Thursday, March 9, 2017

Improvements coming to the taxi industry, along with Uber, Lyft & ride-share CBC Early Edition

For 10 years I have argued Metro Vancouver's taxi system is broken. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to chat this morning with Stephen M Quinn and the manager of North Shore Taxi on CBC Early Edition about long-awaited changes to the taxi industry and introduction of Uber & other ride-sharing programs.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Let's Rezone Vancouver A podcast conversation with Keith Roy

#3 – Michael Geller – Let’s Rezone Vancouver

February 19, 2017

Audio Player
If you follow real estate news at all in Vancouver you’ve probably heard of this week’s guest – Michael Geller.
Michael is architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades of experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. He serves on the Adjunct Faculty of the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development and writes a bi-weekly civic affairs column in the Vancouver Courier.
Michael Geller is an ideas machine – especially regarding housing affordability in Vancouver. He has presented numerous housing affordability ideas while lecturing at SFU including at a speech last week where he offered ideas on how to increase density without adding more towers, citing examples from many European cities.
Prior to his public lecture, he was interviewed on CBC and featured in Malcolm Perry’s “who’s-who” column in the Vancouver Sun.
Our talk with Michael was particularly timely, as he has had a busy couple of weeks in the public eye commentating on real estate policy changes and housing initiatives. His commentary on container houses was featured in The Georgia Straight.
His column in The Vancouver Courier this week discusses the City of Vancouver’s new proposal to retain character houses. I suggest you read the whole thing, but this quote sums up his opinion well, “If we are going to make more zoning changes in Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods, why aren’t we addressing both retention of character houses, but also construction of smaller duplexes and townhouses?”
With so many wonderful ideas, I’m sure Michael will be a guest on the show in the future, as well. If you would like to learn more about Michael Geller, visit his website, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.
Hope you enjoy this episode of The Vancouver UnReal Estate Show.
If you have any questions about the show or guests you would like to see, email us at

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Opinion Commercial Drive businesses troubled by bike lane proposal Vancouver Courier March 2, 2017

Since writing this column I have received a number of comments challenging the position of the Commercial Drive Business Society (CDBS) and also noting it does not organize Car-free day, so the online version of this story has been corrected. It may well be that a follow up story will be required.
Since I started writing this column, there is one controversial Vancouver topic I have tended to avoid, until this week.
     I speak, of course, of bicycle lanes.
     In the interest of full disclosure, I own a bicycle, but do not ride it very often. I am afraid to. I therefore like the idea of safer cycling routes around the city.
     However, this isn’t a general column about bicycle lanes. It is about a specific City of Vancouver proposal to reduce parking and add bicycle lanes along both sides of Commercial Drive.
     This is not a new story. Mike Howell wrote about it in December 2015 and Naoibh O’Connor wrote a follow-up story last October.  So why am I writing about it? 
     I recently heard from a friend that the Commercial Drive Business Society was becoming increasingly upset by the city’s position on the proposed bike lanes, which they fear will be a major threat to the future vitality of the Drive.
     I was also intrigued by the fact that a group of people, who I assumed would be very much in bed with the mayor and council, were so upset with them.
     I decided to investigate, armed with a recent study from Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood on why local businesses shouldn’t worry about eliminating on-street parking to accommodate cyclists.
     I drove to the office on Commercial Drive but had to park two blocks away. I couldn’t find parking. I met Nick Pogor, the executive director of the society, in a non-descript second-floor office next to Greenpeace Vancouver. On the wall was a flow chart for the society’s many activities including Family Day, Italian Day, (and Car Free Day), all of which can be found on the website
     Noting that Commercial Drive narrows from four lanes to two at First Avenue, I asked to see the city’s bike lane plans, only to be told that the society has never seen any. I was also told that although the society has sent letters to every city councillor, and even provided each of them with a large binder with a 5,000-signature petition, none of the Vision councillors has responded. I found this quite astounding.
      Referring to the Toronto study that analyzed the transportation modes used by customers to get to neighbourhood shops, I suggested that perhaps Pogor’s society should undertake a similar study.
He proudly told me that they had, in fact, undertaken such a study. It concluded that out of just over 1,000 respondents, although many customers frequenting Commercial Drive owned bikes, only 9 per cent shopped by bike, while 25 per cent took the bus, 31 per cent walked, and 35 per cent drove.
     When I suggested that improved bike lanes might increase the percentage of cyclists and improve business, as was the case in Toronto, Pogor pointed out that Commercial Drive is not just a neighbourhood shopping area; it’s a destination for the city and region. Consequently, there will always be a need to accommodate those coming by car. As it is, there is a shortage of on-street parking. He didn’t have to tell me that.
     We discussed the fact that anyone who has driven beside cyclists along Commercial Drive knows it can feel dangerous. However, Pogor told me there are nearby dedicated routes paralleling Commercial Drive, as well as numerous routes running east-west, as evidenced by the city’s cycling map.
     Perhaps this is the reason when the local neighbourhood was canvassed as part of the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood planning study, only five out of 440 people reportedly identified improved bicycle lanes along Commercial Drive as a priority.
     As I was about to leave, Pogor wanted to talk about a goods movement survey undertaken by the city, which looked at accommodating loading and unloading for local businesses. Prior to the start of the study, the society was told the results would be shared with them. They never have been, prompting some members to suspect they do not support the city’s proposal.
     Over the next few years, there will be significant new development activities along the Drive. Changes are coming. Perhaps it is time for the city’s new senior management to pay a visit to the Drive, and head upstairs to the society’s offices. I suspect they will be very welcome.
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Sunday, February 19, 2017

My latest undertaking: an affordable housing community in Nanaimo.

