Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The future of older rental apartment buildings

Frances Bula has a current posting regarding an older apartment building for sale in the West End.

West End apartment for sale: “Rented significantly below market – need upgrades”November 26th, 2012 · 13 Comments

Hope this one ends well. From a recent listing.
For Sale: 23-Suite West End Apartment Building
Prime West End! The Randi Lynn is a three storey plus penthouse 23-suite apartment building.  Only 3 blocks to Sunset Beach—a prime English Bay address in the heart of the popular West End district, offering tenants immediate proximity to the employment, entertainment, shopping, beaches and recreational areas of Vancouver’s downtown core. Rents significantly below market.  Needs upgrades.  

There were 12 comments Some are very thoughtful, but others reek of partisan mis-information. That being said, I decided to offer the following comment since I think this is an important topic.

There is a serious problem in Metro Vancouver related to older rental buildings that are in poor condition and under-utilizing the site relative to current zoning, and current rezonings elsewhere around the city.

While the City’s rate of change policy and requirement of 1 for 1 replacement of rental units would seem reasonable, especially from the point of view of renters, the realty is that very few older rental buildings are being redeveloped with a mix of condo and rental units since the numbers generally don’t work…not just in the West End but in other parts of the City.

In our report to the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Task Force we did look at the possiblity of ‘laneway apartments’ that might be added to some sites occupied by older buildings, and there could be some opportunities for this…but they too are limited.

As we generally seem to be accepting increased densitities around the City, I suspect that what will be needed is some further density increases in the RM zones where many of these buildings are located, if we want to see older rental units replaced by newer rental units (along with condominium units).

Now I can hear some of you gasp at the thought of newer units since you know they will likely be more expensive to rent than the older units. This is true…just like new cars are generally more expensive than old cars. However, at a certain point older cars are taken off the road since they are no longer roadworthy or worth the cost of maintaining.

Unfortunately we are not taking older apartment buildings ‘off the road’. Instead , in many cases, they are being allowed to further deteriorate, since the owners don’t want to renovate them for fear of being accused of ‘renovictions’, or they under-utilize the site and the costs for major redevelopment do not make sense.

I am in conversation with a number of apartment building owners who are interested in exploring whether they might be able to obtain approvals for an FSR above current zoning in order to redevelop their sites with a mix of new rental units and condominium units.

With a mix of rental and ownership units, they will not need the almost fivefold increase in density that the developer of 1401 Comox rental building sought…and ultimately received. But they will need some increase.
Otherwise, as noted above, in many instances the buildings will simply deteriorate (and yes, provide lower rents) until they burn down or fall down, or are destroyed in an earthquake, putting lots of tenants out on the street.

Then we will all ask why wasn’t this situation predicted and why didn’t we do something before it was too late?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

So where are we going to live next? My talk to Probus

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to speak to the Vancouver Chapter of Probus, a club that includes many retired and semi-retired Vancouver businessmen and community leaders. It meets the second Tuesday of every month in the Vancouver Planetarium where they usually fill the theatre for a guest speaker.  I was invited to speak almost a year ago by Don Hudson, a former executive with Eatons and past president of many community organizations who sadly was not in attendance due to some recent surgery. (The lengths some people will go to to avoid one of my talks!)

I'm told there were about 300 in attendance this week, including many friends and acquaintances. I was delighted to see Bruce Buchanan, past President and Vice-Chair of BC Packers, a former client with whom I worked on the planning and disposition of BC Packers Steveston property and the Celtic Shipyard (today Deering Island) in the 1980's, and Phillip Owen who served on Vancouver Council and as Mayor when some of the housing projects I presented were approved.

The theme of my talk was the range of housing options that are available, and should be available for 'empty nesters' and seniors who are ready to downsize, but not yet ready to downgrade!  I talked about smaller houses on smaller lots, laneway housing, duplexes and townhouses, and different types of apartments

Below is a link to the presentation.  If you are uncomfortable with a picture of grown men dressed like Sasha Cohen in Borat, you may want to miss the fifth slide! always comments are welcomed

Monday, November 12, 2012

DEFIANT REQUIEM: VERDI at TEREZIN: one of the most powerful movies you will ever see!

Perhaps it was the fact it was a rainy Sunday afternoon. Or maybe it was because it was Remembrance Day. Or maybe it was the incredible story about the power of music and the tragic circumstances of the inmates of the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin.

Whatever the reasons, yesterday I left the Ridge Theatre after seeing the movie Defiant Requiem thinking it was one of the most powerful movies I had ever seen in my life. I'm writing this post in the hope that thousands of other Canadians will one day get an opportunity to see the movie too.

