With gas prices exceeding $1.70 a litre and growing concerns about air pollution and impacts of climate change, fuel-efficient and zero emission vehicles are gaining in popularity.
At this year’s Vancouver Auto Show, considerable attention was devoted to PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles), BEVs (battery electric vehicles) and FCEVs (fuel cell electric vehicles).
Hyundai was one of a number of manufacturers of fuel cell vehicles on display at the Vancouver Auto Show. Photo Michael Geller
On May 1, a federal program took effect offering rebates to purchasers of nineelectric cars and 13 plug-in hybrids. Fully electric cars with starting prices of less than $45,000 are eligible for the full $5,000 rebate. Plug-in hybrids can get up to $2,500 off.
These are in addition to B.C. program rebates announced last year offering $6,000 for a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle and up to $5,000 for a new battery electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
I first drove a hybrid vehicle in 2000. It was an early Prius brought over from Japan to accompany Severn Cullis-Suzuki and my niece and some friends on a bicycle ride across Canada, in a campaign for clean air called Powershift 2000.
After the Prius was introduced in Canada, I purchased one as a car-share vehicle for the burgeoning SFU UniverCity community.
This seemed appropriate since the car-share concept was developed by a part-time SFU student named Tracey Axelsson as a school project. She subsequently co-founded the Co-operative Auto Network in 1997. Car-sharing has come a long way since then.
When I left the SFU Community Trust in 2007, I traded in a Lexus SUV requiring 20 litres per 100 km for a Prius requiring sixlitres per 100 km. A neighbour who owned a Porsche, Range Rover and Mercedes convertible called me a snob as I first drove by her house.
In 2013,Tesla arrived in Vancouver. I booked a test-drive appointment and loved the car, but worried the company might go broke, until a year-end trip to California where many Teslas were on the road.
In 2014, Michael Geller ordered a Tesla just before the expiry of a $5,000 government rebate program. He’s driven it ever since without any problems. Photo Michael Geller
Returning to Vancouver, I ordered one for delivery in March 2014, just before expiry of a $5,000 government rebate program.
I have driven it ever since without any problems. My daughter continues to drive the 12-year old Prius. Neither vehicle requires much maintenance.
A key consideration with an electric car is how to charge it. As noted on the BC Hydro website, there are three basic approaches: Levels 1, 2 and DC fast charger.
Level 1 refers to the standard 120-volt outlet found in homes and businesses. Realistically, this is not a practical way to charge a car on a regular basis.
Level 2 power supply is the same as that provided for a stove or clothes dryer. Level 2 chargers can be installed in a garage by an electrician at a cost between $800 and $2,000.
The ongoing energy costs for electric cars vary but are often estimated at about $2 per 100 km.
The third type of charging is DC or direct current fast charging using 480-volt. Increasingly, these chargers are being installed in public facilities and commercial buildings. Charging time for most cars is significantly reduced. While some stations are free, others cost about three times as much as Level 1 and 2 charging.
Given the federal and provincial rebates, gasoline costs and environmental benefits, I highly recommend buying an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. However, a key consideration is whether it can be easily charged overnight.
While this is relatively easy for those living in single-family houses, it can be more difficult and complicated for those living in older rental or condominium apartments.
I cannot leave this topic without sharing a recent tweet from former city councillor and current chair of the David Suzuki Foundation Peter Ladner.
“If EVs are worth a $5k subsidy, why wouldn’t e-bikes and regular bikes get a subsidy? They produce far fewer emissions, promote greater health and are far more affordable. Why do we continue to pamper cars?”
If EVs are worth a $5k subsidy, why wouldn’t e-bikes and regular bikes get a subsidy? They produce far fewer emissions, promote greater health and are far more affordable. Why do we continue to pamper cars? #bcpoli
Heritage preservation sometimes at odds with modern realities
Last Monday, people around the world were devastated as they watched Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral on fire. That evening, I was invited by Corus Radio Network’s Charles Adler to offer an architect’s perspective on the building’s heritage and significance. While I urged the show’s producer to invite a more knowledgeable heritage architect, time was short, so I did the interview.
I told Adler every architectural student around the world studied Notre Dame’s design and construction with its awe-inspiring interior spaces and innovative use of “flying buttresses.” While the cathedral had originally taken almost 200 years to build, I was certain it would be rebuilt, and within the next 24 hours we learned that hundreds of millions of euros had been pledged towards its reconstruction.
