Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Today's most unusual email!

Like everyone on the internet, I get a lot of strange emails. Fortunately most of the cranks get caught in my SPAM filter. But today this one came through. So what do you think? Should I design his house? :-)

Hello, Trust you are well. I got your details through the internet as a
reputable Architect. I would like to know if you offer Architectural
Drawing and Building Design service for a proposed new building on a
raw piece of land?

I would like to have a house plan design for a one-story bungalow with
the following features;

Three Bedrooms (All rooms en suite)
Three Bathrooms
One Living room
One Island Kitchen
One Laundry room
A Garage ( That can accommodate at least three cars)
Area of Land : 3108 sq/ft

I just inherited a piece of raw land through my family and I would
like to build from scratch.The size of the land for the building is
3108 sq/ft.  I am open to suggestions as well. I have a budget of
$1,500,000 for this new house. I would like you to work up a house and
floor plan for me with the estimated cost. If possible send me more
than one plan you would suggest as well as the quote for the house

How do you bill for your service and which modes of payments do you accept?

Best Regards,

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

North Shore Heritage Society's Summer Tea Vinson House July 21st, 2019

A few months ago, I was asked by Peter Miller of the North Shore Heritage Society if they could hold their summer tea at Vinson House on July 21st. While I was hoping the house would be sold by then, I happily agreed, since who better to show off our handiwork than to members of a heritage society and their friends.  The invitation was subsequently sent out and read as follows:

     We hope that you can join us at the North Shore Heritage Society’s Summer Tea on July 21st from 1-4 pm at the Vinson House at 1425 Gordon Ave, West Vancouver. 
     As one of the first houses constructed in the Upper Hollyburn area, the Vinson House is a vital piece in West Vancouver’s rich history. Originally built in 1913 for Valient Vivian Vinson, renowned photographer and Reeve of West Vancouver, this iconic Craftsman Style home enjoyed considerable significance and prestige over the years. Its decorative elements and exceptional construction saw it featured in a West Vancouver Publicity Program in 1918 and it was honored with a Heritage Achievement Award in 1997.
     The Vinson House project is an excellent example of a successful Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) in West Vancouver by Michael Geller, a well-known Vancouver architect, planner and developer, and Trasolini Chetner, a respected developer and builder of high-quality homes and innovative infill and heritage revitalization projects. The heritage house has been fully restored with the addition of a garden level suite and 2 new detached cottages surrounded by Edwardian style gardens.
     A tea party is not complete without fancy headgear so please wear your fanciest fascinator! There will be prizes for best male & female hats. We will also be playing fun summer games in the garden so be ready for some friendly competition!
     Tea sandwiches, goodies and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided.

I am pleased to report that the good weather and interest in the house resulted in a very good turnout. Many paid attention to the invitation and showed up in appropriate headgear and other fancy dress. It was gratifying to hear the positive response to our restoration of the heritage house, as well as the fine comments about the two infill houses that are also still for sale. Below are some photos. Next year you can come to the Major Rush House, if the owner agrees!  


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In memory of Sam Geller who passed away 15 years ago.

After my mother died, my father was quite popular with the ladies. These photos were taken at a birthday....not his birthday... on a cruise we took together through the Black Sea en route to Odessa!
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday. We were watching the Open Championship at a golf club near Rimbey Alberta after celebrating the wedding of my friend John Hull's daughter. That's when we got the call from our daughter who said grandpa just died. In fact, he died on Saturday July 17th. He was 92.
     We rushed back to the house, packed up and drove to Edmonton where we dropped off a rental car and raced into the airport. I was going through security when I realized I still had the rental car keys in my pocket. 
     Those who knew my father knew him to be a very gentle man who had survived a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp, which was not always easy for someone of the Jewish faith. But after he returned to UK, and then Canada, he appreciated each and every day for the rest of his life.
     My father was not a golfer, but I took him golfing at Musqueum one day. He was 81 at the time. A friend saw us and asked him if he was a regular golfer. "Yes" he said. "Once every 81 years."
     In writing this piece, I came across the following account of his 90th birthday party which was held at the Richmond Country Club.