The movie was featured as part of Vancouver Jewish Film Festival.  And while it tells the true story of an imprisoned Jewish Conductor Rafael Schachter and the Jewish inmates of the camp, you do not have to be Jewish to appreciate this amazing movie. On the contrary, it will appeal to people of any religion, and in particular those with an appreciation of music and the power of the human spirit.

As noted in the Film Festival program, Defiant Requiem retells the amazing true story of 150 inmates of Terezin who, led by the conductor Schachter, become a choir and master one of the world's most difficult and powerful choral works, Verdi's The Requiem
The choir would ultimately confront the Nazis face to face...and sing to them what they dare not say.

In attendance on Sunday was Murry Sidlin, 
an American conductor who by chance came across the story of Schachter and Terezin, and dreamt of bringing the Requiem back to Terezin. He set out on an odyssey to find people who had been in the camp and learn as much as he could about their experiences. Ultimately, with musicians from America and the Czech Republic, he re-staged (if one can use such a term) the concert in the crumbling camp buildings, where a few of the remaining Holocaust survivors who were at the camp returned with their families. (In the case of one family, two sons performed in the a surprise for their parents.)

Many stories have been told about the horrors of the Holocaust and the concentration camps. I must confess that when I was in Krakow in 2007 I did not take the short journey to Auschwitz because I did not want to experience the horrors of the place. But somehow, the story of these inmates, as told by Sidlin and a couple of incredibly eloquent survivors was as much about the triumph of the human spirit as the horrors of the camp.

After viewing the film, Sidlin was asked by a member of the audience why he, a musical conductor, decided to make this movie. He said it was because he wanted more people to know about the incredible achievements of conductor Schachter who tragically died just before the end of the war.

In a way, although I am not a musician, and fortunately have no connections whatsoever to Terzin, I want to tell more Vancouverites  about the incredible achievement of Sidlin in making this film, and do what I can to help others see the film.

I hope you will too.

You can learn much more about the movie here:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's World Town Planning Day....really!

World Town Planning Day: A cause for celebration in B.C.

Opinion: Since 1949, this day has highlighted the valuable contributions sound planning makes to the human environment

By Michael Geller, Special to The Vancouver Sun November 6, 2012

 Well-planned towns are affordable and promote healthy living.
Photograph by: Stuart Davis , Vancouver Sun

What do housing affordability, physical health and a sense of community have to do with town planning?
This week, planners in 30 countries around the world will be celebrating World Town Planning Day. It is a day to recognize the importance of community planning, an oftentimes contentious discipline that brings together professional planners, builders and developers, politicians, special interest groups, and the general public.

Since 1949, World Town Planning Day has focused on the progress of community planning across Canada and four continents. It highlights the valuable contributions that sound planning has made to the quality of the human environment and provides recognition of the ideals of community planning among the profession and the general public worldwide.

While most of us have a good idea what doctors, dentists and engineers do, we are often confused about the role of professional planners. That may be due to the fact that among the 7,000 planning professionals across Canada, of which more than 1,400 are in British Columbia, there is considerable variety.
There are urban planners who work for developers and property owners, and planners who work exclusively for the public sector, including the various levels of government and a myriad of agencies and institutions.

Many planners focus on what is called current land-use planning. These are the people we often see at public information meetings or standing before city councils. Other planners tend to specialize in long-term planning, regional planning, urban design, and transportation planning.

Increasingly, planners are specializing in areas like heritage preservation, environmental protection, parks and recreation, resource management and economic development. In Metro Vancouver, those planners who specialize in housing policy have become particularly busy.
In developing a plan for a particular property, neighbourhood or whole town or city, planners must take into account a wide array of considerations. These include Official Community Plans and zoning bylaws, sustainability objectives, traffic congestion and air pollution, neighbourhood crime, potential impacts on land values, and relevant legislation.

The importance of the urban planner has been increasing throughout the 21st century, especially in British Columbia as we begin to face increased population growth, climate change and other impacts of unsustainable development. Consequently, a planner can no longer be considered a white collar or blue collar professional; rather he or she is becoming a green collar professional.

Professional planners in British Columbia and the Yukon are members of the Planning Institute of British Columbia (PIBC), which has been dedicated to the advancement of the planning profession for more than 54 years. Fully qualified professional or certified members of PIBC have the exclusive right and privilege to utilize the title “Registered Professional Planner” and designation “RPP” in B.C. They may also use the designation “MCIP” to indicate their professional status nationally with the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Professional planners are faced with a number of particular challenges due to our constricted land supply and desirability as a place to live and work. Looking to the future, I see three areas requiring more concerted effort by planners, working closely with other professionals, governments and the broader public.
The first relates to housing affordability. Our housing supply is not keeping up with demand, and too often the types of housing being built are too expensive, especially for first-time buyers wanting to stay here. Much is reported about the need for increased densities, and while many question whether more density will necessarily lead to more affordability, there is a consensus among planners that it is extremely difficult to have affordability without density.

