Friday, July 20, 2018

Vinson House Cottages: demonstrating financially viable heritage conservation

Sitting on a large 12,000 sq.ft. Ambleside lot, realtors expected the 1913 Vinson House to be demolished when it was about to go on the market in early 2015. Instead it was purchased by Trasolini Chetner and Geller Properties with the intention of seeking a Heritage Revitalization Agreement from the District of West Vancouver to add a new single-level Garden Suite below the house and two infill units on the lot.
     On Wednesday July 18th, Trasolini Chetner and Geller celebrated the completion and formal 'opening' of Vinson House, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith. In attendance were former owners of the house, neighbours, and some of the 15 different consulting firms who were involved with the project.
You have to look closely to see what is old and what is new inside Vinson House. While the living room appears the same as before, if you look closely you will see that a sprinkler system has been added, along with discreet pot lots, under the direction of heritage consultant Donald Luxton.
Original push button light switches have been kept. Well, some have. CSA approved replacements were sourced in the US and installed in other rooms, along with a state-of-the-art security system.
While some stained glass was retained, additional stained glass was sourced and incorporated into the design. These windows, from a 1913 Portland Oregon home were added to the new second floor laundry room.
Looking down from the restored second level sleeping porch, one views the new garden with its bird baths and plantings designed to replicate the original Edwardian garden.
     So far, the lower level garden suite has been sold and the infill units are on the market at $2.6 and $2.8 million. While not inexpensive, they are approximately 2400 and 2570 sq.ft. and cost considerably less than any other new West Vancouver houses.
     The heritage house will soon be listed for sale. While the price hasn't been finalized, there will be a '3' in front of it.
     While the project took 50% longer to build, and construction costs were approximately 50% more than initially budgetted, by obtaining approval to add new units on the lot, the project should remain profitable.
     Details can be found at To arrange a viewing contact Elaine Biggan at or 604 880 4559. For more information contact me at or 778 997 9980.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Finally, Vinson House Cottages is finished! Ribbon Cutting Ceremony July 18th

      I started the Vinson House heritage conservation project in January 2015, and I'm delighted to say that it is finally finished. In addition to moving and restoring the old house, we built a new suite below and two infill houses, all surrounding an Edwardian-style garden.
     Below is a news release I have sent out in the hope that this small but innovative project might attract some media interest.
     After all, it is West Vancouver's first Heritage Revitalization Agreement project that has been completed, and is the first involving an older, heritage house. And while one home has sold, I need to sell the three remaining homes. Prices start at $2.6 million (or about $1100 a foot for those of you who think that way.)
     The irony is that when I started this project, the real estate market was very hot and I didn't worry about selling the homes at a reasonable price and profit. But things have certainly changed and while we didn't cut back on the quality, especially in the case of the heritage house restoration, I do now worry about the market response.
     While we are about 7 months behind schedule in finishing the development, I am delighted with the way the development has turned out. Trasolini Chetner, who was both the builder and a partner in the development has done an excellent job. So did the full consulting team led by Formwerks Architectural.
     I'll report back in a couple of weeks. More details at

For immediate release.
July 16, 2018

West Vancouver mayor to cut ribbon at District’s first completed Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) development.
At a time when many heritage and character homes are being demolished to make way for larger new houses, on July 18th, West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith will be cutting a ribbon to celebrate completion of West Vancouver’s first Heritage Revitalization Agreement for one of the District’s early heritage homes.
Situated on a large secluded lot at 1425 Gordon Avenue, Vinson House was built in 1913 for the well-known photographer Valient Vivian Vinson, who was also Reeve of West Vancouver between 1918 and 1929. It was the first house in the upper Hollyburn area, and originally stood on a two-hectare lot.

The house, which is an excellent, well preserved example of the Craftsman style, has been relocated on the lot and renovated in accordance with a Conservation Plan prepared by heritage consultant Donald Luxton. Construction was by Trasolini Chetner who, along with architect and developer Michael Geller, was a partner in the development.

