Thursday, June 30, 2011

Two Weeks After the Vancouver Riots, a report on Javea's street 'violence'

Just noticed this is my 423rd post. That's a lot of time spent on the computer when I should be out enjoying myself! However, I do get a lot of enjoyment sharing the things I find when out travelling around.... perhaps because I don't keep track of just how few people actually read them!

Children’s sculptures set on fire in Javea

It's two weeks since violence erupted on the streets of Vancouver following the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals. I therefore felt compelled to report on what happened in the streets of Javea on the evening of June 24th, 2011. Huge crowds jammed the Old Town and the streets were littered. On two separate occasions, men set fire to what appeared to be elaborate children’s cartoon sculptures in two of the town’s public squares.

But unlike the Vancouver situation, this was not unplanned violence by uncontrollable youths.

On the contrary, it was the finale to the Fiestas of Sant Juan, the patron saint of carpenters, although the tourist office referred to it as Sant Joan, and one guide book referenced Saint John the Baptist. What I do know is that it was the end of a two week long annual celebration that had included, amongst other things a chess competition, a cycling race, music performances, bull running, parades, children’s games and workshops followed by sardines and colas, a serenaders’ contest, the mounting of children’s effigies, a giant community paella, flower offerings, the burning of old junk…. all culminating on Friday night with an elaborate float parade featuring hundreds of young girls in very ornate dresses followed by the burning of the children’s effigies at 10pm and midnight in the town squares!

Like Vancouver, there was violence and the hurling of objects here too. Except here it was young girls on the floats throwing candy to the crowds….I know since unfortunately one piece hit my new camera in the lens, and decommissioned it for a while.

As the parade passed through the town, a uniformed sanitation crew swept up the litter in the streets…but this time the litter consisted of streamers and confetti thrown from the floats by the young girls and boys to the adoring crowds lining the streets.

The burning of the effigies was a sight to behold. We just couldn’t believe what we saw. A crew of pyrotechnic engineers draped the children’s sculptures with explosive fuses and firecrackers. Then they doused the cute little characters with what looked like olive oil, although it could have been a real fire accelerant…the kind used by arsonists. As dozens of watching photographers took photos, a small group of specially selected girls collectively lit a fuse tied to a nearby tree, and the next thing we knew, firecrackers were going off and the sculptures were ablaze. The crowd cheered.

The evening continued with the burning of a giant effigy in the main town square at midnight, followed by rock concerts and more firecrackers and fireworks. But having played 18 holes of golf at the Javea golf club from high noon onwards, and walked miles into the town, we decided to give the finale a pass, and instead returned to one of the many waterfront restaurant for some amazing tapas including fried small squid, grilled razor clams, sausages in sherry, potatoes piri-piri, and grilled asparagus with goat cheese.

While I need to do more research on the traditions associated with the Sant Juan/ Joan Festival, suffice it to say, this is a major event for the town…the families spend a lot of money renting the elaborate dresses for the girls…and perhaps not knowing anything else, the kids love seeing their cartoon characters set alight…no doubt believing that the evils represented by the effigies will have been eliminated, at least for a short while.

While I was pleased to read that Vancouver recently had a weekend of festivals, I do hope we can develop more as time goes by, since there is no doubt, based on the Javea experience, and that of other towns and cities throughout Spain, they result in great family events and traditions, which in the case of Spain, have been happening for centuries.

I’m just sorry we will miss all the Moors and Christians mock battles that happen in mid-July!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

No Bullshit!

In Javea, where we are staying for a few weeks, one of the summer festivals involves the running of the bulls. While this is something I have watched on TV, I never experienced the exhilaration of standing in front of a charging bull until Friday night when we happened to come upon a street lined with unusual barricades. We followed them to a large dirt area along a main street in the historic city centre where a large crowd had gathered. Everyone was drinking cheap beer and I soon had a couple in an effort to join in.

After a few minutes I decided to enter into the ‘bull ring’ to see what was happening. As I stood there taking photos of the crowd, I suddenly realized there was a large bull charging about. Not sure whether to try and get a good photo or take cover, I almost waited a little bit too long…and suddenly found myself running for cover as my wife looked on with a mixture of disgust and horror.

