Frances Bula header image 2

Another Vancouver real-estate venture

January 14th, 2009 · 23 Comments

One of the things I find many people are forgetting (or were never aware of) in the current hoopla over the Olympic village is that Vancouver has a decades-old tradition of being a real-estate developer. It’s one of the biggest land-owners in the city and its real-estate department, under the leadership of people like Bruce Maitland and now Michael Flanigan, have been much more entrepreneurial than most people realize in acquiring, developing and selling land.

The Mount Pleasant Community Centre now going up at Kingsway and Main is an example I’ve been pointing to a lot in recent days. That building has a whack of rental apartments being built on top of it, because the city believed that more rental was needed and since private developers weren’t building it, the city would. (How’s the project going? Funny you should ask. The city got a fixed price from contractors to do it, which helped avoid the construction-cost overruns that many other projects, private and public, saw. But it’s taken forever to build and a lot of haggling between the city’s construction manager on the project and the contractor, since the contractor was naturally trying to get some wiggle room in that fixed price as his labour and materials costs rose.)

I was reminded of the city’s very active role in land development when I read this report on the city’s website today about its upcoming plans for the land on the north end of the Granville Bridge. It’s planning to get rid of those loops there. (I’m a tiny bit sad, as I always enjoyed whoosing around them.) And it’s going to eventually redevelop the land in those loops, which the city owns. (Interestingly, the new streets there are all going to be Rolstons, East, West and Way. Not sure why.)

Of course, the staff report notes prudently: “The redevelopment of the City-owned lands may well require a phased approach reflecting project size, market conditions and existing tenancies.” Now there’s a motto to install on the city crest.

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  • Tony Li

    The interesting thing about the MP Community Centre project is that the social housing rental units are going to have wonderful views of the city downtown. If this were condo for sale project, Im sure it would sell very well. This and the social housing units in the Concord Pacific neighbourhoods, the units in the Olympic Village, the Woodwards project, etc – who says we in Vancouver don’t take good care of the lower income masses!!

  • fbula

    Tony,

    To be accurate, the units in the MP community centre are not social housing. They will be market rental units, rented at comparable rates for new units in town.

  • Nancy A. Chiavario

    As President of Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association…
    The Mount Pleasant Community Centre and Mount Pleasant VPLibrary were both in need of new or renewed facilities for many years, based on population growth and inadequate existing facilities.
    After an extensive search for a new location with cost efficiencies to be realized by the Park Board and Library Board/City jointly partnering in a building; it was realized that the cost of land was going to be the biggest drawback. So, the community advised the Property Endowment Fund and Council that perhaps housing could help to recoup land costs, and that we would like to have market rental to help offset the fact that existing rental stock (at the time) was under threat due to a recognition in the private development market that this 60-70s mostly 3-story walk-up rental units were looking like they would soon be coming down in lieu of strat condos. This in Vancouver’s second poorest community in the Main to Clark part of Mount Pleasant.
    The issues surrounding the huge (supposedly we will be in by Fall ’09 and we’re betting Spring ’10 when the plan was for late ’07 or early ’08). The fixed price deal is not the only issue, however, much of the other factors are ‘in camera’. And, we are told that there was never a deadline for turnkey in the contract. We also hear that there are law suites swinging every which way but loose.
    Nancy A. Chiavario
    Former Park Commissioner and City Councillor

  • fbula

    Nancy,

    Thanks for this post. The whole situation sounds intriguing.

  • foo

    Seems like the best way out of this mess is to make a TV mini-series. Move over “Dallas”.

    And we’d get a tax-credit.

  • chik

    Francis,

    Rolston Crescent is just northeast of the loops. It used to be a laneway and was changed to a street and given the name through a council decision in 2002. Here’s the blurb from the Street Naming Committee recommendation:

    Tilly Jean Cameron Rolston (1887-1953) was a native of Vancouver. She trained as a teacher at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Normal School. In 1938 she entered public life on behalf of the British Columbia Council of Women. Among many public rôles she subsequently took up were those of director of the Pacific National Exhibition, founding Chair of Theatre Under the Stars and member of the board of the Vancouver Symphony Society. In 1941, Tilly Rolston was elected to the British Columbia Legislature as member for Point Grey. Re-elected twice, she became British Columbia’s Minister of Education in 1952 and the first woman in Canadian history to hold a cabinet post with portfolio.

