Saturday, October 23, 2021

False Creek South - CBC report

On Thursday October 21, Vancouver City Council started to hear from 170 speakers who have signed up to respond to the staff report on a proposed redevelopment strategy for South Shore False Creek. Only a portion of the speakers were heard and the public discussion will continue on Tuesday while I am sleeping. Why? Because instead of going to Russia this week to judge a planning competition, as planned, I will be participating in an all-night zoom session with the other jurors from France, Spain, UK, Singapore and Russia. 

I'm glad I cancelled the Russian trip since this week Moscow goes into Covid lockdown

But back to False Creek. As noted in my last blogpost, I did an interview with CBC television on my initial thoughts. While most of it rightly ended up on the cutting room floor, I did come across this account of the discussion which some of you might find of interest.

For reference, it is copied below: 

City of Vancouver plan would more than triple the number of homes in False Creek South

Residents raise concerns about affordability and security in the neighbourhood moving forward

The neighbourhood of False Creek South, as defined by the City of Vancouver. (City of Vancouver)

About 80 per cent of False Creek is owned by the City of Vancouver, and with leases on that land expiring in the next 15 to 25 years, the report says the city has the opportunity to renew the original plan for the neighbourhood first developed in the 1970s. 

The report proposes that development in the area happen over two phases. Their preferred plan for new sites and open space could begin as early as next year — and would be developed into 2040.

There are currently approximately 5,500 people living in False Creek South in a total of 1,849 housing units. City-owned land in the False Creek South area spans from the Burrard Street Bridge to the Cambie Bridge, running along Sixth and Fourth avenues. It doesn't include Granville Island. 

The south shore of False Creek has changed drastically since redevelopment efforts began in the 1970s. (City of Vancouver)

Staff believe that by the end of the Phase 1, the number of housing units in the area could more than double. Phase 2 could potentially add a further 2,875 units.

The report says the development would be funded by the Property Endowment Fund and the Vancouver Affordable Housing Endowment Fund. 

Staff is now looking for direction from city council for the next planning steps which will involve all city departments and further public engagement, as nothing has been set in stone just yet.

Michael Geller, a retired architect and real estate consultant, was the special co-ordinator for the redevelopment of False Creek South in 1975. 

He said the original vision was to have a mixed community of one-third low income, one-third middle-income and one-third high income in the neighbourhood. In the 1970s, Geller said, half of Vancouverites thought it should be a park, so the land became half residential, half park — a move he says means the city can now develop a more "intensive use" of the land moving forward. 

"This is public land in a prime location," he said. "I'm pleased that the city doesn't intend that it become a duplication of what we see on the north shore of False Creek."

Residents concerned about affordability

False Creek South resident Richard Evans says he's "cautious" about the city's plan and worries about affordability and security moving forward. 

Evans, who has lived in a housing co-op in False Creek South with his family since 1986, is concerned about the planned increase in market rentals and market leases in the neighbourhood.

"The proportion of rental to co-op to non-market rental and after market rental and strata, that balance is a very critical piece," he said.


Neighbour Maria Roth agrees. She's lived in the area since 1997 and describes the area as an inclusive place where everyone feels safe and secure.

She worries primarily about affordability and sustainability. 

"We all know that supply on its own is not going to answer the affordability crisis issue," she said.

"We also know that when it comes to sustainability planning, tearing down perfectly viable housing before it's reached the end of its useful life is also not a good thing and that's also part of what the plan is proposing."

Planning process

Evans and Roth both feel left out of the planning process for their community.

Deputy city manager Karen Levitt said there were extensive consultations with the community in 2017 and 2018. But Evans said after that, planning for the neighbourhood became closed — everything started happening behind closed doors, and information and conversation did not include community members.

Levitt said it's "standard practice" to hold conversations about city-owned land "in camera" — closed to the public.

Section 165.2 of the Vancouver Charter says that meetings that can be held in-camera include "the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the city."

A citywide engagement session was held earlier this year. There was broad support for increased density, housing for families, accessibility and development of vacant lands in a phased approach to minimize disruption in the neighbourhood.

False Creek residents, specifically, wanted their current leases extended.  

Geller said many people in False Creek South will be upset because they will lose their homes, but the land was leased for 60 years — so leaseholders knew this would eventually happen.

"This is not a complete shock. This is something that has been contemplated for the last 45 years," he said. 

Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung says one of her primary concerns about the plan is the displacement of existing residents. But, she said, all the land will remain city-owned and city staff will enter lease extension negotiations and redevelopment discussions with co-op housing stakeholders later this year.