A few days later I returned to show Maxine and the Townsends, visitors from UK what we had discovered, only to find there were lots of bulls running around the enclosure. This time I kept my distance.
During our four days in Valencia, we often found ourselves wondering why Vancouver did not copy some of the things that we found so appealing about the city. Some are small things, others are more significant. However, all would seem possible with some changing attitudes on the part of our civic officials and the citizenry. Here are a few things I would like to see in Vancouver

More waterfront restaurants

While we like to boast about our extensive new waterfront walkway system surrounding Coal Harbour, English Bay and False Creek…the fact is, compared to parts of Valencia’s waterfront, it is really quite boring. While we can count on one hand the number of waterfront restaurants that were allowed either inboard or outboard of the walkway/bikeway, portions of Valencia’s waterfront, like many other waterfronts around the world, are literally lined with restaurants.

Now I realize that it is probably too late to modify much of the existing south and north shores of False Creek, as well as Bayshore and Coal Harbour. But it is not too late to create new, vibrant restaurant and retail precincts on the remaining Concord Pacific waterfront and the undeveloped city owned lands next to the Olympic Village in South the seawall. While we are at it, we might want to change some of our ridiculous liquor laws too, so that people can enjoy these restaurants and cafes.

More Restaurants serving Tapas and Pintxos

Walk into many Valencian restaurants and you are invited to help yourself to a wide array of small ‘nibblies’ served on thin slices of crusty bread, along with other snacks held together by toothpicks. You take want you want, but save the toothpicks, since this is how you are charged. In some restaurants, the price varies by the type of toothpick…in others the price is the same. In some places, the food is beautifully arranged; in others it is more basic. However, this is a wonderful way to start a meal, or indeed, to create an entire meal…although often there are other ‘tapas’ to be had to complement the pintxos.

More plazas, public spaces and public art

Throughout Valencia streets have been closed off or laid out in such a way as to create numerous small public spaces, often lined with restaurants and outdoor seating areas. While we are starting to think about this in Vancouver, often as temporary arrangements, it is time for us to be bolder and create more permanent installations. While many people are enjoying the new food carts around town, we could be doing so much more.

More Festivals

Valencia and the surrounding region are known for various festivals that have developed over the ages and become a major part of the region’s annual life. In March, the city celebrates Las Fallas in which giant papier mache sculptures are erected in the crossroads and squares and subsequently burned on St. Joseph’s Day; near the end of April, two costumed armies march into the city of Alcoi and stage mock battles; throughout the region there are festivals featuring bull running in summer; and on the last Wednesday of August in Bunol, thousands of participants pelt each other with ripe tomatoes.

Now I can appreciate that we might not want to copy any of these particular festivities, but notwithstanding the problems associated with the final game of the Stanley Cup finals, I would like to think we could do more in Vancouver. One possibility might be something like Caravan which was and may still be celebrated in Toronto where each major ethnic group celebrates its culture in different neighbourhoods around the city.

Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciencies

I do not think I have ever seen any modern building complex that is quite as fantastic as the futuristic complex of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. It comprises five astonishing buildings…four by Santiago Calatrava and one by Felix Candela. They include a science museum, a concert hall, an aquarium, an Imax Cinema, and L’umbracle, a giant pergola of parabolic arches which is reminiscent of a Calatrava designed space in downtown Toronto. There’s another building still being finished, which has been used for a tennis match!

As I wandered around, I could not help but think about how Calatrava and Candelera could convince public officials to spend so much money on what can only be described as architectural and engineering extravaganzas. Some of the structural gymnastics are literally breathtaking, and I also could not help but think how much money could have been saved if only one or two extra columns could have been allowed to be added in a few places!

But like the Frank Gehry museum that has put Bilbao on the map, this complex has done a lot for Valencia and its civic pride. But not only to I wonder how civic officials could decide to spend so much on this complex, I also worry how they are going to pay for all the upkeep that will be required…since already one can see that repairs and maintenance are required. This is particularly worrisome since according to one newspaper story I read, the Valencia region is verging on bankruptcy and struggling to pay its bills.

