Thursday, March 31, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
I understand that over 200 of the 252 social and rental housing units are still empty, and that there was a flurry of activity when the new sales launch happened in February....but things have been surprising quiet ever since.
However, I did come across this 2007 story, and I think it is worth reading again, especially in light of the progress of the most recent sales program, and the new lawsuit by some of the purchasers who bought back in 2007.
Olympic village condos selling like hotcakes Prices range from $450,000 to $3.4 million
More than 80 per cent of the first wave of Olympic athlete's village market condos sold over two days last week, and almost all the buyers were local.
The condos, part of the Millennium Water development along False Creek, will become market housing the summer following the 2010 winter Games.
About 255 of the 302 units available in the first phase were sold, according to Bob Rennie of Rennie Marketing Systems. A second phase of 400 is expected to go on sale in February.
Some buyers and realtors stood in line for five days before sales started last Thursday.
Most units were priced at between $600,000--for a 725- to 759-square-foot suite with marginal view--and $3.4 million, although a few were available in the $450,000 to $600,000 range.
There are still about 10 available on either side of $500,000.
The cheapest still on the market is $489,000, which gets the owner 574 square feet overlooking the plaza and Salt heritage building. The $3.4 million unit was purchased, but some $3-million suites are available.
Rennie estimated there were only about five out-of-town buyers.
"There's a lot of interest from West Side addresses--from buyers who live on the West Side that don't necessarily want to be downtown," Rennie said. "And there's a huge amount of interest from buyers who see it as one of the last new communities --it's on the water and there's the legacy project [aspect], that it will be the home of the 2010 [Games]."
He's never seen prospective buyers line up for five days before and was taken aback by how much interest was shown in the project. The marketing company anticipated it would sell about half the units during the opening days.
"A lot of people that came in, they wanted a certain view or a certain size and said, 'You know what, for the big ones we want to wait until the next phases,'" Rennie said. "For the next phase all bets are off for how much activity there's going to be there and how we're going to handle it. Maybe we should do similar to Woodward's where everybody phoned in for a wrist band. But there's no one system you can put in place that doesn't offend somebody."
Rennie suspects the buying frenzy was sparked by three factors: the "green" aspect of the project as a sustainable community, the Olympic connection and the views of False Creek, the city and the mountains.
"We keep switching around over which one we think is the driving force in buying," he said.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I met him a number of years ago and have enjoyed witnessing his participation in discussions about the planning of Vancouver's neighbourhoods . Ned has been very interested and involved in the Little Mountain Planning Process and sent me the following comments in response to my earlier post. Since his comments are quite lengthy, they did not fit into the comment box, so I am posting them here. I think they provide a very comprehensive assessment of one man's answer to my question. What's happening at Little Mountain:
Reply to “So What's Happening at Little Mountain? Is it the next Olympic Village?”
To the best of my knowledge your information concerning the Little Mountain situation is correct, and your surmise—that a mess of Olympic Village proportions may be unfolding—seems plausible.
Before I comment, though, full disclosure on my involvement in the issue:
I have lived and worked in the Riley Park neighbourhood since 1980 and been involved with the Little Mountain (LM) issue since 2003 when I participated in a Community Vision (CV) workshop concerning the future of LM and served on the Riley Park/South Cambie CityPlan Community Liaison Group that oversaw the creation of the Community Vision approved by City Council in 2005. I am a founding member of Community Advocates for Little Mountain (CALM) http://www.my-calm.info/index.
It was expected that the LM planning process would require about a year to complete a policy to guide rezoning. It began in December, 2009, with open houses and a series of meetings, workshops and walking tours involving the Advisory Group, CoV staff, Holborn Properties and their consultants, architect James Cheng and Jim Green & Associates. The last meeting was in September, 2010. After an unexpected break, participants received an email from staff on October 26th that stated “we are still not in a position to call an Advisory Group meeting as the proponent has not yet delivered the 3-D concepts needed for evaluation by the City and analysis by our independent economic consultant. As soon as we are in a position to coordinate a presentation of the concepts and their evaluation, we will arrange an Advisory Group meeting.” We waited and waited and waited.