She said the plan is for development to be phased so that, ultimately, nobody is displaced.

"Staff are really trying to strike the balance between maintaining the principles of this neighbourhood … and respecting the fact that this is public land and needs to be utilized to the best benefit of residents and being respectful to the existing residents so they don't have to fear," she said, speaking Thursday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Kirby-Yung also said city staff have identified a space where False Creek Elementary School could be relocated and expanded to accommodate an influx of new residents.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Past & Future of South Shore False Creek

An early photo of the initial phase of South Shore False Creek

Yesterday, Vancouver Is Awesome the Glacier Media 'successor' for The Vancouver Courier, the beloved newspaper for which I wrote a regular column for many years, reported on the forthcoming discussion on the future of South Shore False Creek, scheduled for Vancouver City Council this Thursday October 21st. 

In years gone by, I would have written a Courier column in advance of this discussion, or signed up to speak. But since the Courier has folded, and I have meetings Thursday with a delegation of German planners and politicians interested in learning about Vancouver's waterfront developments and a community organization in Squamish, I will share some of my thoughts on the city's proposal here.

As background, the following is an excerpt from the Vancouver is Awesome account of the meeting:

 Future of False Creek South

As Glacier Media reported last week, the city has released a “conceptual development plan” for 80 acres of land it owns and manages on the south shore of False Creek.

The plan contemplates tripling the number of housing units and adding new buildings of six to 28 storeys high. A 500-footer adjacent to the Granville Bridge is also a possibility, although the staff report emphasized the word “conceptual” in the plan.

“It is important to note that these potential heights and densities have not been reviewed by [senior managers] or any other city staff from a regulatory perspective, and thus do not reflect forms of design that have to date been approved or considered to be supportable from a land use planning or regulatory perspective,” the report said.

Staff will deliver a presentation to council Thursday, which will include more details about the city’s plan to negotiate with existing leaseholders on the lands. Staff will also explain how the plan justifies increasing the number of housing units from 1,850 to 6,645 and keep a housing mix of approximately one-third market strata leasehold, one-third market rental and one-third non-market/co-op housing units.

Some of the questions from council will undoubtedly concern how such level of development on a shoreline can be done over the next 20-plus years when city staff have previously raised concerns about sea level rise. Staff’s presentation is expected sometime Thursday morning.

Past of False Creek South

One of my favourite all-time newspaper clippings. A senior Vancouver planner resigns since he believes False Creek would be a terrible place for people to live, especially families with children.

I have a particular interest in this community since from 1975 to 1977 I served as CMHC's Special Coordinator for the project. I was given this responsibility since most of the other people in the CMHC Branch Office thought the proposed community development would fail and any association with it would not be a career enhancing move. They were not alone. A senior Vancouver planner resigned his position since he too thought the south shore of False Creek was no place to build a family-oriented community. The Board of Trade also opposed the development, and the Park Board, led by commissioner George Puil argued that the entire site should be a park, not housing.

As a 28 year old architect and planner who at the time was Program Manager-Social Housing, I was confident the development would succeed. I had previously lived in Toronto and England, and worked in other cities across Canada where major redevelopments on former industrial lands had succeeded. Moreover, I was not planning to stay with CMHC forever. 

While I intend to write more about the background planning for South Shore False Creek, using publications from my home library including "CREATING A LIVABLE INNER CITY COMMUNITY -VANCOUVER'S EXPERIENCE 1976" as reference, the purpose of this blogpost is to declare my support, in principle, for the direction being proposed by Vancouver staff and its consultants that include Chuck Brook, a former member of the Vancouver planning department and a highly regarded planner and real estate consultant who for years has been advising governments and other property owners on the planning and redevelopment of their properties. 

To be clear, this does not mean concentrating the more affordable housing in one area and the market housing in another. Nor does it mean doubling or tripling the density. What it does mean is regenerating the community by adding more market and non-market housing on both undeveloped and selected currently developed sites, and creating longer term certainty for the leaseholders of both the non-market and market parcels.

Details of what the city is initially proposing can be found in the staff report. You can find the 34-page staff report here:

The overall plan by Thompson Berwick & Pratt and others was selected following a competition. Perhaps a competition migh!t be held to prepare new plans for the future False Creek South

While I haven't studied the report in detail, and it is devoid of the more detailed plans that many of us want to see, the redevelopment strategy is very similar to that implemented for the federally-owned Veterans Properties in Kitsilano and New Westminster which I undertook for CMHC in the 1980s. Recognizing the importance of allowing lower-income households and others who want to remain in the community to not lose their housing, the first step, following approval of an overall plan and strategy, is to build new housing  on available sites for those living in the older buildings. This in turn frees up many older housing sites for redevelopment with modern, more energy efficient homes at higher densities. 