But it is a fantastic set of buildings, as these photos hopefully illustrate.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Valencia: new friends, unemployment and fascinating urbanism

I did not know very much about Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, and the Costa Blanca before accepting an invitation from Manuel and Maria Jose to do a house exchange in June and July 2011. However, in summer 2007, Sally and I had a chance encounter with an attractive young couple from Valencia on a canal boat in Amsterdam, and we agreed that one day we would meet up again, either in Vancouver or Valencia.

During the intervening years we exchanged greetings, and they sent a postcard with a most fantastic looking building by Calatrava. I saw this building again in the Spanish Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Fair, along with other quite remarkable looking buildings. All of these small things helped Sally and me to decide to return to Spain for another house exchange, even though we had visited Barcelona, Costa Brava and Madrid last summer. After all, we loved Spain last year, and with the worsening economic situation, we suspected the country would welcome our tourist dollars.

We did meet up with our Valencian friends again for a lovely lunch. Luis Puchades Rufino is in the renewable energy business. He now works with Ludan, an Israeli country doing projects around the world. I urged him to explore opportunities in Vancouver, given our desire to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. (I must say, I have to smile every time I write this, not because I don’t think it’s a noble goal…it is…but having spent quite a bit of time in Europe and knowing how far behind we are in Vancouver when it comes to energy and resource consumption, I know this will not happen.)

Nuria would enjoy Vancouver too since her job is to look after the extensive gardens that can be found throughout Valencia. Again, if one measures ‘greeness’ by the amount of park space and plantings, Vancouver has a long way to go to catch up to Valencia. A former river that was re-routed following a devastating flood is now a major ‘green spine’ running through the city. There are also extensive plantings along the road, and the city has somehow managed to protect agricultural lands and wetlands adjacent to the city centre.

Travelling around the city I found a very eclectic array of buildings built over many centuries. While mid-rise buildings dominate, a number of dramatic new high rises have recently been built. However, with the economic slowdown, much of the new office and hotel space appears empty, and a lot of property is for sale. Luis and Nuria told us that Valencia is in a very bad financial situation with 22% unemployment…yes 22%, which perhaps accounts for the number of public work projects we saw going on around town.

Thanks Luis and Nuria for encouraging us, in a very subtle way, to visit your amazing city and treating us to a most enjoyable lunch…next time, it’s our turn in Vancouver!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Greetings from Valencia and Costa Blanca

After, the flurry of activity related to Hollyburn Mews, Sally and I decided to return to Spain for a few weeks, to enjoy the wonderful food, wine and culture....not to mention the fabulous towns and cities. We are participating in another House Exchange, this one in Javea, a coastal town about an hour and a half from Valencia.

Fortunately, I brought a few cameras with me, and am so glad I did, since some of the sights in Valencia were literally breathtaking, especially the new precinct designed by Santiago Calatrava, and the various regions of the city. I am going through the photos and trying to organize my thoughts, and will start posting shortly.

However, I must conclude for now by noting that there are certain days in one´s life that are unforgetable. One such day was in summer 2007 when we were in Jaiselmer India, and read on an old computer in a very, very hot internet cafe that our daughter had been accepted at UBC medical school....moments before heading off on a camel safari during which we became stranded in a wind and hailstorm in the desert.

Another such day was yesterday, when we awoke at 4:30 am or so, to catch the end of game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, only to discover on Twitter that the game was over...Canucks had lost 4 to 0, and riots were starting in the streets of the downtown. We eventually went back to sleep, rising around 10 and walked over to the Calatrava ´city´, that was very close to our hotel in the new commercial area of the city. We managed to arrange a personal tour and were absolutely blown away by what we saw.

Later that day, after a wonderful long lunch in the beachfront area of the city, we headed off to bus station, from where we took a 2 1/2 trip to Javea.

Here we were picked up by a friend of our house exchange partner, who brought us to this magnificent villa, overlooking the ocean. We can walk down to the port area of town, which is lined with restaurants and very lovely looking shops and numerous real estate offices...since this is where many Europeans have purchased and built very beautiful and substantial villas on the hills overlooking the Mediterranean.

