Thursday, September 30, 2010

What to do with the 252 Social/Rental Housing Units at Olympic Village

The following are notes that I posted on Frances Bula's blog ( in response to the news that the Province has rejected all of the proposals to manage the social housing and market housing units at the Olympic Village, and the City wants to go it alone...which appears to mean it will be guaranteeing another loan which it was hoping the Province would guarantee:

I hate to keep dwelling on this, but I think the city will make a bad situation worse by ignoring the messages coming from the province and trying to ‘go it alone’ with the Portland Hotel Society.

I would like to make it clear that I am not normally opposed to mixing market and non-market housing. As the federal government’s Special Coordinator for the Phase One redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek, I helped the city achieve its one third low income, one third mid income and one third higher income social mix. As Program Manager-Social Housing for CMHC I oversaw the development of thousands of social housing units, many of which were integrated with market developments. As the President of the SFU Community Trust I helped create a social mix by including both housing for students in smaller ‘suites within suites’ and non-market faculty and staff housing at UniverCity.

However, in this particular situation, I think the time has come for the city to admit that it might be better to accommodate lower income households on the immediately adjacent City-owned sites , and allow some or all of these 126 social housing units and 126 market rental units to be sold as more affordable ownership units.

Priority could be given to those seeking ‘workforce’ housing in the city including firefighters, police officers, school teachers, etc. To differentiate this housing from the market condominiums, the land could be leased, rather than sold.

Over time, as the city’s financial position improves, some units could be bought back and used social housing, if so desired.

I reiterate this suggestion since it would help the city recoup its costs, and maybe even make a small profit, rather than incur over $60 million in subsidies, some of which are being used to subsidize high income people to move into the market units.

According to the staff report that was considered by council last April, the city could make up to $60 million+ by selling the units. That’s a $120 million+ swing between renting and selling.

City staff feared that selling these units would negatively impact the sale of the market units. I would suggest the opposite is true. If the Portland Hotel Society, (which I understand to be the preferred bidder, and which has an admirable track record dealing with the hard-to-house in the DTES) is the selected operator, many potential buyers of the condominium units could be deterred from buying. We are starting to hear this message from many real estate experts and urban commentators. In other words, this type of social housing could reduce the value of the market units.

Another reason why I am so concerned in this instance is that mixing the very rich with the very poor usually does not create a good community. This is very hard to do successfully. I would note that former city alderman Libby Davies (whose judgment and compassion I have often admired) and housing advocate Jim Green supported this view when consideration was being given to housing the very rich and very poor together at Bayshore in Coal Harbour. In the end, politicians from all political parties agreed that a ‘payment in lieu’ was a preferable approach for some of the units, and the Performing Arts Lodge was approved for the balance. This ended up as an award winning solution.

Another reason for selling the units would be to reduce the city’s potential losses on this development. I do not pretend to know all the numbers, but I do know that the city was counting on getting the balance of the $193 million land payment to pay for the cost of the extensive infrastructure and community amenities. While we don’t talk about it, I have been advised by city staff that most, if not all of the city works have gone over budget. The land payment from Millennium was to cover these costs. Now it appears this payment may not be made.

In addition, the city has lent Millennium the money to complete the project. I am advised that the city is not likely to get all of this loan repaid from the proceeds of the sales. The only question is how much are we going to lose. By selling the social housing and market rental units the city to could help reduce potential losses.

(If it is politically impossible for this council to sell the social housing units, then at least sell the rental units. Why should we as taxpayers be subsidizing people to live in them? And we are, since the proposed rents, even at $1600 a month and more, are not sufficient to cover the costs and a nominal return on equity.)

Furthermore, Millennium is having some difficulty renting its 129 market rental units. That’s right. Millennium has rental units that are only 35% leased to date. And the city still hasn’t rented all of its units at 1 Kingsway after 9 months. Why bring more market rental units to market, especially when no one appears to want to manage them.

Some will say that my comments should be ignored since they are just politically motivated. They are not. Rather they are based on four decades experience in the development of market and non-market housing across Canada. They are based on what I think is common sense, rather than political ideology. As I said on the Bill Good Show, I think this Vision Council is often well intentioned, and it has accomplished many good things. But it has made a number of mistakes, and continuing to try and keep these expensive and inappropriately designed units as social housing and market rental housing could be a very damaging and costly mistake.

I therefore urge the City administration and Council to not ‘go it alone’. Please reconsider your April decision in light of the current situation. And if someone tells you that you can’t go back on a pledge you made five years ago to the International Olympic Committee, tell them that the situation has changed. There are some urgent housing needs in the city, and this is the most prudent course of action. I am confident that they will understand.