Last week, I did two interviews with Global TV and CBC. Both asked me if I was surprised by what was being proposed and I said no. The fact is, the False Creek leases are generally for 60 years, and 45 years ago when the leases were first negotiated, it was contemplated by many of us that at the end of the lease term some sites would be redeveloped. This is contemplated in the leases whose wind-up provisions included two options: either extend the leases on appropriate new terms, or buy out the improvements at their then market value. (The province passed special legislation to require these provisions.) While I anticipate some significant disagreements over what constitutes the fair market value of the improvements, ultimately financial arrangements will be determined by appraisers and others.

I should add, as noted in the Global TV  interview that I did, many people will be very concerned with the city's proposed approach, especially those who have lived in the community for many years, or in some cases, since the housing was first built. Why? Because at some point many will no longer be able to live in their homes. However, the city has promised that they will be relocated, and unlike the Little Mountain fiasco, their new homes will be built before they are asked to vacate.

Leg-in-Boot Square. While it never really functioned as intended, expect it to be repurposed and remain

There are obviously a lot of questions about this proposed redevelopment that need to be addressed. What should be the new plan? Where should the new housing go? (I see a lot of potential to build new higher buildings along 6th Avenue, overlooking the park.)  Another question will be which buildings should be demolished and which can stay? I would expect many of the concrete buildings around Leg-in-Boot Square to remain, but most two and three storey frame buildings, especially those on prime sites, should be replaced with higher density and more energy efficient buildings.

Another question will be how to manage the redevelopment? Should the redevelopment sites be offered to one major non-profit and/or private developer, or should individual sites be offered on longer term leases to various private non-profit and private developers as was the case in the 70s? I should note that the city managed the redevelopment through a special corporate entity known as the False Creek Development Group. It's office was on West Broadway, deliberately outside of City Hall, and the Group generally did a very good job. Then mayor Art Philips hired Doug Sutcliffe, a seasoned and highly respected individual to manage the redevelopment, Neil Griggs, who is still around, was one of the officials involved. In later years, Cameron Gray, one of the city's most knowledgeable housing planners was involved. They will no doubt have some stories to share and ideas on how the city should proceed.

The Lagoons, developed by First City Financial and Michael Geller & Associates Limited, in partnership with the False Creek Development Group. Ray Spaxman, Director of Planning

I too will be happy to share some of my experiences, not only related to the first phases of False Creek South, (or the last phase since I was part of the development team that built the last project -The Lagoons at the entrance to Granville Island) but also developing UniverCity, which in many respects is a modern day example of creating a livable, planned community.

Since half of Vancouver's residents thought False Creek should be a park, and half wanted housing, the final plan was half park and half housing!

So to the mayor and Council I say approve the staff report in principle and start to do the more detailed planning. Let's have a public discussion about some of the details. But let's be bold. And let's not duplicate what can be found on the North Shore of False Creek. The Olympic Village may well be a better precedent for much of the new redevelopment. And oh yes, forget about the 50-storey tower beside the bridgehead!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

A Staycation in Victoria - Bear Mountain Golf Club

My favourite golf course in Victoria is the Victoria Golf Club. But it is difficult to get on to play unless you are the guest of a member or belong to  Capilano, Point Grey, Shaughnessy, or Marine Drive since each of these clubs has a reciprocal privilege. The club was founded in 1893 and is the oldest 18-hole course in Canada in its original location. The distinction is important since the Royal Montreal Golf Club, which I wrote about a few years ago, was founded in 1873 and the Royal Quebec Golf Club, which I played in August was founded in 1874. But it moved in 1925. 

According to the Victoria Golf Club website, it is the second oldest club in North America in its original location. If you want to see what other clubs are on this list, go here:

During my recent Thanksgiving staycation I played two other impressive courses: the Valley and Mountain Courses at Bear Mountain. The only problem with these courses is the price. Unless you live on Vancouver Island, or have reciprocal privileges, the rate until the end of October is $239 for the Valley Course and $269 for the Mountain Course. While I think the courses are worth the price, fortunately the Richmond Country Club to which I belong has a reciprocal arrangement which allows significantly reduced green fees.