While I am very saddened by what happened in Vancouver, and the thought that the punks who seemed to get so much enjoyment from doing damage to our city continue to live with us....yesterday was a day we will always we look forward to a few weeks of relaxation and exploration in this magnificent part of the world.

More later.

Friday, June 10, 2011

North Shore Newspaper Accounts of Hollyburn Mews Decision

WV council approves divisive townhouse project
By Tessa Holloway, North Shore News June 10, 2011 4:02 AM

The official community plan and zoning bylaw amendments for the Hollyburn Mews project passed second and third reading at West Vancouver council Monday night following the second day of a long and divisive public hearing process.

About 20 more speakers addressed council on Monday on top of the more than 150 submissions made to council prior to that meeting, with a split almost right down the middle between those who support the rezoning of three lots to include three duplexes and laneway houses and those who are adamantly opposed.

Council split much the same way as speakers that evening, with Couns. Shannon Walker, Trish Panz, Michael Evison and Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones supporting the project and Couns. Bill Soprovich, Michael Smith and Michael Lewis voting to slam the brakes.

The OCP amendment has been altered to cover the entire block in response to concerns the proposal constituted spot rezoning, and several neighbours of the existing site at 2031-2091 Esquimalt Ave. have expressed interest in laneway houses on their properties. The amendment also includes special reference to neighbourhood character, and any new project would require council approval.

"I understand the trepidation of the neighbours but I think this is a good solution," said Walker. "It allows council and the design committee to participate in the design to ensure the form and character of the houses that are presented fit in the neighbourhood, but it will also give us time to contemplate how this current project, if passed, fits into the neighbourhood."

Councillors opposed to the project said there was too much public angst about the rezoning to go ahead, and that any change to a single-family neighbourhood should have full support of area residents.

Evison said the development process was poorly planned and that the district should lead a process that will start smaller and assuage residents' concerns.

"There's something wrong with our process. This process doesn't work," said Lewis. "This has turned out to be the most divisive thing I've seen in my community in my term on council, and I'm really concerned about that. So that tells me something's not working here."

Many of the speakers, including supporters and detractors, came from far outside the neighbourhood affected. Several people said they wanted to see more projects like this in the district, with many seniors describing their desire for smaller homes with modest yards close to transit and amenities. Others, including a letter written by British Properties resident and businessman Jim Pattison, said they were afraid this project would be replicated elsewhere.

That's why Kathleen Glynn Morris showed up. Though she lives much farther west on Marine Drive, she said she was concerned about the erosion of single-family neighbourhoods.

"If people buy a single-family home in a single-family neighbourhood, then I don't think that it's fair after the fact to change the atmosphere of that community," she said. "Communities are what make this district."

Walker didn't buy that.

"I don't think developers are going to be banging on our door because if they look at the process, they're not going to want to come here," she said, noting how many meetings and changes have occurred to the project since it was first proposed as townhouses in 2006.

Others, including Evison and several speakers, noted the towers located a few blocks away and the location near Marine Drive.

Basil Davis lives in the affected neighbourhood and said there was no better location in the district.

"If this is passed over we might as well totally forget it and accept the fact that we're going to have nothing but monster houses, and we'll just have to put up with it," he said, one of three homeowners who live in the neighbourhood who spoke in support Monday.

Still, others in the neighbourhood wrote in opposition or signed a survey in opposition organized by Fulton Avenue resident Christine Cassidy, who also campaigned against the district's own laneway housing pilot project. When she spoke, her voice cracked with emotion.

"We don't need it, we don't want it," she said.

The proponent, Michael Geller, a Vancouver-based architect and developer, spoke to council and assured residents the project will look exactly like the images presented, and said he would work with staff to add two visitor parking spaces following concerns about cars. He said construction could begin in August, pending final approval of the bylaw and the granting of the necessary permits.

The project includes a community amenity contribution of $116,000.

While he admitted to being nervous as councillors took sides and residents spoke in opposition, he said he expected many would change their mind once they saw the project.

"This has happened many, many times over the years. Often afterwards people find they support it and like it," he said following the meeting.

