.

“I don’t think we’re going to start putting tall buildings in the middle of Chinatown,” she said.

“The idea is [to find] sites around Chinatown, Gastown or Victory Square, not in the middle of a heritage block but in the vicinity, which could take some of this density.”

Albert Fok thinks some residential towers could be integrated into the neighbourhood.

“Sometimes creating a contrast is better than having one giant block of heritage buildings,” said Fok, president of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area Society.

Fok thinks a good model would be the historic Xintiandi neighbourhood in Shanghai, which has a core of old buildings surrounded by skyscrapers.

“They preserved the buildings, but they injected new ideas into it, putting hip restaurants in there, hip clubs and everything,” Fok says.

Fred Mah isn’t as sold on the merits of towers. Mah is president of the Chinatown Society Heritage Buildings Association, which recently helped to put together a proposal to have Chinatown designated a National Historic Site.

“The people who want to put in towers, their argument is that you’ll get more people living in there,” he notes.

“But building towers doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be people shopping in Chinatown. All you have to do is look at what’s happened to the City Gate development [nearby on Main]. There’s about six towers there. Look at Main Street in that section: Nobody is renting there.

“Another example is International Village [on Pender]. There are several towers there, but business [in the mall] is not that great. Some of the stores are empty and so on. People just drive in and drive out.

“To me [the problem is] there are a lot of social problems around Chinatown, and you cannot resolve the social problems just by putting in a tower.”

Joe Wai doesn’t think Vancouver‘s Chinatown should mimic Shanghai, Hong Kong or anywhere else.

“There is character in our Chinatown that is unique anywhere,” he said.

“It is not Chinese entirely, and not western. The situation in history [has resulted] in the kind of unique buildings we have. If we don’t want that, then wipe it out. But up to this point I haven’t really heard too many people who would [want to wipe it out], including the city of Vancouver, and a whole bunch of people who stopped the freeway, [such as] those of us who were young hotheads at the time.”

He laughs.

“Now we’re old hotheads.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Residents near Canada Line face $33 parking fees

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

David Karp
Sun

Residents living near four Canada Line stations in Vancouver will be required to pay $33 a year to park outside their homes if a staff recommendation to city council is approved.

A report being presented to council on Tuesday recommends permit parking for residents living close to the King Edward, Oakridge-41st Avenue, Langara-49th Avenue and Marine Drive stations. Starting next fall, residents would need to purchase permits to park on nearby streets from Monday to Saturday before 6 p.m.

The one-time costs of installing parking signs are estimated at $90,000, while revenue from the parking permits is estimated to be $38,000 each year. Enforcement of the permits is expected to generate additional revenue, said assistant city engineer Jerry Dobrovolny.

The report also recommends council designate commercial areas near the four stations as meter zones, which would allow staff to bring in parking meters at their discretion. Parking would cost $1 an hour, according to the report.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Police target cyclists with ‘information tickets’

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Critics call the campaign discriminatory, but police say many cyclists don’t realize they’re subject to specific rules under the Motor Vehicle Act

Denise Ryan
Sun

A Vancouver police traffic enforcement officer hands out information tickets Friday. Like drivers, cyclists who hit a pedestrian and then leave the scene could be charged with hit-and-run, a criminal offence. Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

There is good news and bad news for Vancouver cyclists.

The bad news is that during June, Bike Month in the city, traffic cops will be ticketing cyclists who violate the rules of the road.

The good news is that they’ll mostly be handing out “information tickets” aimed at educating bikers.

The fake tickets list all the possible violations bikers can commit — and just how much they’d be on the hook for if they get caught when the police are more focussed on enforcement than education.

Cyclists can be dinged for $109 for riding without a bell, another $109 for not having a red reflector on the rear of the bike or a light on the front. Talking on a cellphone while wheeling down the road is also worth $109.

Forget doubling your kid on the back; that’s another $109. And no, you can’t grab on to the back of a car for a free tow. Nor can you stand up on your pedals to get up that hill — if you don’t have your butt in the seat, that’s another $109.

If you bump into a pedestrian and cycle away without turning over your particulars, that’s considered a hit-and-run — and it’s a criminal offence.

“A lot of cyclists, and usually it’s the casual cyclist, may not realize they are subject to specific requirements under the Motor Vehicles Act legislation,” said Lindsey Houghton of the Vancouver police department.

Houghton added, “By conducting this information campaign we want to educate cyclists rather than punish them. We want to see people on bikes obeying the rules of the road.”

Houghton said that 3,730 violation tickets at $29 a pop were issued to cyclists without helmets between Jan. 1, 2008, and May 1, 2008.

Arno Schortinghuis, president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, said many cyclists are infuriated by the campaign.

“It’s discriminatory. You would never see a police officer pulling over a car to hand out the rules of the road to a driver.”