Since then, many have lamented that the cathedral’s wooden beams, each created from a different 300-year-old oak tree, can never be replicated.My initial thought was there was no need to construct new beams from giant oak trees. Instead, they could be manufactured with innovative engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber, like those used to construct the internationally acclaimed 12-storey wooden student residence at UBC.
But then, I wondered why should the new roof even be built out of wood? Why not fireproofed steel? After all, many of the world’s greatest landmark buildings have been altered over time using newer designs, materials and building technologies.
The day following the fire, I attended a meeting of West Vancouver’s recently reconstituted Heritage Advisory Committee, of which I am a member. Before us was a proposal to develop a modern house on a portion of a lot occupied by an early 1950s house designed by Ron Thom, one of Canada’s celebrated mid-century architects. In return for approval, the Ron Thom house would be designated a heritage structure in perpetuity.
The committee was asked to comment on to what extent the interior of the heritage house could be altered. While some members thought the living room’s distinctive raw concrete block walls should be protected, others observed that the house had already been substantially modified with new skylights, kitchen and gas fireplace.
In this column, I have often advocated for the preservation of heritage and character houses both to conserve our city’s architectural history and create alternative infill housing choices.
Which brings me back to the Notre Dame Cathedral. While the fire was horrifying, fortunately much of the building remains intact. Only the roof and parts of the vault were completely destroyed.
Now the debate can begin. Should the wood beams be replaced with metal? What about the heavy two-inch thick slate roof shingles? Perhaps the new roof should be glass, as one British architect has suggested.
While I would prefer not to see the Ron Thom concrete block walls covered with drywall, the modern should oftentimes be allowed to replace the authentic.
I look forward to the continuing debate in Paris, and Vancouver.
While my partners and bankers were not happy to see this story appear in the Star Vancouver, which resulted from a tweet, the truth is I am getting desperate when it comes to selling this lovely heritage house and two adjacent infill houses in West Vancouver. While the story did not generate a sale, hopefully there will be increased interest in this property outside of West Vancouver, where the locals do not appear to be as interested in buying a restored 100 year old house as people in Shaughnessy, Kitsilano or New Westminster!
VANCOUVER—The charming cottages and suites in a beautifully restored heritage home in West Vancouver’s Ambleside neighbourhood should not be hard to sell.
But eight months after the restoration and infill project was completed, the homes continue to sit empty, and developer Michael Geller has taken to social media to call for buyers and offer realtors a $25,000 bonus to sell the Vinson House Cottages.
Developer Michael Geller says he hasn't been able to sell this restored heritage house and infill cottages because of a dramatic price correction that has hit West Vancouver particularly hard. (SUBMITTED)
Geller and his partners have accepted an offer on one of the units, which is subject to the buyers selling their West Vancouver house. But it’s far below the $2.2 million to $2.7 million price range the developers had originally set, with an expectation they’d make a 15 per cent profit.
Now, Geller said, he’d be happy with a 5 per cent profit.
“I had someone say to me, ‘Michael, you’re sounding desperate,’” said Geller. “I said, ‘I am desperate!’”
Geller, who has worked in the real estate industry for 45 years, said this market is the worst he’s ever seen — and that includes downturns in the early 1980s and the 2008 financial crisis. Jason Soprovich, a realtor who has worked in the West Vancouver market for 26 years, echoed that assessment: “It has truly been the worst downturn I’ve seen in my career.”
From stratospheric highs that peaked in early 2016, Metro Vancouver’s real estate market has slowed, and prices have dropped, in all areas and housing types.
But no neighbourhood has had as hard a fall as West Vancouver, followed closely by Vancouver’s west side. The two tony areas saw many single family homes soar past the $5-million mark, and higher, during the peak of the real estate bubble. Between June 2015 and June 2016, home prices in West Vancouver and Vancouver’s westside rose by 37.8 and 36.4 per cent, respectively, according to statistics released by the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board.
Now, it’s a different story: March numbers show that single-family house prices fell by 17 per cent in West Vancouver, the steepest drop in the region. The drop is even steeper for specific segments of the market: Homes priced in the “high end” (above $5 million) have dropped by between 22 and 30 per cent, Soprovich said, while homes in the “low end” ($1.5 million to $5 million) have dropped by 15 to 22 per cent.
Soprovich and Geller said a series of government taxes aimed at foreign buyers and speculative activity, and tougher bank lending rules brought in by the federal government, are behind the dramatic drop.