Finally, in February, 2011 the RPSC Committee was advised that the 6-month interruption of the LM planning process was due, in fact, to an impasse between Holborn and the City. Staff concluded that the developer was not prepared to work within the directions and principles set out by Council, and only wished to present concepts to the Advisory Group that were financially “feasible,” that is, based on their undisclosed agreement with BC Housing. Staff did not think that the design concepts that Holborn were developing were suitable for presenting to the Advisory Group because, in their view, they were inappropriate in terms of residential density and building forms for a site that is not in easy walking distance of a rapid transit station or a significant employment area, and is adjacent to a low-rise “single family” area. The City also concluded that the financial implications of proceeding on the basis of the proponents apparent expectations were that Vancouver, in effect, would be helping to subsidize the social housing that was a provincial responsibility.
On November 19, 2009, at the meeting to establish a Little Mountain Planning Program, Council moved “THAT the Mayor further advise BC Housing and Holborn Properties that disclosure of the key elements of their agreement on Little Mountain is essential for the public consultation to be meaningful, and to produce a positive rezoning in a timely way.” Whether the public process is “meaningful” remains to be seen, but is seriously in doubt. The “key elements” (conditions of the sale) have not been forthcoming, and consequently, a rezoning—positive or otherwise—cannot be produced in a timely way. Jim Green & Associates, speaking for Holborn, have indicated that the developer cannot divulge the information sought by the Mayor and the RPSC Committee because of a confidentiality agreement with BC Housing. This much is known: the sale will not be final until the property is rezoned, which would require a subsequent planning process. It is now clear that whatever Holborn agreed to pay for the land was based on a hypothetical rezoning, and the RPSC Committee has been told on several occasions that if the conditions for redevelopment are not economically viable, Holborn will not proceed. Presumably, if that were to happen it would mean a new Request for Proposals (though the government of the day might decide to maintain ownership and redevelop according to a different strategy). CoV staff have indicated that if the process were to break down the City would complete the policy planning process. That, at least, would provide clarity for future development proposals.
In the meantime, the more than $400,000 that Holborn was required to provide for the policy planning have been exhausted. For the process to continue the developer will have to come up with more money. Holborn has continued to do outreach work during this period (e.g. discussions with some of the former tenants and with the board of the Little Mountain Neighbourhood House), but this research has not involved the Advisory Group, or the CoV in any formal sense, and is not regarded by staff as part of the public planning process.
The City’s economic consultant has provided an estimate of the current market value for the 15-acre site, which,the basis of the existing zoning would accommodate apartments up to 4 storeys, and could provide up to about 1000 dwelling units—more than four times the density of the demolished LM housing complex. This baseline figure has not yet been made public, but it will serve as the basis for calculating “land lift” and public benefits, including replacement of the inadequate LM Neighbourhood House, and possibly some additional non-market housing that could be negotiated with the developer through a rezoning.
At a 2007 meeting with BC Housing officials, I asked CEO Shane Ramsay how proponents would know how much to offer if they didn’t know what amount or forms of development would be approved. He explained that developers would make their offers conditional on the density that was approved by the City. But now it appears that the proponents were required to place bets based on what they thought they could get approved. Holborn’s parent company is a Malaysian merchant bank, reportedly with deep pockets, and they took the plunge that more prudent and experienced development companies would not take. Possibly they thought—or were led to believe—that with the government standing behind them the sky was the limit.
In a speech to the Urban Development Institute on May 21, 2009, Holborn’s marketer, Bob Rennie, predicted more than 2500 condos at LM. Add the 224 replacement social housing units (it will actually be 234 units due to a reduction of ca 5% in BC Housing floor space requirements), and we’re looking at roughly 2750 units.
But wait—there’s more. A Council resolution states: “THAT staff communicate Council’s priority for dealing with homelessness and creating more social housing to BC Housing and the developer of Little Mountain (Holborn Properties) and seek opportunities to ensure timely planning, while respecting community concerns, through various stages from policy planning to zoning, to development permits with the intent of expediting and achieving replacement social housing (224 units) or 20% social housing of the total built units, whichever is greater, as soon as possible.” 20% of 2500 equals 500, so we’re actually looking at a combined total of more than 3000 units. And Council also moved: “THAT staff explore opportunities to increase the family housing component of the market units of the development of Little Mountain beyond the typical Major Project Requirement of 25% total units.” That means a higher proportion of 2 and 3-bedroom units, which increases FSR for the housing and also the space needed for family amenities, such as day care centres, playgrounds, food stores, etc. Calculating FSR and correlations between height and land coverage is not something I am qualified to do, but surely this would translate to an average building height well in excess of 15 storeys.