© Copyright (c) North Shore News

Read more:

Score one for infill housing in West Van
By Trevor Lautens, Special To North Shore News June 10, 2011 4:02 AM

Morality Officer Lou Kingerley of the Hamilton Police Service once asked a sad little waif who came to his professional attention: "Are you pregnant?"

She shyly whispered: "Well, I'm just a little bit pregnant."

West Vancouver on Monday became just a little bit pregnant with infill housing -- its enthusiasts/apologists Couns. Michael Evison, Trish Panz, Shannon Walker and Stanley Cup-level tiebreaker Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones in earnest denial that it would set a precedent, but would help the needy West Vancouver old folks (ha), and would contribute to saving the environment, and town hall's watchdogs would keep keen eye and tooth monitoring the effect that Michael Geller's stuffing nine homes into three Fulton Avenue lots will have on neighbourhoods, near or far.

On the Geller plan, Bill Soprovich, oldest councillor in the world or at least in the only important part, West Van, reminisced about "the little magic things of living" in West Van. Hey, Sop, you've just handed the ad guys a perfect sales line, like for paradisical sunny islands marketed as unspoiled to eager spoilers!

Panz favoured "moving forward." Guaranteed to paralyze most brains.

Also supporting Geller, Evison rejected claims of violation to the official community plan, declaring that clause H3 "allows something a little bit different."

Walker, whom I'd peg as a possible future mayoral candidate and who has the calm assurance helped by being the daughter of Chuck, whose Walker Place on Bellevue was assessed last year at $16 million, disbelieves that "the neighbourhood is under siege." She also wittily turned aside the view that developers would be heartened by Geller's successful application: "If (they) see the difficulties they won't be encouraged."

Opposed to the little-bit-pregnant team backing Geller's project were Couns. Soprovich, Michael Lewis and Michael Smith, all with long private business experience and unlikely candidates for closet socialism, and who, Constant Reader may well have guessed, this observer likens to white knights protecting the fair maiden's virtue.

Lewis: Odd, the people in favour "don't live in the neighbourhood. . . . The interests of the people in the immediate neighbourhood trump that of a real estate developer." Or should.

Smith: "We have failed in the fact that this community is divided. . . . We have to seek the right path, and this isn't it. ... The process (has been) driven not by council, but by a developer." He dissented, "reluctantly."

Citizen speakers at this second act of the public hearing were an interesting study. Maggie Pappas submitted that Geller's units would be "just what I want," repeating "affordable" or "affordability" several times. Down-sizers who think such small homes are affordable should check what they give up against what they get. After the dust has settled on the sales, legal, moving and utility re-connection costs, prepare for shock.

Another woman, frighteningly modern, in a household of three, repeatedly and proudly invoked these units' attraction for "The New Single Family" (and she pronounced the capitals).

George Pajari cited "inconsistencies" in two reports from the same consultant just two weeks apart, and urged another postponement of the public meeting until staff produced a substantial, written report.

A fascinating deposition: Opposed. The proposal pits neighbour against neighbour. Has a negative impact on West Van's character. Signed, Jim Pattison. Yup, that Jim Pattison, West Van's most famous and respected multi-billionaire.

But all was for nought -- a charade from the start, in my view. With councillors divided 3-3, Mayor Goldsmith-Jones, chief executive officer whose vote Geller would have good reason to bank on, let his ambitions slide in as easily as Roberto Luongo waves in the puck on one of his bad nights.
Read more:

If land re-zoning is allowed for the Hollyburn Mews proposal – which includes a duplex and a coach house on each of three lots – then the value of the land will increase. But by how much?
Laneway housing project splits West Van residents

By Rebecca Aldous - North Shore OutlookPublished: June 08, 2011 12:00 PM Updated: June 08, 2011 2:22 PM
After five years’ worth of planning, two packed meetings and 153 letters to the municipality, West Vancouver council has paved the way for an infill housing development.
The Hollyburn Mews proposal slates a nine-unit development on three lots in the 2000-block of Esquimalt Avenue — with a duplex and a carriage house on each property.
To allow for the additional housing in the single-family neighbourhood, the project required an Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment and rezoning of the three parcels. Monday night, council granted them a third reading.
“I am going to support this and I don’t expect this to be easy to support,” Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones said after a slew of supporters and opponents addressed council.
Proponents argued the need for alternative housing to keep the young and old in West Van; opposition warned the same amendment that allows this project could open the door to spot-zoning throughout single-family neighbourhoods.