 Sam Geller turns 90

Ninety of Sam Geller’s friends and relatives recently attended a party at the Richmond Country Club to celebrate his special birthday.  They included friends from the Jewish Family Services Agency, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, and the Jewish Community Centre, three of Sam’s favourite community organizations.  Many of his neighbours from Oak Gardens, and card playing friends were there, enjoying the antics of a magician brought over from Victoria by Sam’s daughter Estelle Paget.  Also in attendance were Mayor Philip and Brita Owen. A few years ago, the mayor helped arrange a meeting for Sam, and his son Michael, with the deputy mayor of Odessa, Vancouver’s sister city, from which Sam’s father had emigrated to England at the turn of the last century.

Details of Sam’s life were presented in an amusing skit by his grandchildren, Claire and Georgia Geller, and Julie and Gontran Paget.  Based on the TV show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, relatives were asked personal questions about Sam’s life including his war years, his life in Toronto, and the past 14 years in Vancouver.  Following the skit, 9 candles were lit by friends and relatives.

Those present all remarked on Sam’s wonderful sense of humour and  kind and gentle personality. When asked the secret of longevity, Sam responded that it is simple. “Just keep breathing!”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Opinion: Vancouver needs innovative approach towards affordable rental housing Vancouver Courier July

Hardly a day goes by when affordable rental housing is not front and centre in the media. Recently much has been written about the rejection of controversial rezoning applications in VancouverNorth Vancouver and White Rock.
Increasingly, we read about other municipalities using “rental-only zoning” to protect older buildings or “inclusionary zoning” requiring new rental units alongside new condominiums.

Reflecting on my five decades as an architect, CMHC official and developer, other innovative affordable rental housing ideas come to mind. I recently shared some of them in an interview with The Scrivener, the publication of the BC Notaries Association.
In 1970, on a CMHC Travelling Scholarship, I toured modular housing factories across the U.S. Returning to university, as my thesis I designed a system of relocatable modular units to be set up on vacant sites across Toronto. The objective was to create affordable housing by avoiding or minimizing the cost of land.
Four decades later in 2009, I studied this concept for B.C. Housing, and today relocatable modular housing has become an effective affordable housing solution for the homeless around the province.
However, it need not be just for the homeless. Private and non-profit companies can create affordable rental housing for a broader population by setting up relocatable modular units on other vacant lots awaiting redevelopment. Governments might offer tax abatements to those who allow their land to be used for this purpose, similar to community gardens.
As a student, I lived in a large house with six other people. We each had our own bedroom but shared the bathroom and living spaces. No doubt many of you did the same.
In1972, I moved into Ottawa’s Pestalozzi College, a Trudeau government-funded 22-storey cooperative-living highrise. Older Torontonians will remember Rochdale College, part of the same cooperative housing experiment.
One of the things that made Pestalozzi College unique was its design. Half the building comprised of one-bedroom apartments and the other half offered communal suites for six to 14 people. The latter included partially furnished bedrooms, shared bathrooms and living areas with kitchens, not unlike some student residences and the house I left behind in Toronto.
The one-bedroom apartment design was different from the typical Vancouver one-bedroom layout, which usually has an open living-dining-kitchen space and separate bedroom.
The Pestalozzi apartments had an eating area in the kitchen and a lockable door to the living room. This allowed it to become a bedroom at night. Consequently, the suite was comfortably shared by two unrelated people with undisturbed access to the kitchen or bathroom.
At SFU’s UniverCity community, we built similar suite layouts within the Cornerstone Building. However, they had a double-door to the living room creating a more deluxe one-bedroom or smaller two-bedroom unit, all within 600 square feet. By simply adding a door to the living space, the apartment layout become much more flexible and affordable.
Another UniverCity innovation is the “lock-off suite.” It was an attempt to create the equivalent of a basement suite within a multi-storey apartment building. The key to its design was an additional door from the corridor into the second or third bedroom, and a small closet area that could be converted to a kitchenette.
Thanks to the open mindedness of Burnaby staff and Council, UniverCity’s zoning allowed lock-off suites in up to 50 per cent of the homes, resulting in both affordable rental housing and “a mortgage helper in the sky.” West Vancouver and Vancouver now allow similar arrangements, but the idea has not really caught on. It will.
But back to co-living. Today, many companies such as Welive,Common and Ollie are developing buildings offering fully furnished studios and shared suites with hotel-styled services, amenities and even organized events. A colleague calls it supportive housing for millennials.
While not everyone wants to share, increasingly co-living is becoming a viable affordable housing solution, and not just for singles. Kin, a collaboration between Common and Tishman Speyer, a major international real estate company, is now offering co-living for urban families.
Given our urgent need for more affordable rental housing, let’s hope these options will be added to other choices available in the city.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