In summary, in time the Olympic Village will be a wonderful community. But it needs some wise decisions over the coming months, to help this to happen. Let’s start by reconsidering the future of these units.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sad News: Chuck Davis announces he is dying of incurable cancer

I first learned of Chuck Davis when I arrived in Vancouver in the early 70's, and subsequently had the honour of meeting him on a number of occasions. Most recently, we served together on the Board of Governors of the Vancouver Jewish Historical Society. No, he's not Jewish, but he is so in love with the history of our city, he agreed to be a historical expert on the Board. Last week all the other Governors received a personal note from him advising that he was having to step down since "I've been diagnosed with an incurable cancer, and have no energy at all. The oncologist says I should have "a good year," but a bout of pleural effusion (fluid in the lungs) has made me so short of breath that a walk across the room exhausts me."

During the Jewish High Holy days I mentioned to a few people that I had received this note from Chuck and I hoped that something might be done to recognize his incredible contribution to the city, and help raise some money that is need to finish his current 'book'. I say book in quotes since it really is an on-line encyclopaedia of the city and region.

I am pleased that the Vancouver Sun, Jeff Lee and Michael Klassen have now brought public attention to Chuck's situation (see below) and I am hoping that the City of Vancouver will soon formally recognize Chuck's contributions with a Civic Honour. Gordon Price and I are also starting to plan a Fundraising Event within the coming weeks to raise the necessary funds. More details about this shortly.

In the meanwhile, here is the touching dedication in his 1997 Greater Vancouver Book.

This book is dedicated to my father, George Davis (1905 to 1969). With virtually no formal education, but blessed with unquenchable curiosity, he became a constant reader. When I was a list loving kid, he told me one day, "Charlie, one of these days you're going to make a list of all your lists." He would have loved the Greater Vancouver Book. Chuck Davis 1997

Chuck, in the coming days, weeks, months, and hopefully years, I hope that you will get a sense of just how much thousands of Vancouverites appreciate all you have done for preserving the history of our city.

For anyone who has ever wondered about the history of Vancouver, the name Chuck Davis is no mystery. His books, The Vancouver Book and The Greater Vancouver Book, are essential bibles for those who are interested in the history of our region.
As recently as this week I turned to one of Chuck's books to confirm a distant recollection that the troubled Electra Building at Burrard and Nelson Streets was in fact the former head office of both BC Hydro and its forerunner, B.C. Electric.
Davis' penchant for details, both arcane and important, has been a hallmark of not only good journalism, but also of historical research.
I read with considerable sadness, therefore, that Chuck has incurable cancer and, by his count, has mere weeks or months to live.
Of course, the news could not have come at a more inopportune time, not that there is ever one for dying. He's smack in the middle of his latest book project, a history of Metropolitan Vancouver, and he's not going to get a chance to finish it.
He's looking for someone to take the project over and finish it; by his estimate it will take another $30,000 and a year to complete.
You can read the story here. Mike Klassen over at has also posted a note on his site. Chuck can be reached at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Please attend RIPE: Sunday Sept 26th 5 to 8 pm

Vancouver Farmers Markets presents
RIPE: The 2nd Annual Evening
of Local Food & Libations

Sunday, September 26th 5pm-8pm
at Creekside Community Centre, #1 Athletes Way, Vancouver

The purpose of this event is simple: To Grow & Improve the Services of Vancouver’s Summer & Winter Farmers Markets
By buying a ticket to RIPE you will be directly supporting the organization to not only improve the Farmers Markets that currently exist within Vancouver, but to grow the number of markets, bringing local, seasonal food to more people in more communities.

The casual family-style, all-ages event will include:

• A feast of delicious, local and seasonal food including BBQ’d local meats, corn on the cob and a variety of fresh salads, iced tea and lemonade from a variety of our farmers & vendors and prepared by Tivoli Caterers

Local beer and wine for adults to enjoy

• The fabulous view of the mountains from the brand new Creekside Community Centre at Olympic Village

• A sensational silent auction

Live dessert auction

"Pesto Guy" Richard Lewin of Golda's Pesto to MC

• Local, live entertainment Maria In The Shower

• And a kids activity corner!

radishTickets prices:
Members - $50 ea / $150 Family 4-Pack (2 adults & 2 children 15 or under)
Non-members - $60 ea / $180 Family 4-Pack (2 adults & 2 children 15 or under)
*All non-member tickets include a 1 year membership to the Vancouver Farmers Markets!