The OCP was created to ensure a sense of predictability and restrict densification, said Coun. Bill Soprovich, who along with Coun. Michael Smith and Coun. Michael Lewis voted against the OCP amendment and rezoning.

“We are on a slippery slope,” Soprovich said, adding the project sets a precedent.
The majority of people are supportive of alternative housing, but West Van needs to have a proper process in place for such projects, Smith said, noting there is pressure on Ambleside and Dundarave for these types of developments.
Alternative housing projects aren’t going to pop up over night, Coun. Shannon Walker argued. Yes, Hollyburn Mews is a small step toward a more diverse housing range, but it has taken a long time for the proposal to move forward, she said, noting its been five years since the original draft. Although the entire block is now designated for denser housing, only the project’s three lots have received the rezoning required for carriage homes, she said. “I don’t think the neighbourhood is under siege.”

Last month, what caused a roadblock for Hollyburn Mews were questions regarding the project’s estimated dollar increase as a result of the rezoning. The rezoning would allow for more units on the lots than the original designation, essentially increasing the value of the properties. This process is called uplift, of which three quarters of the new value is paid to the municipality as a community amenity.

In three separate reports, dating back to February 2010, three different values were given as an appropriate uplift — $65,000, $595,000 and $155,000. The vast range created a stir, with Smith and Soprovich adjourning May’s public hearing to allow councillors the opportunity to review the variance.

In its latest report, the municipality indicated $155,000 as the most appropriate uplift. Hollyburn Mews’ proponent, Vancouver-based architect Michael Geller, has since made a voluntary community amenity contribution of $116,000, which meets the district’s policy target of 75 per cent of the uplift.

Geller will also dish out $55,185 for district infrastructure and give $7,800 to Metro Vancouver, said Bob Sokol, director of planning, lands and permits. Hollyburn Mews will contribute a net increase in property tax of $3,700, he added.
Addressing council, Geller said these lots are unique. They are close to the community and seniors’ centre, which makes them suitable for such a development, he noted.

"40 Years On" at SFU

My daughter Claire, the Social Worker, (although generally more 'social' than 'worker'), with Gord Price of the SFU City Program who organized the evening, in matching hats.

Architect Norm Hotson, a classmate at U of T from 1965 to 1969, with whom I have worked on many planning projects, Gord Price, Brent Toderian, Brent's partner Rene, and me at reception following the talk.

I know that it was a very indulgent thing to invite 200 friends and colleagues to come and listen to 40 years of reminiscing on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of my start in architecture, planning and development. But hopefully it wasn't too dull, and I was so very delighted to see many people who have played an important part of my career and life...

Michael Audain, who I met in 1975 when he was an advisor to the BC Minister of Housing and has remained a life-long friend and colleague; Neil Griggs with whom I worked on the initial phase of the redevelopment of False Creek South Shore; Craig Waddell, formerly a prominent Vancouver architect who designed the now back in vogue Shaughnessy Place One, and went on to become President of Narod Properties...(he along with David Mooney brought me back to Vancouver in 1981); Peter Horwood a Narod colleague and now manager of Bridges Restaurant; Bruce Buchanan, former President and Vice-Chair of BC Packers who essentially set me up in business by inviting me to continue with the rezoning of the BC Packers waterfront lands in Steveston; Former Mayor Philip Owen who was involved with many of my milestone projects...Architects Norm Hotson and Tom Staniskis with whom I have worked on many projects.....and so many more.

I was also pleased to see current Director of Planning Brent Toderian who told me he gained some fascinating insights into past planning decisions, and the actions of past and present city of whom actually led the community opposition to our 1998 Langara Gardens proposal to build 350 rental housing units at no cost to the city!

It was great to have Stephen Mikicich, a senior community planner from West Vancouver in attendance, since he has been deftly guiding the Hollyburn Mews project through the West Vancouver community process. I was delighted to be able to report that it was approved on Monday night. And Robert Renger, with whom I worked so very closely in the creation of UniverCity.