How would this square with Council’s requirement for “respecting community concerns?” Input from several CoV open houses, and a public forum hosted by the RPSC Committee, have thus far shown strong support for the existing zoning, moderate support for buildings up to 6 storeys, and virtually no support for higher forms. It remains to be seen if there will be a significant shift in these positions as people examine and consider the possibilities, but I would be very surprised if towers are supported, and there are strong arguments for maintaining human scale and ground-oriented development in a neighbourhood that is a magnet for families with children. Concerns have also been raised in regard to the visual impacts from towers on Queen Elizabeth Park, which contains Canada’s first civic arboretum.
There is, however, strong support for additional non-market housing. CALM and the Citywide Housing Coalition organized the “Stand for Housing—Homes for All” rallies in 2008 and 09, and along with the RPSC Committee applied the pressure that led to the Council resolutions that are incompatible with Holborn’s expectations. Riley Park has long been a source of affordable family housing which in recent years has been eroded by the inflated Vancouver housing market. A RPSC CV Approved Direction states” The City should urge federal/provincial governments to reinstate programs that fund non-market housing and to develop new initiatives that would make housing more affordable for low income households.” It does not urge governments to sell off permanent and irreplaceable appreciating assets (public land) to fund temporary, depreciating assets (construction of supportive housing in Vancouver and other municipalities). This unsustainable housing strategy is analogous to selling the house to buy furniture! Moreover, social housing and mixed income co-ops would be a better fit than social housing and condos (which in Vancouver are now high-end by definition).
Since I began writing this reply I received word that an Advisory Group meeting has been scheduled for March 30 “to reconvene the group, provide updates, share information and begin the density and height explorations for the Little Mountain site.” That will be welcome news to many, and especially the dislocated tenants, who were told by BC Housing officials in 2007 that they could be back at Little Mountain in their new homes by 2010 (at this point the best-case scenario is that the first replacement units could be occupied in 2014).
But it leaves some huge questions unanswered. What exactly has occurred to break the impasse between Holborn’s and the City’s incompatible expectations? Has the City agreed to drop their conditions? Has Holborn managed to renegotiate the problematic “key elements of their agreement” with BC Housing? Are they looking to cut future losses by transferring their interest to another company? Or have all three parties agreed to stick their heads in the sand and carry on as if there never was an impasse, hoping that the obstacles will somehow be resolved in the future—perhaps following the upcoming municipal and provincial elections?
That would not be acceptable. We need to have a frank and open discussion about the reasons for the impasse, and what—if anything—has been done to resolve it. BC Housing and Holborn must respond positively to Council’s request that the “key elements of their agreement” be disclosed, in order to allow for a meaningful planning process, even though it can no longer be timely. The alternative is a process that continues to be dogged by distrust and fraught with apprehension over where it is leading and when the long-delayed rebuilding of a community at Little Mountain might realistically begin.
Monday, March 21, 2011
In case you didn't hear from the Royal Malaysia Police Force today, I wanted to share the good news I received.
ROYAL MALAYSIA POLICE FORCE ( RMPF )
Royal Malaysia Police Headquarters,
50560 Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
ROYAL MALAYSIA POLICE FORCE ( RMPF )
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN PAYMENT
(RESOLUTION PANEL ON CONTRACT PAYMENT)
KUALA LUMPUR MALAYSHIA
From The Royal Police Force ( RPF )
Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Omar,CFR,mnik, (IGP)
Attention: ATM Card Beneficiary,
I wish to use this medium to congratulate you for being among the 25 lucky beneficiaries who where chosen by the house of senate of Malaysia to compensate Foreigners all over the world, luckily your email address was among the 25 emails that was selected by the house of senate this year and the full Payment of USD$5.8 (Five Million Eight Hundred Thousand Dollars) from CENTRAL BANK OF MALAYSHIA have been RELEASED and APPROVED for onward transfer to you via an ATM CARD which you will use to withdraw the entire USD $5.8Million USD in any ATM SERVICE MACHINE in any part of the world, but the maximum you can withdraw in a day is USD$9,500 Only.