From The Scrivener: published quarterly by BC Notaries Association: An interview with Michael Geller

While it is always dangerous, especially for someone like me, to sit down with a stranger and share one's life stories with a voice recorder running, that's what I did last month with the editor of The Scrivener. I was invited to do the interview following an after-dinner talk I gave at the BC Notaries' Annual General Meeting.
     While much longer than anticipated, it does include some of my favourite stories about 10 years at CMHC, as a real estate consultant planning the redevelopment of the Steveston waterfront, as Development Manager for Bayshore, Project Manager for the Convention Centre Expansion, first President of the SFU Community Trust, and developer of boutique residential projects including Oak Gardens and Elm Park Place, and two Heritage Revitalization projects in West Vancouver that are currently for sale. Following the interview is an advertorial for the West Vancouver projects and an article on heating systems that should be of interest to anyone who buys a condominium. You can find a link to the full magazine here:

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Opinion: Vancouver Courier Contentious townhouse decision illustrates need for overall Granville Corridor plan July 2, 2019

Last week, I awoke to the news that city council had voted 7-4 to reject the rental housing proposal at 4575 Granville St. next to a hospice. While pleased, I was not elated like others, given the urgent need for rental housing, and time and money devoted to the failed application.
     The applicant was rightly disappointed, as was the late Morris Wosk in June 1990, when city council rejected a proposal he and I submitted for three towers at Langara Gardens, creating an additional 280 rent-controlled apartments.
     There was a serious rental housing crisis at the time, and our proposal had the support of the Urban Design Panel, the director of planning and certain aldermen. However, community opposition was very loud, orchestrated in part by a senior city hall planner who was concerned the new development would block his bedroom’s view of Mount Baker.
     Three decades later, council has approved a much higher density Langara Gardens plan for 2,100 homes that will dwarf the four existing 18-storey towers.
     Returning to Granville Street, while some councillors expressed concern about affordability, Jean Swanson voted against the motion, in part, because the owner would get a huge increase in value if the property was upzoned.
     Would she have opposed Banting and Best’s discovery of insulin in the early 1920s because they too would make money from their invention?
     While I expected the mayor to support the rezoning, I was surprised by Coun. Christine Boyle’s vote since I thought she would be sympathetic to the hospice’s concerns. But I owe her an apology since I missed her remarks at the public hearing, which she subsequently set out in a thoughtful, caring online editorial.
    Like Boyle, I too hope we will see future rental housing proposals elsewhere along Granville Street and in Shaughnessy. However, before council considers more spot-rezonings, we need an overall Granville Corridor plan and design guidelines.
     Ten years ago, the city approved a three-phase planning program for the Cambie Corridor. A comprehensive plan with detailed planning guidelines was prepared for each portion of the street, and dozens of applications came forward to replace aging bungalows with six- to eight-storey apartment buildings and townhouses.
     While the resulting designs and character may not be to everyone’s liking, Cambie Street has become a dense, urban street. Redevelopment is now extending into surrounding neighbourhoods.
     Granville Street has always had a different character than Cambie Street. While it does not have a central landscaped median, it is lined with green ribbons of trees, hedges and gardens.
     A new Granville Corridor Plan should retain this overall character by allowing mansions to be subdivided into suites and additional infill housing, while other single-family properties are redeveloped with apartments, townhouses, and stacked townhouses. 
     However, city hall should improve the approval process for Granville Street and not repeat the process used along Cambie Street. There, rather than simply require development and building permits, the city insisted that every application go through a separate rezoning process. This resulted in considerable effort and costs for applicants, city staff and council, not to mention unnecessary, lengthy delays.
     For Granville Street, the city should prepare an overall plan, and then expeditiously approve development permits for applications if in accordance with the plan.
     The same should happen along the West Broadway Corridor.  As recently reported in the Courier, a developer has proposed another rezoning for the former Denny’s site at Birch Street. I say “another” since a 2018 rezoning increased the permitted height from 12 storeys to 16 and floor space ratio from 3.0 to 7.07 for a secured rental housing project. The latest proposal is for 28 storeys (FSR 10.7) and is in response to a new moderate-income rental housing program that allows spot rezonings.
     Many neighbourhood residents, architects and planners are concerned the latest proposal is out of scale with its surroundings and should not be approved, especially in advance of an overall plan for the Broadway Corridor. I agree.
     While there is an urgent need for affordable rental housing, there is also a need to plan for a beautiful city. Spot rezonings that increase density in the name of affordability need not always be supported.
     After all, sometimes big can be too big.