The fact is, no good developments happen unless there is a genuine partnership and collaboration between the private sector....and the public sector. Trust me on this one!

Finally thanks to Gordon Price of the SFU City Program for helping to make the evening happen. As always, I was more interested in his comments than my own. We are lucky to have him in our city. And thanks to my family, who asked me not to thank them last night...especially my daughter Claire who showed up in matching Gord Price hat. (My other daughter wasn't in attendance since she's riding her bike down the Adriatic Coast.

And thanks to the almost 200 people who did attend, whether out of interest or a sense of obligation! It was a very special evening and I was delighted to have you there to share it with me

The presentation was videotaped, and can be found at

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hollyburn Mews Approved by West Vancouver Council

On a night when the Canucks lost 8-1, Hollyburn Mews won 4-3 at West Vancouver Council. While I was disappointed it was not a unanimous vote in favour, I am very appreciative to Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, and Cllrs Michael Evison, Trish Panz and Shannon Walker (in alphabetical order) for their eloquent words and supporting votes.

To Cllrs Michael Lewis, Michael Smith and Bill Soprovitch, I again pledge to do what I can to create a beautiful development that will ultimately meet with a wide level of community support. Hopefully this will lead to other future examples of 'gentle densification' in appropriate locations around the District.

While I was surprised by the words of some of the people who spoke or wrote in opposition, it was very heartwarming to hear many of the people who came out in support. While I knew a few of them, most were unknown to me. Indeed, when many got up to speak, I tried to guess whether they would be in favour or opposed. Often I was wrong!

There were a few notable surprises last night. I must call out the 25 year UBC Law Professor who tried to convince Council that it was improper and perhaps illegal to be amending the Official Community Plan, as being requested to do. That's right. Speaking as if he was addressing a judge and jury, he talked about the sanctity of an OCP and how in his respectful opinion, Council did not have the authority to do what it was being asked to do....or something to this effect. I'll have to check the meeting tape to get this right, but all I could think of was I hoped this fellow was not teaching students at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning.

The fact is, he was talking nonsense. Of course a municipal council has the authority to amend an OCP following certain appropriate procedures, and that was exactly what was happening.

He was not the only lawyer to oppose the project. At the previous night of Public Hearing, a letter from high profile lawyer Bill Baradino was read into the record. He too talked about the sanctity of the OCP and why it should not be altered without consent from the entire municipality.

There were two other surprising presentations. One was from a former senior officer of Intrawest who questioned whether adequate research had been done to verify there was a market for the proposed development. That's right! I mean, we're talking about nine smaller homes...1150 to 1625 square feet plus basements, two houses away from the Seniors' Centre; a block off Marine Drive; close to transit, shopping, parks...and he's urging Council not to approve the project since there's no proven market. (I'm not making this up.)

Nor am I making up the letter of opposition from a prominent West Vancouver businessman named Jim Pattison. Now, before I make too much of this, I need to confirm that it is from the same Jim Pattison who has delighted West Vancouver residents with his impressive display of Xmas lights, and is one of the most successful businessmen in Canada. But if it is, I need to find out why he would ever write such a letter! After all, how often does Jimmy Pattison oppose an OCP Amendment to permit a nine unit rezoning?

Council approved two different OCP Amendment for the entire block; and a rezoning for the three lots upon which I was proposing to put six duplex units and three coach house units...all for sale. Those councillors voicing support noted that there has been very considerable discussion for decades in the community about the need for alternative housing choices. They expressed concern over the divisions in community opinion, as evidenced by the more than 150 pieces of correspondence, and many speakers in support and opposition. However, they spoke in favour of 'staying the course', both to provide new housing choices, and to create an 'on the ground' demonstration that will allow the community to assess one such approach.

Those councillors in opposition noted this had been a very divisive project and worried about the precedent that its approval might set. One wondered whether such decisions are best settled by referendum, rather than a vote of Council.