We have instructed Mr.Sans Malu to send you the ATM CARD and PIN NUMBER which you will use to withdraw all your USD$5.8 Million Dollars in any ATM SERVICE MACHINE in any part of the world, but as i have mentioned earlier, the maximum you can withdraw in a day is USD$9,500 only.
You are therefore advice to contact the Head of ATM CARD Department of CENTRAL BANK OF MALAYSHIA Contact Person: E-mail address :( email@example.com) Mr.Sans Malu and inform him that you received a message from the Malaysia Police Force instructing him to send you the ATM CARD and PIN NUMBER which you will Use to withdraw your USD$5.8 Million Dollars in any ATM SERVICE MACHINE in any part of the world, also send him your direct phone number and contact address Where you want him to send the ATM CARD and PIN NUMBER to you.
Thanks for adhering to this instruction and once again accept our congratulations.
Yours In Service
Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Omar, CFR, mnik,
Inspector-General of Police.
Does anybody really fall for this stuff?
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Over the past week, the world has been focussing on Japan and the terrible destruction that has occured. However, there is no doubt that the Japanese are amongst the most ingenious and creative people in the world. Indeed, they may well be the most ingenious and creative.
I came across this video after reading the story on page B5 of today's Vancouver Sun about geminoids. Part man or all machine? Ladies and gentlemen, the future may be now!
Friday, March 18, 2011
While there are many differences between the Little Mountain property and the Olympic Village site, there are also many similarities. Each site was offered for sale by a level of government through a two stage Proposal Call process. In each case, the successful bidder offered much more than what all other bidders and most real estate analysts thought the property was worth. Both are high profile sites and each requires a significant mix of market and non-market housing.
Little Mountain was the first public housing project in British Columbia, developed by the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1954. I spent 10 years with CMHC, and my last project was a submission to management on the regeneration of older public housing projects. For this reason, I very much wanted to be involved with the redevelopment of the Little Mountain property. I considered it an important prototype for future projects in Vancouver and across the country. While I was disappointed that my team was not successful, I am now equally disappointed with the apparent lack of progress with the planning and redevelopment of the property. Moreover, I am worried that the public sector is about to again lose money it was expecting from a developer who offered to pay too much.
Today I Googled ‘Little Mountain’ and came across a very attractive little website. http://www.vancouverlittlemountain.com/home It includes “The Vision of Little Mountain Development: A vibrant neighbourhood with diversified housing, sustainability, social awareness, community engagement, affordability, livability, efficient land use, pedestrian and bike movement, demographic diversity, urban planning & architectural excellence.” It also includes Jim Green’s Report since Mr. Green is a consultant to Holborn on the project. He talks about Mole Hill and his views on other innovative housing initiatives in the city and the environment and sustainability.
The City and Province also have websites that include dozens of documents and reports. However, notwithstanding the very long lapse of time, there do not appear to be any substantial plans for the property. While I noticed that the very talented Jim Cheng is the architect, and I found a few schematic ‘site plans’, I could not find any drawings or models showing just how much housing might be built…and at what densities and building heights. I suspect both height and density will be of interest to the single family neighbours who surround the property and other architects and developers who are contemplating rezonings along Cambie Street, or elsewhere in the city. I'm also interested since my team was told, before we withdrew from the bidding process, that our density was not high enough.
So why do I care? I care because I fear that Little Mountain could become the next Olympic Village. In both cases, the developer offered to pay too much for the property. In both cases, there is a requirement for a substantial social housing component. In both cases the expectations of the developer probably differ from the aspirations of the surrounding communities and interest groups. And both involve the City and the Province and the politics that governments usually bring to real estate development.
While most of us are very absorbed with the Olympic Village, the proposed Casino, and the various rezonings along the North Shore of False Creek, I think it is probably time for what Frances Bula calls ‘urban wonks’ to start to pay attention to what’s happening on this strategic property. My prediction? If we’re not careful, just as happened at the Olympic Village, government will not get the huge amount of money and social housing that the developer promised. I hope I’m wrong, but somehow, I doubt it. Otherwise, I would not have gone out on a limb and published this post!