Bear Mountain has a fascinating history. Just ask the folks at HSBC who lent Len Barrie a lot of money to develop the resort community. You can find an account of some of the history in this 2008 Globe and Mail story

Today the community has grown around the courses. The existing community includes approximately 1,150 homes which are predominantly single-family, although there are some townhouse and apartment developments. the current population is about 3,000. At build-out, there will be over 4,000 homes and approximately 10,000 residents (which makes it similar in size to the approved plans for UniverCity at SFU). There is also approval for 645,000 sq.ft. of commercial space. Today there are two hotels and some neighbourhood commercial, but a new village centre is proposed and no doubt some office development will come at a later date. The developer is Ecoasis Developments, who purchased the property in 2013.

I was there to play golf but also hopefully learn lessons that might be applied to Furry Creek, the resort community between Vancouver and Squamish with which I have been involved for 30 years.  It currently has approval for 920 homes, resort facilities and commercial space, in addition to the golf course. A rezoning application that is presently being considered by the SLRD board will add another 120 units of affordable housing and provide greater detail on the location of the resort facilities, village centre, marina, and other amenities. Some details can be found in this presentation made to the Howe Sound Community Forum three years ago.

I had initially planned to stay at the Westin or Fairways Hotel but since the restaurants were closed due to Covid, and I thought it might be beneficial to stay closer to Fairfield where my daughter lives, we ended up at Abigail's Hotel. (see previous blogpost).

Moreover, I discovered that the hotels are now both under different ownerships and therefore it's not possible to arrange a 'stay and play' package, which one would normally expect at a community such as this.

That said, the courses are spectacular, but a high-handicapper like me (19) who doesn't hit the ball very far, must be careful in tee selection. Otherwise, you will lose a lot of balls. (Fortunately I can hit it fairly straight, which is a valuable asset at times). While each of the courses is challenging, the Mountain Course is the more challenging of the two. 

If you're a golfer, and planning a holiday in Victoria, I highly recommend Bear Mountain. But if you want a good golfing experience, at less than half the price, check out Olympic View.  You will enjoy it too.

A Staycation in Victoria - Abigail's Hotel

I have been crossing Georgia Straight to Victoria since the mid 1970s when I was working for CMHC. In those days, it was a real treat to take the float plane to attend meetings with provincial housing officials. One of those trips changed the course of my career since I ended up sitting next to Keith Tapping, the then CMHC Assistant Regional Director who subsequently recommended that I be appointed the CMHC Special Coordinator for the redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek. A project that is very much in the news these days.

Once the False Creek project got underway, Tapping was appointed CMHC's Regional Director for Ontario and he insisted that I move to Toronto to manage CMHC's involvement with the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood 

After a two years in Toronto, and a two-year assignment in Ottawa, I eventually returned to Vancouver in 1981. I only went to Victoria on holiday until I was selected to undertake two planning studies. Working with architect Jonathan Yardley, I prepared a report on how the city might encourage the redevelopment of the then vacant or underutilized upper floors of heritage buildings in the downtown. Fortunately, our recommendations were adopted and today many people are working and living in those buildings.

Chuck Brook and I also undertook a study for the Capital Regional District to encourage the redevelopment of two key properties in the Inner Harbour. The client didn't agree with our recommendations on what would be necessary to encourage redevelopment. Today,30 years later, the properties are still vacant.

In 1992 I was appointed to the Board of the British Columbia Buildings Corporation. I remained on the board for 6 years and travelled to Victoria almost every month. During this period I also served as the provincial government's project manager for the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre Expansion which gave me another reason to travel to Victoria on a regular basis.

While I often travelled there, I wasn't really enamoured with the city. It struck me as a place for retirees, not a place for the rest of us. But Victoria has changed. Anyone who has been there recently knows the downtown is being redeveloped; high tech industries are attracting a lot of millennials and others well under retirement age, and there are lots of excellent restaurants and sites to see. Furthermore, housing prices in some neighbourhoods are catching up to what one must pay in Vancouver.

I now have another reason to visit Victoria. My daughter and granddaughter live there. This is what prompted a recent Thanksgiving weekend 'staycation'. While we often stay at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel or Magnolia Hotel when visiting, this time we chose Abigail's Hotel where we stayed once before when considering a real estate venture with the gentleman who created it. If you haven't been, the description on the website is most apt: "it's a unique accommodation experience that blurs the lines between a small luxury hotel and a heritage bed and breakfast inn".

The hotel currently has 23 rooms in two different buildings. I say currently since an expansion is underway that will create another 12 rooms. Each of the rooms is different, with varying sizes, decorations, and bathroom layouts. The rooms are well-appointed with a focus on romantic luxury, rather than more mundane things like working. Our room had a giant four-poster canopy bed (with a small step to help shorter people get in and out) and two comfortable chairs facing a wood-burning fireplace. But it didn't have a desk. The marble-clad bathroom had a large jacuzzi tub and glass enclosure, but no separate shower stall, which we tend to prefer these days.