Opinion: Stacked townhouses a good option in Vancouver, but not beside a hospice Vancouver Courier June 20, 2019

     I recently returned from New York City where I attended a symposium on American experiences related to housing affordability, community and health.
     There I learned about non-profit organizations in Los Angeles promoting laneway housing for the homeless and others receiving federal government rent subsidies. One of the organizations, United Dwelling, was awarded $1 million from the LA County Innovation Challenge for its idea to address housing affordability by converting garages into dwelling units.
     I also met a co-founder of Nesterly, which promotes home-sharing between different generations. Given the growing need for affordable housing, increased loneliness and hundreds of thousands of empty bedrooms in Metro Vancouver, I see wonderful opportunities for similar initiatives here.homeless count were announced. I was not the only one disappointed, but not surprised, to hear the number of Vancouver homeless people has again increased. While I am pleased the relocatable modular housing program has accommodated more than 600 formerly homeless people, I do not believe we can ever end homelessness by just building more housing.

On my return to Vancouver, the results of this year’s 

Instead, we need to more effectively address the addictions and mental illness that affect many homeless people, as well as offer family reunification programs like that offered by the Salvation Army, and employment programs managed by EMBERS.
We also need to work with the federal government since many of our homeless arrived here from other provinces, and more will continue to come if we continue to offer good housing, social programs and supervised injection sites.
Of course, one way to address housing affordability and homelessness is to increase incomes. It troubles me to see some people oppose minimum hourly wage increases when the minimum wage is less than the GST on their hourly fees.
We also need to do more to prevent homelessness in the future by supporting programs such as KidCare Canada, which helps new mothers learn how to care for their children. Sadly, too many homeless people had terrible upbringings, which contributed to their ending up on the streets.
While I would like to expand on these matters, instead I prefer to address the topic dominating my Twitter feed on my return to Vancouver, namely the rezoning proposal being considered by Vancouver city council to build 21 rental stacked-townhouse units at 4575 Granville St., next to an eight-person hospice.
I should begin by pointing out that I have been a longstanding proponent of more stacked town-housing in Vancouver since I consider it a good alternative to apartments for families with children.
I am also a proponent of rezoning arterial streets for higher density housing. While it would be better to locate higher density housing on the streets behind the arterials, away from the noise and fumes, this is often more difficult in the absence of an overall plan.
In the mid-’90s, despite considerable neighbourhood opposition, I rezoned four lots on Oak Street at West 42nd for a seniors’ apartment building. I also rezoned seven lots on West 41st next to Crofton House School for seniors’ apartments.
In the Roundtable on Building Form and Design, which I chaired for the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, we proposed upzoning arterial roads and the transition zones behind for higher density housing.
However, I oppose this particular spot-rezoning, albeit within the context of the Interim Rezoning Policy for Affordable Housing Choices, because it is next to one of the city’s four hospices.
I first learned about the benefits of hospices from Atal Gawande’s book Being Mortal. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
While I often regard neighbourhood concerns about overlooking increased traffic and parking problems as a camouflage for other concerns, such as not wanting renters in a neighbourhood, in this case I believe the hospice’s concerns to be legitimate. If approved, the development will significantly compromise the peace and enjoyment of residents, both during and after construction.
I also accept the claim that approval could lead to a complete closure of a hospice that was built only through considerable community effort.
I therefore hope council will refuse this rezoning, noting that there are many more suitable locations where stacked townhouse rental housing can, and should, be built.