While voting against the proposal, the dissenting Councillors were oftentimes complimentary about the proposal before them. Councillor Smith noted he was "reluctantly voting against it, despite Mr. Geller's innovation and creativity". Councillor Soprovitch urged me to direct my extensive planning expertise towards a District-wide review of the opportunities afforded by all single family neighbourhoods, rather than focus on just this one block.

In response I can say that I will be pleased to work with staff and Council to futher explore how best to introduce 'gentle densification' into West Vancouver. While I agree with Councillor Smith that it may be appropriate to complete and evaluate this project and others within the block before considering other similar propositions, I agree there is a need to develop a more comprehensive, longer term plan that identifies which single family neighbourhoods might be first allowed to change over time.

This of course is not just a West Vancouver challenge. This is something that also needs to happen in Vancouver and other municipalities.

But for now, I will focus on Hollyburn Mews. I need to complete the working drawings, bank financing, contractor selection, and arrangements with West Vancouver to allow this development to proceed by September. I have already started to assemble a list of potential purchasers, and will continue to do so.

A few final thoughts.

Firstly, thanks to everyone who came out to speak or took the time to write a letter in support. Thanks also to my friends and colleagues who offered good advice on what to say and do, and not do. Thanks to the District staff who have been unbelievably diligent and careful to ensure that everything was done right.

In a previous post I noted that while this is a very small project, especially when compared with others with which I have been involved, and the projects many of my colleagues are undertaking, it is quite significant, especially within the context of West Vancouver. Last night it was noted that of 17 different proposals for 'infill development', only one single house proposal is still alive. Hollyburn Mews is the very first approval of its kind in West Vancouver, and to the best of my knowledge, the first infill proposal to replace an older home with a duplex and laneway coach house for sale anywhere in Metro. As I told the Council last night, I know a lot of eyes will be following this project, and that is part of its appeal for me. I promise to do what I can to make it a success.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hollyburn Mews Public Hearing to Resume Monday June 9th at 7pm

Hey. Isn't there a hockey game on Monday night? Yes there is, which is why I am a bit concerned that the opponents to Hollyburn Mews may outnumber the supporters when the Public Hearing resumes Monday night. But hopefully, Council appreciates by now that while there is a very organized and vocal opposition, primarily due to the potential 'precedent' this proposal may create, there is also very significant broad community support for this project.
The fact is, as the population ages, as one participant in the Community Dialogue on Neighbourhood Character and Housing so correctly pointed out, "the community has to change to stay the same"!

Moreover, Council is in a position to address the primary neighbourhood objection; namely this project will lead to a rash of undesirable rezonings in single family neighbourhoods elsewhere in the District. While saying yes to this modest proposal, it can say no to future OCP amendments until the community has the opportunity to evaluate whether this is an appropriate approach to 'gentle densification'. As an aside, this proposal, if approved, would add about 4,800 square feet of density...that's right...about the size of one of the newer West Vancouver single family houses.

In other words, if approved, this proposal will allow staff, Council and the community to evaluate an 'on the ground' demonstration, and then determine whether similar future projects should proceed.

But only Council can determine when and where.

One of the issues that resulted in the adjournment of the Public Hearing was uncertaintly over the appropriate amount of the Community Amenity Contribution. Over the past year, three different letters of opinion have been prepared by the appraiser, each for a different amount. Hopefully the latest staff report will clarify the situation.

The fact is, I have agreed to pay a CAC and DCC totalling approximately $171,000 for approximately 4,800 square feet of addtional area. This equates to $36 per square foot, which as most people involved in planning and development know is a very generous contribution.....especially since given the recent rise in single family lot prices, the value of the lots today may well be higher than the value after rezoning (assuming the rezoning is approved).

Details of the proposal can be found on the West Vancouver website at Esquimalt Avenue Infill Proposal. If you agree this is a worthwhile proposal that should be approved, please write to the and share your thoughts.

Or, if you suspect Boston is going to win on Monday night, and you don't want to watch it happen, come to the Public Hearing at West Vancouver Council, starting at 7pm and avoid the disappointment. Some of us will be going to watch the first two periods in the nearby Recreation Centre...After the Council meeting we'll go to the pub, regardless of the outcome!

For more details, always feel free to contact me at Thanks for your interest in Hollyburn Mews.