    Another interesting Rolston tidbit related to Vancouver I found doing a little googling, is that Tilly was married to the brother of Charles Merle Rolston, who according to the Shriners was, in June 1908, the creator of the first Service Station in Canada and allegedly the world, at the southwest corner of Cambie and Smythe. Charles’ creation came out of a request in 1902 from the owner of the Hastings Sawmill for gasoline for his new automobile. Charles was the manager of Imperial Oil, and was one of only two employees of Imperial at that time. The other was a clerk. Subsequent demands for gasoline over the 1902 to 1908 period and the accompanying difficulties in acquiring and filling gas tanks, led Charles to his idea for the service station and filling receptacle.

    Tilly was not really a Rolston, just married to one. It seems maybe there should have been a Cameron Crescent in the present location and maybe a Rolston – Drive, I think would be appropriate – somewhere else.

    Anyway, they probably figured the Rolston name was worthy of a few more short streets in the same neighbourhood.

  • Draft Ms. Chiavario.

    Now!

    __
    (heckfire, we could even insist they insert her drafting into the Charter Change as a ‘reaonableness insurance’ amendment)

  • ….but somebody that can actually spell would have to write it.

    The amendment I mean.

    .

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  • A Dave

    Regarding the Community Centre: it should be noted that most of the local residents and actual users of the current Mount Pleasant Community Centre will mourn the day that this facility and its pool finally close. We view the construction delays at the new MPCC on Kingsway as a blessing. Selling it for condos isn’t a bad idea, as one poster suggested.

    The current MPCC is an old facility, to be sure, but it just needed an overhaul. It adjoins Simon Fraser Elementary (where my son goes to school) and has an outdoor pool that is packed in the summers. It’s in a residential area on a bike route and my son walks across the park and plays floor hockey in the gym everyday after school. All the kids in after-school care go to the Community Centre and play in the park. The closure of the current facility will be a big loss to the neighbourhood families whose kids go to the two elementary schools within three blocks.

    When the new facility opens, all those kids are going to have to negotiate the crazy intersection at Kingsway and Main. There will be no park outside for them to play on, just a main traffic corridor (cough, cough). There will be no more summers splashing in the outdoor pool, no more walking to floor hockey after school. We will have replaced this small but rare urban oasis for kids with angular concrete and glass on a truck route. Ah, Vancouverism! Is this really progress?

    There have been petitions to the City by local residents and a group is actively trying to save the pool from demolition, to no avail so far. Hopefully, the new parks board and council will be more sensitive to the neighbourhood’s actual needs, rather than the ones that the population charts have identified.

  • Dawn Steele

    I wasn’t around at the time decisions were made, A Dave, but I have never been able to fathom why they would have chosen that dreadful location vs. where it is now.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for posting this, Frances. As I commented earlier, I’m discouraged – but not surprised – by the quick suggestions from some quarters that the Millennium Water fiasco “proves” that the City should never engage in real estate development. I think that there are people who are opposed to government involvement in the provision of housing who are already exploiting this situation to push that particular agenda.

    With respect to A Dave, selling the rental apartments for condos would be a horrible idea. The city needs quality rental housing. Houses in Mount Pleasant that used to be rentals are now largely owner-occupied. There are real problems with standards of maintenance in a lot of the rental housing to the east of the new centre. And of course, there’s the loss of many units in the Lee Building due to all those questionable owner move-in evictions.

    I’m glad to see this project near completion, although it’s true there are serious accessibility problems for children in the west part of Mount Pleasant – as there are for children in the east part of the neighbourhood who want to access the current centre. I don’t think the issue is a lack of attention to “the neighbourhood’s actual needs”. Rather, the composition of the neighbourhood is so economically and geographically diverse that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to serve the entire neighbourhood with one facility.