Those taxes include B.C.’s foreign buyer tax; a speculation tax aimed at vacant properties and homeowners who don’t pay taxes in B.C.; an increased property tax that applies to homes worth over $3 million; and Vancouver’s empty homes tax.
Soprovich said buyers from Mainland China were a big presence in the West Vancouver market in 2015 and 2016, but tighter capital flow restrictions brought in by the Chinese government, and the decision to introduce the foreign buyer tax and then increase it from 15 to 20 per cent, have basically “put the brakes on foreign investors.”
He said most of the buyers he’s seeing now intend to live in the home as their principal residence, and many of the potential sales involve older owners who want to sell their large home and move into a smaller house or condo in West Vancouver.
But unless sellers are willing to drop their prices — something that’s taken some time for many homeowners to accept — the houses will sit on the market for months, Soprovich said. On the upside, while buyers have been sitting on the sidelines for months, there now seems to be more interest from buyers as prices have dropped.
For realtors, the change in market conditions has been painful. Geller said he’s heard stories of former realtors who have had to take other jobs, while Soprovich said the downturn has meant cutting back on his firm’s marketing budget and working even harder to find business.
“I’ve personally felt it’s been a dramatic change. It’s devastating, to a certain degree,” he said.
“When you’re used to selling 100 homes a year and you’re dropping down to less than 30 or 40, that’s a significant impact.”
Jen St. Denis is a Vancouver-based reporter covering affordability and city hall. Follow her on Twitter: @jenstden
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance regarding The Lagoons, a condominium development at the entrance to Granville Island. He was certain his third-floor apartment was in a concrete building. I told him it was a wood-frame building with a lightweight concrete topping on the floor.
“Do you want to bet a bottle of scotch?” he asked. I told him it would be an unfair bet since I was part of the project’s development team and had watched it being built.
“Well it seems like a concrete building,” he responded.
I was reminded of this exchange at the 15th annual Wood Design Awards organized by WoodWorks, a program of the Canadian Wood Council that celebrates innovative structural and architectural achievements using wood.
In early March, more than 400 architects, engineers, designers, builders, owners and government officials gathered in the Vancouver Convention Centre, an appropriate venue considering the walls are covered in B.C. wood.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
There were 103 nominations in 14 categories, showcasing wood’s strength, beauty, versatility, environmental and cost benefits. Submissions came from throughout B.C., as well as the U.S. and Asia, with international projects in China, Korea and Tajikistan.
Since 2005 when the program began, there have been some remarkable changes in wood construction in British Columbia. In those days, the maximum permitted height for a wood-frame building was four storeys.
Today, six-storey woodframe buildings are becoming the norm, and during the awards program, it was suggested that one day 12 storeys might be the norm.
I thought this might be wishful thinking, but a week later the B.C. government announced changes to the building code to allow the construction of wood buildings up to 12 storeys.
Much of the credit for this code change must go to Brock Commons, an 18-storey wooden student residence at UBC that won multiple prizes at the 2017 awards. At that time, it was the tallest “mass timber” building in the world using new engineered wood products and construction techniques.
While some may question whether taller wood buildings can be sturdy and safe, it is noteworthy that most of Gastown’s older buildings have structures made of wood.
While their heavy timber construction differs from the lightweight “balloon frame” construction used in houses and smaller apartments, today’s new cross-laminated timber — or CLT — panels, glue-laminated timber, and parallel strand lumber products are the equivalent of heavy timber. These products, made from gluing layers of smaller pieces of lumber together, can be as strong and fireproof — yes, fireproof — as steel and concrete.
The award categories included residential wood design, commercial and industrial wood design, interior design, use of red cedar, prefabrication and other innovations.
For those of us interested in housing design and construction, there were two categories, single-family and multi-family.
The seven single-family finalists included Michael Green, a Vancouver architect who has become internationally acclaimed for his pioneering wood designs. Other finalists included architects Peter Rose and Farouk Noormohamed. However, the winner was Clinton and Piers Cuddington of Measured Architecture for their visually striking Shift House.
Shift House, a project from Clinton and Piers Cuddington of Measured Architecture, took the single-family award at the 2019 Wood Design Awards. [PNG Merlin Archive] PNG
The jury commented that the shingles, modernized with seven custom colours, were installed on a near 45-degree bias, with similarly coloured shingles paired to create an illusion of 10-by-10-inch hexagonal shapes.