The second area relates to physical health. While readers might question what planning has to do with health, it is worth remembering that in the beginning, the primary purpose of zoning bylaws was to protect physical health by separating noxious uses and residential areas.

Today this is not as significant a challenge. However, research by UBC’s Dr. Lawrence Frank and others has demonstrated that the layout and density of a neighbourhood can have direct bearing on the physical health of its residents. Children who can bike or walk to school are less likely to be obese than those who must be driven. Similarly, adults living in dense, walkable and complete neighbourhoods are more likely to be healthier and less obese. To find out how healthy your neighbourhood might be, check its walkability index at

The final area is sense of community. As evidenced by recent Vancouver Foundation surveys, despite the accolades that Vancouver often receives as a most livable city, there appears to be a growing sense of disconnection and isolation among residents of many Lower Mainland neighbourhoods. Good planning can help address this by creating welcoming spaces where people want to congregate and meet one another. In some cases, these may be parks or public squares; however, they might also be well-designed communal gardens or community spaces within a rental or condominium development.

While many may question whether B.C.’s planners have been doing a good job, internationally, they are highly regarded for the quality of our province’s urban and rural planning. While there is much more to be done, this is something worth celebrating.
Michael Geller is a 25 year member of the PIBC and Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I'm off to see God this afternoon. Join me!

Sunday Nov 4 @ 2:00pm
Channeling the Almighty
David Javerbaum / The Last Testament: A Memoir by God
Tickets: $14.00   BUY TICKETS ONLINE >>
or call  604-257-5111 

The former head writer and executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, David Javerbaum lives up to his reputation for chutzpah in God: A Memoir as he steps into the mind of God and delivers a series of gags, inspired parodies and straight out blasphemy.
The New York Times calls Javerbaum ‘fearless’ saying he delivers ‘…100 percent guaranteed foolproof offense at times (there is no benign way to discuss Jesus and masturbation in the same sentence)’. In his role as court jester in a world of apologizing public figures, Javerbaum is unapologetic, entertaining and offending in equal measure.
It’s not all about religion though - God has opinions about politics as well as sex. On Barack Obama: “Obama is My Messenger, the Deliverer; the Messiah, but only from January 2008 to February 2009.” As for shouting His name during intercourse - He wishes people wouldn’t overdo it quite as much. And so it goes - Javerbaum finds everyone’s button and then leans hard. It’s what makes him one of the greatest satirists of the age.
Javerbaum’s work on The Daily Show earned him an Emmy Award, three consecutive Emmy nominations, and a 2000 Peabody Award. He also has an Emmy nomination for his work as a staff writer for The Late Show with David Letterman. Javerbaum is the co-author of America: The Book and Earth: The Book, as well as author of the pregnancy parody What to Expect When You’re Expected. Javerbaum boasts a huge Twitter account: @TheTweetOfGod.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A message from New Jersey

My best friend at Cliffside Public School in Toronto was Brian Clark. (he was also a good friend of CBC's Rick Cluff).  On September 11 2001, Brian was sitting in his World Trade Centre South Tower office when a plane struck the building. He was one of only four people in the South Tower to escape from a floor above the plane's impact. His heroic story can be found here

I mention this since Brian now lives in New Jersey in what I suspect is a very nice neighbourhood., When I witnessed the scenes of devastation in New Jersey on TV, I wrote to him, expressing my concern for him, his family and friends, especially since I knew he had already been through one incredible disaster.  Today I received this response:

Michael ~~
Thanks for your note of concern.

We consider ourselves to be in the 'fortunate' group.  We lost power only for the first thirty hours but a huge area all around our neighbourhood is still without electricity.  At night, our street and two or three around us look like islands in a sea of darkness.  We don't quite understand how this has occurred but we dare not question the facts.

However, our cable company has not yet recovered.  That means we have no TV, no Internet and no land-line phone.  I have just come to my son Tim's in-laws' home where they are running on a generator. Their cable service is from a different provider so, for the first time since Sunday, I have connected to a wireless hub and can find out what is going on in the rest of the world.

The residential streets around us are a mess.  Detours are everywhere around huge downed trees and power-lines.  The damage in our area is extraordinary and we are miles and miles from the Jersey Shore where the property damage is even more extensive.  In our area, things will eventually get back to "normal" but the changes along the coastal area will, in many cases, be permanent.

~~ Brian 

It's hard to fathom what life must be like for the many thousands of people who remain without power and all the other things we all take for granted four days after the storm hit. Somehow it hits closer to home when you know someone who's having to live through it.