While I have a few minor complaints about the room, I have absolutely no complaints about the breakfast that is included in the room rate. It was a superb three course breakfast! (Check out more photos on the hotel website.) There are also late afternoon hors d'oevres included in the price that can be enjoyed in your room, or the downstairs library.While I enjoy the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for its high quality accommodation and pool and hot tubs and spa facilities overlooking the ocean; and the Magnolia Hotel for its downtown location and well-appointed facilities and restaurant; and Inn at Laurel Point for the ground level rooms in the Erickson Wing overlooking the gardens and ocean, Abigail's is a very good alternative to each of these excellent properties. 

I can highly recommend this property. It's well located, and a very attractive alternative to some of the more conventional hotel properties. But if you decide to book, check out the website where you can find an honest description of the features of the various rooms since they are five different classes and all a bit different. And until the new wing is built, with its elevator, if you book an upper floor room, be prepared to climb some stairs! 

at blurs the lines between a small luxury hotel

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

This year, my birthday in....

Today is my birthday. I grew up in a household that celebrated birthdays. As I grew older, I discovered that sadly, not everyone did. 

For as long as I can remember, on January 1st as I started a new calendar, I would make a prediction as to where I would spend my birthday that year. I was usually wrong. However, in 1968 I knew I'd spend my 21st birthday (which is an important one for those of us born in UK) in UK.

It was a memorable 21st birthday, celebrated with a party in my house at 1 Birch Hall Lane in Manchester. (Coincidentally, I recently connected with Susan, the young lady who joined me at that party. She now operates a restaurant in London.) It was a great party until we discovered that during the course of the evening, some uninvited guest stole many of the girl's hand bags. 

My 30th birthday was spent in Toronto where I had moved from Vancouver with Sally to oversee the St. Lawrence redevelopment project. My 31st was in New York, 32nd in Montreal, and 33rd in Ottawa. (I know this only because I have kept a diary since 1968.)

My 40th birthday was held at Sooke Harbour House with good friends Richard and Carol Henriquez, Holly and Peter Horwood and Craig and Coralie Waddell. We took along a 1947 Cotes du Jura which was one of four that my late brother-in-law Claude Paget had given to me when we first met five years earlier in Brest. It turned out to be quite special since the then owner of the resort/restaurant Frederique Philip had his mother visiting him, and she came from the Jura region. She and her son joined us as we opened the wine to see if it had turned to vinegar. It hadn't.

For my 50th birthday celebration Sally managed to book the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino that had just reopened, and arranged for a bus to transport 50 friends for a surprise party weekend. As happened when she previously arranged another surprise party, my work plans interfered a bit since I had agreed to attend a meeting in then premier Glen Clark's Victoria office. But it all worked out. I thought the two of us were going there for a pre-birthday weekend, but many friends still remember the astonished look on my face when I showed up in the lobby barefoot (I had been relaxing in our room and was told there was a package at the front desk) with my favourite song 'O Lucky Man' playing in the background, to find my father and other family and close friends enjoying a drink. Many also remember the rain-soaked golf tournament. We enjoyed another bottle of the Jura wines.

My 60th birthday celebration was not a surprise. We had just returned from our around-the-world trip and booked the SFU Segal Centre at Granville and Dunsmuir. My friend Eli Harari, with whom I had spent my 21st birthday came up from Silicon Valley and it was a wonderful evening. But we forgot to open the wine.

My 70th birthday was a more modest affair spent with Claire, Georgia and Sally golfing in Washington State.

This year, I predicted I would spend my birthday in Dubai, attending the World Fair. Again, I was wrong. Instead I'm heading off to New Westminster for lunch with my daughter Claire and to see the house I helped her purchase. We're then off to Victoria for a weekend celebration with Georgia and my sister Estelle. Hopefully I will get to Dubai after a planned trip to Russia, now postponed until November.

Next year will be my 75th, and all being well, we will have a party and invite many of the people with whom we have enjoyed past parties since most remain friends. We will open one of the two remaining bottles of Jura wine. And if I make it to 80 we'll have the last one then. (While I like to think of myself as an optimist, I don't exercise or eat properly enough to expect to last much past 80.

In the meantime, let me wish a happy birthday to Vancouver's man about town Malcolm Parry. While we haven't seen much of him over the past 18 months, he too has a birthday today. If you see him, wish him many happy returns of the day.