To purchase your tickets: call Claire Geller at 604 537 8256 or

  • Visit the RIPE/Membership table at any weekly Vancouver Farmers Markets;
  • Pay below via PayPal (all tickets purchased online will be available at WILL CALL)

    RIPE Event Tickets
    Member Name

  • Visit or call the Farmers Market office at 2-1163 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X3 or 604.879.FARM *if you plan to visit the office please call ahead as office Hours vary depending staff availability

RIPE is currently accepting interest for Sponsorship. Please email for a full sponsorship package.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'Gentle Densification' in West Vancouver

For some time I have been talking and writing about the need for more housing choices for those who want to move out of larger single family homes, or homes on larger lots, into smaller, more suitably designed homes. I have also promoted the concept of what some have called 'gentle densification' which would allow two or three homes to be built on one, appropriately located lot.

Through a series of happy coincidences, I have recently partnered with Joel Slone, a small West Vancouver homebuilder in what I hope will be a successful infill development in Hollyburn to demonstrate these ideas. The proposal is to redevelop three single family properties with three smaller duplexes and three coach houses.

The proposal has been going through the planning and approval process in West Vancouver for some time. Known as Bowling Green, the properties are kitty corner to the bowling greens at 20th and Esquimalt, and next to the Seniors' Centre and new Community Centre complex. One block off of Marine Drive, it is a most suitable location for this type of housing

In order to be built, the proposal will need both an Official Community Plan Amendment and a rezoning. Rather than 'spot-zone' just the three properties, the District of West Vancouver, with the support of the adjacent property owners, is proposing to amend the OCP for the full block. This will allow Council to consider rezonings for the remaining properties which could also be redeveloped over time with similar forms of housing provided they respect the surrounding neigbhourhood's single family character.
The proposed FSR is 0.63 which is very similar to the 'outright' permitted single family density in many other municipalities. I am hopeful that this project will be approved in order to help people understand what 'gentle densification' looks like. The final designs will be inspired by some of the lovely cottage homes that have recently been built in Washington State.

An Open House is being held this evening to present the proposals to the public. If you have had concerns about this proposal in the past, or are interested in more housing choices for the future, I hope you will drop by.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FOR SALE: Island Living in Vancouver!

There are three islands in Vancouver...Granville Island, which is not really an island; Deadman's Island, where nobody lives; and Deering Island where I live, along with 36 households. For those of you who have never heard of it, it is located near the southern foot of Blenheim Street, attached to the mainland by a small bridge.

I first learned about the island in 1984. At the time, it was known as Celtic Island, and formed part of BC Packers' Celtic Shipyard. Over the next seven years, I worked on the planning, subdivision and redevelopment of the property. In August 1992, I moved into a house at 3366 Deering Island Place. The following month, John and Laura Swift moved into 3322, designed by the award winning architect Tony Robbins.

After 18 very happy years of island living, the Swifts have decided to move away, and have put their home up for sale. Many people believe that the Swift house is the most interesting property on the island. With a large south facing garden that extends into the Fraser River, and a very creative design that opens up to the outside, I think it is one of the most interesting homes in Vancouver.While I will be sorry to see the Swifts move away, I am hoping that the new owners will be people who can appreciate the house's original design and setting, and be willing to throw as many parties as the Swifts have over the past two decades. If you know someone who wants to live on what Vancouver Magazine onced called Vancouver's best kept secret, surrounded by the acreages of Southlands and water, tell them to contact Greg Carros at Sotheby's. Cell: 604.603.5730 Direct: 778.374.3101

In the meanwhile, here are a few more pictures and some plans:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

ARCHITECTS, PLANNERS, ENGINEERS: You are Invited: Wisdom and Wine Tuesday September 14

The World Expo 2010 in Shanghai is a grand gathering of world cultures exploring the theme “Better City, Better Life.” This theme represents the common wish of better living in future urban environments around the globe.

September 14, 2010
5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

The Terminal City Club
837 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 1B6

Join Deltek and Michael Geller, a Vancouver based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer, for a Wisdom and Wine event as we explore how "Better City, Better Life" will impact Vancouver.

The Wisdom:

Mr. Geller will share insights from his visit to the 2010 World Expo and provide practical tips and advice on how A/E firms can capitalize on the trends and developments happening around the globe.

The Wine:

Enjoy gourmet wine tasting and networking with your peers to convey a different kind of wisdom.