While the shingles were stained and refined, the architects also used unstained, tongue-and-groove Western red cedar as a secondary cladding.
Finalists in the multi-family category included Allwood Place in Abbotsford, Royce in White Rock, Travino Square in Saanich, West Quay in North Vancouver and Yorkson Creek in Langley, with the winner being Adera Development Corp. for Virtuoso. (Adera won in the same category last year for its Prodigy project.)
Designed by Rositch Hemphill Architects, Virtuoso comprises a six-storey mass timber building and townhomes with a stunning West Coast design, and is Canada’s first private residential multi-family building to be constructed using cross-laminated timber.
Like Brock Commons, Virtuoso uses CLT panels in its flooring systems. They are exposed at each balcony overhang, enhancing the building’s style and highlighting this beautiful wood material.
Another benefit of this innovative floor- and wall-assembly system is that it can significantly reduce sound transmission between homes, exceeding standards in both traditional wood-frame and even concrete construction.
It was not that long ago that the so-called leaky condo crisis caused significant grief for many B.C. homeowners, architects and developers. While industry experts questioned whether wood construction would ever become popular again, it was evident to everyone attending the awards program that, thanks to new wood products and improved design and construction techniques, wood is back.
This is not just a good thing for the residential construction industry. It is also positive for B.C.’s economy.
Michael Geller is a Vancouver architect, real estate consultant and developer. He serves on the adjunct faculty of SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development and Resource and Environmental Management. His blog can be found at gellersworldtravel.blogspot.ca and he can be reached at email@example.com.
I would like to begin this week’s column by thanking the many Courier readers who contacted me following my last column on the need for more public toilets in Vancouver.
Thanks also to CKNW’s Lynda Steele and Jill Bennett who invited me and their listeners to discuss the topic.
The catalyst for this week’s column was what I saw leaving the CKNW studio at Granville and Georgia streets. Lying in the middle of the sidewalk was a man either asleep or trying to sleep while pedestrians walked around him.
Outside the nearby Bay store was another man in a sleeping bag. Beside him was a shopping cart full of clothing and plastic bags while other pieces of clothing and bags were scattered around.
Along the Granville Mall, more men were camping on the sidewalk. Some were in sleeping bags, while others had created small structures with cardboard and wood. I should add that the mall is not just becoming their bedroom — it’s their toilet too, evident to anyone walking past.
I felt very sorry for these men who are likely suffering from mental and physical challenges and experiencing very difficult lives.
However, I was also upset by the level of tolerance or lack of concern exhibited by the people walking by and a city administration and police department that allows people to camp on downtown sidewalks day after day.
Ten years ago this month, I unveiled a proposal based on my 1971 university architectural thesis to set up relocatable modular structures on vacant land to house the homeless and others seeking affordable housing.
Since then, we have witnessed numerous battles as the homeless, often encouraged by housing activists, have set up tent camps in Victoria, Maple Ridge, Surrey and elsewhere.
While we await the results of this year’s homeless count, it might be worth reviewing what is happening in Seattle. Earlier this year, I posted on my blog a provocative articleby documentary filmmaker Christopher Rufo.
Rufo reported that a record numbers of homeless people are occupying his city’s public spaces despite massive government spending to fight the problem. In 2017, King County counted 11,643 people sleeping in tents, cars and emergency shelters. Property crime is significantly higher than in Los Angeles and New York and cleanup crews pick up tens of thousands of dirty needles from city streets and parks every year.
Rufo noted that “at the same time, Metro Seattle spends $1 billion fighting homelessness every year. That’s nearly $100,000 for every homeless man, woman and child in King County, yet the crisis seems only to have deepened.”
Interestingly, he referenced academic studies in San Francisco and Vancouver that concluded that up to half the homeless in these cities moved from elsewhere, for their permissive culture and generous services. He believes the same holds true for his city.
Rufo writes that the situation in Seattle is a textbook example of what sociologists call pathological altruism, or “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead results in unanticipated harm.” He maintains the city’s “compassion campaign” has devolved into permissiveness, enablement, crime, and disorder.
While our politicians call for more money to build more temporary modular housing, we also need a much more comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness, including more addiction treatment programs and employment programs like EMBERS Eastside Works.
We need to offer more family reunification programs and personal grooming and dental care for those seeking it.
We should also fund initiatives like KIDCARE Canada, which was founded by my sister to prevent another generation of individuals from becoming homeless.