Designed by Formwerks Architectural, in addition to the heritage house, the development includes three infill homes: a single-level garden suite below the heritage house; a laneway cottage at the rear of the lot; and a garden cottage tucked into the front corner of the property. Each of the homes has its own private garage and range in size from approximately 1900 to 2600 sq.ft.
According to Geller who initiated the development in early 2015, this project is significant for two reasons. It retains an important part of West Vancouver’s history and neighbourhood character.
It also results on new ‘missing-middle’ housing choices that are not being offered in the community.
Like his earlier Hollyburn Mews development that was also built by Trasolini Chetner, Vinson House Cottages attempts to combine the charm and neighbourliness of yesteryear with the modern conveniences of today. Residents can enjoy a large shared Edwardian-style garden.
While the Garden Suite has been sold, the heritage house and two infill cottages are now being offered for sale. Prices start at $2.6 million.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place around 4:45 on Wednesday July 18th, 2018.
For more information contact Michael Geller 778 997 9980 or geller@sfu.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Opinion: Property taxes should better reflect different types of homes Vancouver Courier July 5th, 2018

Single-family lots and multi-family properties should have different taxation categories      Everyone knows that July 1 is Canada Day, while our neighbours to the south mark July 4 as Independence Day. But both are special days for other reasons.

      In British Columbia, July 1 is also Valuation Day. It is the date B.C. Assessment estimates the market value of your home to determine next year’s property taxes.
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     July 4 is the date the balance of this year’s property taxes is due. (I hope you didn’t forget
My first 2018 Courier column was about property taxes. Since then, property taxes have been in the news on an almost daily basis, thanks -- or no thanks -- to Vancouver’s Empty Home Tax, and the province’s so-called School and Speculation Taxes.
     I recently sat down with veteran broadcaster Stu McNish who hosts “Conversations that Matter” to discuss these taxes and other concerns about B.C.’s property assessment system.
     We are being told our property taxes are too low and should be increased to collect money from foreigners who do not pay Canadian income taxes, and to transfer wealth from homeowners in $3-million-plus homes and those with second homes, to those struggling to afford housing.
     While I oppose these NDP government tax changes, I would like to see changes to our current property taxation system to make it more equitable and effective.
     While travelling in Vietnam, I noticed a lot of tall, skinny buildings, often in rural locations. I asked my guide why the buildings were designed this way and was told it was because of property taxes. Skinny buildings paid lower taxes than wider buildings since they required less roadway, sidewalks, water and sewer pipes.
     In B.C., residential property taxes are based on the value of a property. I once owned a house on an island at the end of a long road and a downtown highrise apartment. Since both were assessed at the same value, the property taxes were the same.
However, the apartment required fewer roads and services to be constructed and maintained. It received no municipal garbage collection; residents paid for private collection through their strata fees.
     While property taxes cover more than just roads and sewer pipes, if we want to promote more efficient uses of single-family land, and encourage people to live in more compact, sustainable forms of housing, B.C. Assessment should have more than one residential classification category. As a minimum, I would propose two categories: one for homes on single-family lots and one for multi-family properties. In future, there could be additional categories for rowhouses, apartments and possibly rental housing.
     Each category would have its own mill rate. This is the mathematical factor used by municipalities to calculate property taxes, based on assessed value. Single-family properties would have a higher mill rate than townhouses and apartments.
     Although the total taxes collected would remain the same, the result would be higher property taxes for single family homes and lower taxes for multi-family homes of the same assessed value.
While my single-family neighbours might not like this approach, it would better correlate taxes with services. Ultimately, it would encourage more efficient use of land and reward people for living in more compact housing forms.
     I also encourage the B.C. government to change its tax policies as they relate to certain ALR properties. British Columbia law stipulates that agricultural properties with more than two acres can keep their farm status with very significant tax breaks, if they sell just $2,500 worth of farm products a year. This can be achieved with a vegetable garden or a few dozen chickens in a corner of the estate.
     As a result, many Southlands and Richmond mansions are paying less in tax than small East Vancouver houses.
     I complained about this in a Courier column exactly four years ago. Sadly, nothing has happened.
     Our property tax system requires other changes to prevent local shops and restaurants from shutting their doors because of high property taxes, since they are based on “highest and best use” (which may be a future highrise), not as a florist or fish market.
But that is another story for another day.