About the Presenter:

Michael Geller is President of THE GELLER GROUP, Laneway Cottages Inc., and Geller Properties Inc. Michael also serves on the Adjunct Faculty of SFU Refer a Friend

Vancouver Wine and Wisdom Event

Sunday, September 5, 2010


UBC School of Environmental Health and the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning are pleased to inform you of our upcoming symposium:
September 29, 2010 (Wednesday)
Program: 8:30 am – 5:15 pm
Reception: 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel, Vancouver BC.
The Olympic Line - Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar demonstration project held during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games saw urban streetcars return to Vancouver for the first time in almost half a century. The project proved extremely popular and has ignited the idea of reinvesting in streetcars as part of a broader sustainable transportation system for the City of Vancouver and the entire Metro Vancouver region.
Streetcars: The Missing Link? brings together decisions makers, academics, and community leaders to explore, discuss and debate the potential role of streetcars as a critical link within the transportation system and the idea of bring streetcars back to Vancouver. Key topics of this symposium include:
· Historical role of streetcars in Vancouver
· Implementation costs
· Streetcar impacts on urban form and mobility
· Urban design and modal integration - lessons learned in other regions
· New data and information from the Olympic Line demonstration project.
REGISTER AT: Please register early as space is limited.
A hosted reception will follow the program at the revolving Vistas 360 restaurant/lounge on the 20th floor of the Renaissance Vancouver Hotel Harbourside. Join delegates for complimentary refreshments, appetizers, and additional networking opportunities while taking in a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and harbour. Information from UBC students in the Schools of Community and Regional Planning, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and Environmental Health on streetcar systems and their impacts will be shared at the reception.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND: decision makers, municipal staff, developers, community leaders, media, academics, organizational leaders.
This event is sponsored by the J. Armand Bombardier Chair in Sustainable Transportation at UBC.
Lydia Ma
UBC School of Environmental Health
Phone: (604) 822-9599

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Vancouver architect Michael Geller addresses a group of residents Sunday looking for small-scale, low-impact density options in their Lower Capilano neighbourhood. Photograph by: Kevin Hill, NEWS photo
Residents hope to control density
Lions Gate's Fullerton area open to low-rise, multi-family options

A group of residents near Capilano Road are breaking ranks with their community association to call for more housing options -- and density -- in their neighbourhood.

The residents south of Fullerton Avenue organized a community meeting on Sunday with Vancouver architect Michael Geller and the District of North Vancouver to talk about ideas for backyard suites, duplexes, townhouses and other options in the area south of Fullerton Avenue off of Capilano Road.

Lead organizer Doug Curran said change and density are likely coming to the area, and it's better that residents guide the process and keep the low-rise character of the neighbourhood intact, while continuing to oppose highrise towers.

"What we're looking at is a redesignation of the area that would allow people (to build) ground-oriented, multi-family development," he said.

He said that could allow for more affordable homes on smaller lots that would be easier for seniors and young families, adding that the large lots and old homes currently in the neighbourhood are hard for long-time residents to keep up as they grow old.

He's also worried the area's old homes will be bought out by developers, leaving area residents with little say in their neighbourhood. "We're not interested in selling properties for highrise developments or larger developments. What we're looking for is something for a very modest increase in density."

The neighbourhood is also home to a large site, a former athletic club, owned by Larco, a North Shore development company that hopes to redevelop the site as high-density housing, which has previously been strongly opposed by the neighbourhood.

Bernice Carmichael is one of those people who is wondering whether she will be able to stay in her home of 51 years.

"I'm 80 years old almost, and our lot is large," she said. "We have a large back garden and a large lawn at the front, and we're getting to the stage now where we have to have someone help us with it."

She said she wants to know what options there are to split the property or have a rental on the lot, which could help her stay in the neighbourhood where she raised her kids.

"Most people who live here want to stay here," she said.

The meeting on Sunday attracted about 30 people and Curran said he's received a lot of support from neighbours, which prompted the neighbourhood to form the informal South of Fullerton Area Residents group to facilitate the discussion. The discussion is still in its early stages, he said.

Cathy Adams, president of the existing Lions Gate Neighbourhood Association, which covers a much larger area, said she's worried any increased density in the existing residential areas will make a bad situation worse for traffic congestion.

As well, she said there aren't enough services, such as parks or community centres, to handle increased density.

"There's going to be a lot more happening down in this corner of North Vancouver over the next five to 10 years, so to rezone a lot more properties without having that information and without seeing the impact, it's concerning," she said.

Susan Haid, manager of sustainable community development at the District of North Vancouver, said those sorts of things will be taken into account, and could be improved by new development.

District staff will be conducting a design charette on the neighbourhood with resident input to create three plans for the area, which residents will then give feedback on, starting Sept. 14.

Lower Capilano is one of four areas of the district going under the magnifying glass as part of the planning for a new Official Community Plan, including Maplewood, Lower Lynn and Lynn Valley.

"It can lead to some real opportunities in terms of improved transit and also some local road network improvements and trail connection and pedestrian improvements," said Haid, speaking about the design charette process.

She recognized current zoning is heavily restrictive in terms of what housing types are available, and said that the district will incorporate what they hear from residents into the new OCP. The first draft is due out this fall.

For more information on the charette and chances for public input go to

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