In future columns, I will review what other cities are doing to address homelessness. In the meanwhile, I think we should stop people from camping at Granville and Georgia and other major downtown intersections.Twitter @michaelgeller
Earlier this year, I received an invitation from a Langley resident to see if I would be prepared to be a guest speaker at a general meeting of the Brookswood Fernridge community association in March. It has recently been the recipient of a new community plan and the residents are about to enter the neighbourhood planning process for three new neighbourhoods.
I was told that many in the community are concerned about the type of housing that will be built in future developments and what they can do to ensure older residents who are downsizing will have housing options other than three level townhouses which, while rare in Vancouver, are often built in Richmond and south of the Fraser. The local community also wants to see different housing options available for both present and future residents in these new communities.
Flattery will get you everywhere. The invitation went on to say my interest in the development of alternative forms of housing, including co-housing, cooperative housing, small houses etc are forward thinking and would be of great interest to the residents of our community. So, of course, I said yes!
I spent yesterday preparing my presentation. While Langley is a long way from Moscow, (which was featured in my last blogpost, and where I was last invited to talk about alternative housing choices), I was equally conscious of the need to be sensitive to the local sentiments as I was when I prepared my Moscow lecture for Strelka.
Ironically, as I was preparing my talk, I received an email from a former building inspector who is a member of the community who had recently written to me about the so-called Speculation Tax following one of my Vancouver Courier rants.
He wanted to alert me to the sentiments of the local community.
"You should be aware that there is a lot of community aversion to small compact type housing. The existing built part of Brookswood is mostly 10,000 sf lots and remain on septic tank/fields. The Willoughby area to the north (between Langley City and the freeway) is under fairly rapid development and the Brookswood crowd is aghast at the small lots and resulting parking problems etc. that can be expected. He noted that the compact Clayton Heights Area on the adjacent Surrey side has become an undesirable place to live.(Coincidentally, I previously worked a little bit with Patrick Condon on the early Clayton Heights design charrette and had already included a Clayton Heights slide in my presentation, knowing that it would come up as a concern.)
He raised the issue of whether compact housing should be the preferred form of housing in order to save the existing large conifer trees, or whether new trees can and should be planted that are more in scale with the new housing.
So, armed with my computer and powerpoint presentation, I will set off for Langley tomorrow. I have some images that I know will appeal to many, thanks to the excellent work of Ross Chapin and his Pocket Neighbourhood approach to planning. https://rosschapin.com/projects/pocket-neighborhoods/
I also intend to talk about laneway and coach houses, duplex and semi-detached, zero-lotline detached housing and fee-simple rowhouses. I will also present examples of small apartment buildings that can be integrated within low density neighbourhoods.
I plan to talk about the need for corner stores, and how best to provide adequate transportation as the community grows.
If you live in the Brookswood Fernridge community, or other nearby communties undergoing redevelopment, I hope you will come out. The meeting will be held in the community room of the South Langley Church, 20098 22nd Avenue, Langley, from 7 till 9.
Below is a recent newspaper article regarding the talk from the Langley Advance Times.
What could housing look like in the future in Brookswood and Fernridge?The Brookswood-Fernridge Community Association wants to talk to residents about the issue and is inviting residents to a public meeting at 7 p.m. on March 27. “Join us at our public meeting to learn more about cluster housing, cooperative housing, co-housing, seniors housing, small houses, etc. and how these can provide housing diversity and impact affordability and livability within a community,” said association representative Wayne Crossen. The association wants to solicit resident input ahead of the recently started Brookswood-Fernridge neighbourhood planning process so that housing alternatives are examined and integrated into the neighbourhood planning. Attending the meeting will be Michael Geller. He is a Vancouver-based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades in the public, private and institutional sectors. He’s been involved in a number of specialized development projects for cooperative, non-profit, public housing, social housing, institutional construction and more. He currently serves as President of Michael Geller & Associates, as adjunct Faculty for the Centre for Sustainable Community Development, Simon Fraser University. The meeting happens at the South Langley Community Church, 20098 22nd Ave.
I went down the stairs only to discover it cost 200 rubles to enter (about $4). I then became curious. How nice can a toilet be to justify a $4 entry fee? As you can see from these photos, it was very nice. While I don't think it is necessary for all public toilets to look like this, I do think we need to build more public toilet facilities in Vancouver. They would certainly benefit the homeless and other disadvantaged people, as well as tourists, and men like me of a certain age!