  • njb

    “most of the local residents and actual users of the current Mount Pleasant Community Centre will mourn the day” On the flip side, nobody will mourn the closure of the MP branch Library in the Kingsgate Mall. It was never a nice branch physically (despite the lovely staff and patrons), and even worse since it was moved temporarily across the hallway due to the expiry of a lease and the delay building the new branch. I’m very excited about 1 Kingsway and it’s a lot closer to my house and closer to a lot of the kids (many disadvantaged) who live in the apartment buildings North of Broadway. I would think those living south of the current MPCC might want to go to Riley Park after the move instead of 1 Kingsway. It does suck that there is no pool at 1 Kingsway though, I’ll give you that. Anyway, this is getting a bit of topic….

  • gmgw

    I want to focus on a seemingly incidental issue Frances refers to in this post. I have been waiting for several years for the city to make up its mind on whether to save or eliminate the traffic ramps at the north end of the Granville Bridge. Now that they’ve decided to go ahead with it, unlike Frances I’m not a “bit sad”; I’m madder than hell. From a planning point of view this makes no sense whatsoever. I realize it’s PC as all get out to make it more difficult for cars to move about in this city. In some cases I can even applaud that; I’m only a part-time driver myself and haven’t owned a car in 15 years (though my spouse does). But those ramps, however antiquated their design, serve a useful purpose; they efficiently funnel traffic onto and off the bridge that would otherwise further contribute to congestion in Downtown South. Anyone who wants a preview of what’s to come once those ramps are eliminated should take a walk around the Downtown South area around 5 PM any evening of the week right now, while the 1200 block of Granville is closed for reconstruction. The streets are approaching gridlock during rush hour. When those ramps disappear, this will become a permanent situation in the Davie & Granville area as drivers try to find a way from the bridge westbound onto Pacific, or from Pacific Boulevard or Richards onto the bridge. This will also route more traffic onto the Burrard Bridge, Sixth/Fourth Avenues, and already freeway-like Burrard Street, as westbound drivers seek another way to get to the Denman Street/Stanley Park/Lions Gate Bridge areas. So much for the Burrard Bridge bike lane. At least 50,000 cars cross the Granville Bridge daily. If the city’s intention is to intentionally create gridlock in DTS, they couldn’t come up with a better plan than this. The current design is far from perfect, and, yeah, it’s too bad so many people still drive in this transit-poor city, but those ramps have worked fine for 50 years, and they do a hell of a lot more to alleviate traffic congestion than the creation of two 300(!!)-foot condo towers will (in a neighbourhood that’s already condo-towered to the point of death). How many more cars, incidentally, will those huge towers add to the mess? Why is this city still so eager to do favours for developers at the expense of its residents?
    One more point: I walk to work across the Granville Bridge almost every working day, and have done for more than a decade. The Granville Bridge is decidedly not pedestrian-friendly. The six pedestrian crossings on the bridge are all potential deathtraps, none more so than the crossing of the Seymour Street off ramp, especially after dark. I have been asking the city’s Traffic Engineering department off and on for years to do something to make it/them safer– I have suggested pedestrian-activated flashing yellow light, among other things– and have stonewalled each time. Usually, I am told that the city is considering a redesign of the north end of the bridge, and until plans are finalized, nothing will be done. This is another reason why I’m testy about this whole issue (and I have never received or seen any notices of public meetings on this issue). So, anyway: Will this mean we can now expect action on pedestrian safety enhancement on the bridge at last? My advice: Don’t hold your friggin’ breath.

  • urb anwriter

    Ah, GMGW, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I must enlighten you on the City’s position with respect to automobile traffic and its interplay with pedestrians.

    While I’ll give this Council a bye, the previous council seemed to feel, and were obviously seconded by Engineering, that pedestrians were, at best, to be inconvenienced, and, if at all possible, completely discouraged, from walking in the downtown core at all.