 While it may appear I spend all my time on Twitter and Facebook, or pontificating about housing and planning issues on TV and radio, I do continue to work on small, worthwhile real estate projects.
     In addition to a few interesting consulting assignments, I am undertaking Vinson House Cottages, which involves the conservation of a heritage property and creation of 3 infill units, in partnership with Trasolini/Chetner, on a double lot in West Vancouver. One of the homes has sold, and two other homes are now for sale

     I also recently purchased another West Vancouver heritage property, the Rush House, where I am planning a similar conservation/infill project.
    However, last week I concluded the purchase of a 8.63 acre property which offers the potential for a rather different type of development in South Nanaimo, yes Nanaimo.
    So why was I interested in this property?
    In 1970, I studied mobile home parks and manufactured/modular housing on a CMHC travelling scholarship which took me across America with Warren Chalk, one of the founding members and 'catalyst of ideas' for Archigram. For those not familiar, it was a truly avant-garde English architectural group which proposed, among many other things, the concept of plug-in cities
The property offers significant potential for a variety of housing concepts
Immediately to the northwest of the site is a new subdivision. It looks like it's all dressed and ready to go!
     Zoned Mobile Home Park, the Fielding Road property is near Highway 19 and Cedar Road, about 6 km from downtown Nanaimo. While I am not contemplating a traditional mobile home park, the site may be suitable for a pocket-neighbourhood type of development with up to 50+/- affordable cottage-style homes and community amenities. Alternatively, I might explore an alternative development standards subdivision. Nanaimo officials have been quite open-minded and creative in allowing new forms of housing subdivision. Who knows, maybe one day something like this Aurora, Illinois subdivision might be appropriate?
     I also think Nanaimo is an attractive city with considerable potential. It is close to many natural amenities and just a ferry or float plane ride from Vancouver. Moreover, servicing for a new subdivision is now being completed just beyond the property, and a major comprehensive new community, Sandstone, is planned for a property that begins across the road. While there's no doubt it will take many years to complete, it will further enhance the area.
I now look forward to again meeting with municipal officials to discuss how best to proceed with the planning and development of the property. Stay tuned!

Opinion City housing proposals alarm architects, designers, home builders Vancouver Courier February 16, 2017

Do you think these are character houses? Some people do.

     Do you know what architectural features give merit to a character home? If you’re not sure, don’t be embarrassed. You’re not alone.
     Last November, I wrote a column about the City of Vancouver’s Character Home Zoning Review that was just getting underway.
     Two weeks ago, I wrote how the city’s desire to retain character homes seemed somewhat at odds with its desire to make Vancouver homes more energy efficient.
     I subsequently attended a planning department “practitioners workshop” for architects, designers and home builders specializing in projects that include character home retention, or new home construction in Vancouver’s older residential neighbourhoods.
     At the workshop, participants were provided with a workbook containing photos of five pre-1940s houses and the city’s “Character Merit Checklist.”
     The checklist included items such as overall massing and roof form, whether there was a porch or veranda, the type of exterior materials, window openings and trim and whether there were period details or decorative elements.
     We were asked to determine which houses should be classified as having character.  
     It quickly became apparent that there was considerable disagreement on what constituted a character house. City planners thought many more houses should be classified as character homes than the invited experts. We were told that 80 per cent of the approximately 800 assessments carried out by staff in recent years resulted in homes being classified as meriting character classification.
While I support zoning changes to encourage the retention of character homes, I, and most of the attendees at the city’ workshop, were alarmed by some of the city’s latest proposals. Let me tell you why.
     The city has numerous single-family zones, each with regulations related to house siting and appearance. The key regulation is the Floor Space Ratio or FSR, which determines the size of a house in relation to lot size. Currently the outright FSR is 0.7 in many single-family zones. In other words, on a 5,000-square-foot lot you can build a 3,500-square-foot house.
     However, it is not such a simple calculation since the city also regulates how much of the area of the house can be built above or below ground, and whether the design should accommodate a basement suite. In some zones, existing houses can be a bit larger than new houses.
Where laneway houses are permitted, the area is in addition. The permitted FSR is 0.16, equating to 644 square feet on most 33-foot lots or 976 square feet on a 50-foot lot. Laneway houses must be rented.
     To encourage the retention of character homes, the city is considering offering additional density to allow construction of an addition, or a separate coach house which could be rented or sold.
So far, so good.
     However, city planners told the audience they have been advised this might not be a sufficient incentive to retain character houses. They are therefore proposing that if a character house is demolished, the allowable floor space for any new house be reduced from 0.7 to 0.5. On lots over 8,000 square feet, the FSR would be further reduced to 0.4.
     In practice, the city cannot pre-determine which lots have character houses, so the planners are proposing a total FSR reduction for all single-family properties in Vancouver’s older residential neighbourhoods.
     This would result in a maximum above grade area of 1,400 square feet for a house on a 33-foot lot and 2,100 square feet on a 50-foot lot.
     Now some might say, as the city planner at my table did, surely this is sufficient space in which to live comfortably. After all, who really needs four bedrooms, each with its own ensuite bathroom?
     The answer, of course, is many people currently buying new homes in Vancouver.
     To my mind, there is another important issue to be addressed. If we are going to make more zoning changes in Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods, why aren’t we addressing both retention of character houses, but also construction of smaller duplexes and townhouses. 
Gil Kelley, the city’s new chief planner, made a brief appearance at the workshop. To his credit, he told the audience he is not deaf to the conversation about housing affordability.

     I just hope he listens to the many workshop attendees and Vancouver residents who believe the latest city proposals are heading in completely the wrong direction.
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