Over to you….urban wonks!
A WOMAN GOES BACK TO WORK AFTER THIRTY YEARS..
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
It is almost impossible to imagine the challenges facing the Japanese people, especially those close to the centre of the earthquake and tsunami, and now facing the possibility of radiation from the nuclear plants. However, as I watch the situation on TV, I can't help but think of a book I read a number of years ago, Blindness, by the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago who recently passed away, which dealt with another form of terror....a plague of blindness. Below is a description of the book (which was made into a movie), from Wikipedia.
While many of us may not need any more horror in our lives at the moment, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to experience how some people reacted in the face of great tragedy. Whether the people in Japan will react like the people in this Portuguese novel is something I don't really know...but there is no doubt that there are certain human qualities that remain constant around the world, especially in the face of tragedy.
My thoughts are with the people of Japan, and my Japanese friends in Canada.
Blindness is the story of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness afflicting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows. The novel follows the misfortunes of a handful of characters who are among the first to be stricken and centers around a doctor and his wife, several of the doctor’s patients, and assorted others, thrown together by chance. This group bands together in a family-like unit to survive by their wits and by the unexplained good fortune that the doctor’s wife has escaped the blindness. The sudden onset and unexplained origin and nature of the blindness cause widespread panic, and the social order rapidly unravels as the government attempts to contain the apparent contagion and keep order via increasingly repressive and inept measures.
The first part of the novel follows the experiences of the central characters in the filthy, overcrowded asylum where they and other blind people have been quarantined. Hygiene, living conditions, and morale degrade horrifically in a very short period, mirroring the society outside.
Anxiety over the availability of food, caused by delivery irregularities, acts to undermine solidarity; and lack of organization prevents the internees from fairly distributing food or chores. Soldiers assigned to guard the asylum and look after the well-being of the internees become increasingly antipathetic as one soldier after another becomes infected. The military refuse to allow in basic medicines, so that a simple infection becomes deadly. Fearing a break out, soldiers shoot down a crowd of internees waiting upon food delivery.
Conditions degenerate further, as an armed clique gains control over food deliveries, subjugating their fellow internees and exposing them to rape and deprivation. Faced with starvation, internees do battle and burn down the asylum, only to find that the army has abandoned the asylum, after which the protagonists join the throngs of nearly helpless blind people outside who wander the devastated city and fight one another to survive.
The story then follows the doctor and his wife and their impromptu “family” as they attempt to survive outside, cared for largely by the doctor’s wife, who still sees (though she must hide this fact at first). The breakdown of society is near total. Law and order, social services, government, schools, etc., no longer function. Families have been separated and cannot find each other. People squat in abandoned buildings and scrounge for food; violence, disease, and despair threaten to overwhelm human coping. The doctor and his wife and their new “family” eventually make a permanent home and are establishing a new order to their lives when the blindness lifts from the city en masse just as suddenly and inexplicably as it struck.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
While the city is embroiled in Public Hearings on the proposal to build an enlarged casino in Vancouver, two interesting stories appeared in my inbox today regarding the Olympic Village. The first is from Macleans magazine. http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/03/08/live-like-an-olympian%E2%80%94now-half-price/ Many of the comments are by participants in a forum held late last month organized by SFU/ThinkCity and the Planning Institute of BC on lessons to be learned from the Olympic Village. I am in general agreement with most of comments in the story, although I was surprised to read the comment attributed to the Mayor which implies that politicians...presumably NPA politicians 'prioritized' luxury units.
Trust me, Your Worship, Kim Capri and Elizabeth Ball did not decide what the unit sizes should be. Those decisions were made by the Maleks and Bob Rennie
The other story is very interesting and addresses the broader issue of social engineering and combining the rich and poor in neighbourhoods around the city. Notwithstanding the vigorous criticisms I received when I suggested that it wasn't fiscally prudent to mix the really rich with the really poor, I decided to repeat this to the very bright lady who wrote the story. You can find it here. http://www.bcbusinessonline.ca/2011/03/07/vancouver-mixed-income-housing-woodwards?page=0%2C0