Schortinghuis said he believes the campaign is misguided, and would prefer a campaign that addresses both drivers of vehicles and cyclists.

“Yes, cyclists are breaking the law if they don’t follow the rules of the road, but it’s not the cyclists that are going to kill or injure the driver of the car,” he said. “We want cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to be very well-educated and get where they are going as safely as possible.”

He said the money might have been better spent by policing bike routes for drivers who speed or cut around diverters meant to keep the routes car-free.

Schortinghuis complies with all VPD and city cycling bylaws, he said, including a few he considers ridiculous.

“The bell rule is totally absurd,” he said. “A bell is going to do nothing to alert a car that you’re coming. The biggest focus should be on changing behaviour of drivers.”

He said Vancouver could use improvements, such as vulnerable road user legislation, to protect cyclists, but “it’s probably safer than a lot of people think.”

He recommends bikers educate themselves through safety courses such as the one the cycling coalition offers called Streetwise.

Houghton said that during Bike Month while the information campaign is under way, real violation tickets will be issued “with a very high degree of discretion.”

While he agrees that drivers also need to be educated, he said the focus of the campaign is on cyclists. “If we save one life, it’s worth it.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Two Bank of Montreal mortgage brokers are charged with fraud

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Not so, says bank’s former top mortgage specialist and 2 other defendants

Susan Lazaruk
Province

The Bank of Montreal Brentwood Centre branch, where Josephine Tortora allegedly split commissions with her manager Shenaz Poonja to become a defendant in a fraud lawsuit by the bank. Photograph by: Ric Ernst, The Province

The Bank of Montreal’s top mortgage specialist in Canada – who pulled in up to $1 million a year for five years working out of a Burnaby branch — is being sued by the bank for fraud.

The bank alleges Josephine (Giuseppina) Tortora secretly split commissions with her manager, Shenaz Poonja, a straight-salary employee, as payment for mortgages Poonja referred to Tortora.

Poonja, among the bank’s top financial-services managers in the country, was also named in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court, along with her husband, Shaffin Punja, who didn’t work for the bank.

The bank alleges that from 2005 to 2008 Tortora transferred $245,000 to Poonja’s account at a different bank in payment for the mortgage referrals. The women worked at the Brentwood branch.

Tortora’s yearly income, $30,000 in salary and the rest in commission, was between $800,000 and $930,000 during those years, according to court documents.

The lawsuit further alleges the three defrauded the bank by granting mortgages to 10 homeowners in Ontario based on appraisals they knew were submitted by a third party, George Papadogambros, against bank policy.

Papadogambros had altered the appraisals to overinflate the value of the houses, with the defendants’ knowledge, the suit alleges.

The three have denied everything in the lawsuit except their names and addresses and the two women have filed wrongful-dismissal counterclaims.

“This whole thing is bogus,” said Tortora, reached at her New Westminster home, one of six properties the lawsuit lists as hers.

“Some of the things the bank is pulling is insane.”

She referred other questions to her lawyer, David Perry.

“My client absolutely denies she’s done anything wrong in this,” he said. “She has been a very successful banker for the Bank of Montreal for years.”

Poonja and Punja’s lawyer, Naz Mitha, said: “The bank’s claims are completely without merit. Their own lending practices were lax.

“The bank was completely, fully aware of that [Poonja referring mortgages to Tortora],” he said.

Both women said the bank supported the team approach to mortgage-granting.

The bank, in its lengthy statement of claim, alleges Poonja regularly referred customers to Tortora, even though she was qualified to enter mortgage applications, creating “unnecessary commission charges to the bank.”

It noted Poonja initiated 122 mortgage applications in 2004 and 90 in 2005, but fewer than a half-dozen in each of the years 2006 to 2008.

Poonja referred between 40 and 100 mortgage customers a year for 2004 to 2008 to Tortora, for a total of $200 million in mortgages, the suit claimed.

The bank also requested the court freeze the defendants’ assets because it feared Tortora would move to Quebec and Poonja and Punja to Dubai, the suit said.

“The allegations made by the bank to support their cause of dismissal are unclear, untrue, misleading and inflammatory, high-handed, reprehensible and malicious in nature,” said Tortora’s defence statement.

Both women claim the bank has yet to properly provide the basis for the allegations and are also suing the bank for negligence.

Tortora was the bank’s top mortgage salesperson in Canada for 2003 to 2007 and was given the bank’s “best of the best” award for 2004 to 2008.

Poonja, who earned almost $95,000 a year with bonuses for a four-day week, had been awarded the “best of the best” award for five consecutive years.

Both were dismissed “for cause” at the end of last year, during which time, Tortora said in her statement of defence, she was earning $100,000 a month.

Reached at his North York, Ont., home, Papadogambros said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit and that he was facing one of his own filed by the bank in Ontario.

None of the allegations have been proved in court. A trial date is set for October 2010.

© Copyright (c) The Province