    Witness the ‘advanced left’ that has existed for years at Georgia and Seymour – solely to avoid inconveniencing those who commute from West Vancouver. My goodness, we couldn’t allow mere pedestrians to inhibit the flow of economic migrants out to the downtown. And the inconvenience to pedestrians is a mere trifle.

    If you walk, you’re a peasant.

    And those preferential left-turn lights breed, apparently, because there are more of them. In addition to breeding, they mutate, and now there is a variant that allows right-turning cars the right-of-way over slovenly walkers.

    One of Vancouver’s major intersections actually has both of these lackeys to automotive culture: a sure sign that the supposed ‘greening’ is a mere ploy, and that apart from over-heated rhetoric, cars rule.

    And, as you’ve discovered, pedestrians are inconsequential at best, and a target at worst. My guess is that no one in Engineering ever walks, and that no one on Council would so much as think of inconveniencing the rajahs of West Vancouver.

  • LP

    “Witness the ‘advanced left’ that has existed for years at Georgia and Seymour – solely to avoid inconveniencing those who commute from West Vancouver. My goodness, we couldn’t allow mere pedestrians to inhibit the flow of economic migrants out to the downtown. And the inconvenience to pedestrians is a mere trifle.

    If you walk, you’re a peasant.

    And those preferential left-turn lights breed, apparently, because there are more of them. In addition to breeding, they mutate, and now there is a variant that allows right-turning cars the right-of-way over slovenly walkers. ”

    I’m not quite sure what the above is about. Can a pedestrian cross the street at Georgia and Seymour, yes or no?

    If yes, can someone explain what exactly is the complaint here? Does the writer have to wait an extra minute until they get their crossing light, or does the writer need to cross an extra street to travel the direction they are looking to travel in?

    I don’t frequent the area so I cannot ascertain if this is a rant or a legitimate concern.

    Considering the city has a standing policy to favor pedestrian and transit use over cars, this amount of vitriol from a pedestrian (no less), surprises me.

  • gasp

    I agree with gmgw. Why do those in the planning department think that any land held by the City isn’t been used effectively unless there’s a condo tower on it? And why on earth would anyone want to live there anyway?

    I grew up in the West End – it actually used to be a nice place to live. Also, if you came into downtown over the Granville Street bridge in the morning, you’d see the beautiful sunrise over the mountains to the east. Now, you can’t even see the mountains or the sun! And the only people entitled to view the mountains are apparently those who live on the top floors of the highest buildings.

    I avoid the whole downtown area now – the traffic and gridlock are enough to drive anyone crazy. This plan would only make it worse.

  • mt

    I live at Quebec and 8th and have been waiting like three years for fucking thing to be finished. Goddamnit I need to workout close to home!!!!

    that is one slow ass building. I am annoyed. Especially after being told at first spring 2007 was it?

  • mt

    there are no social units in MP – I put my name on the list for a place and was told straight up ONLY MARKET RENTALS. is that not true was I lied to???? mistaken?

  • mt

    uhmm could you delete comments 19 20 … I just saw someone correct the person above….prob should go to bed now…

  • fbula

    Just a note saying thanks to all for the interesting info – chik for the history of the Rolston name and others for their comments on pedestrians/automobiles. I’ve learned something here.

  • Don

    gmgw,

    please take a look at the staff report – the rant is without foundation.

    it is not the ramps (seymour/howe) that are being taken out, it is the loops connecting to pacific. they are being replaced with right angled streets. all current movements and volumes will be facilitated. you’ll have to turn right and then right and then right rather than whip around in a circle. big deal.

    the ramps only carry 3,600 and 5,000 cars a day respectively (by comparison cypress street, a bikeway, carries twice that between cornwall and 4th). staff note that the traffic on the loops is “light”.

    of far greater concern is that the cost to the city of the ultimate redevelopment is over $100 million while the income generated by all sources will only be $60 million leaving a $40 million shortfall to be covered by the taxpayers in general.

    how is it that it’s still ok to let developers tear down 200 units of low income housing to build luxury condos while leaving the general taxpayer to deal with the fallout?

  • gmgw

    Don,
    Thanks for trying to set me straight… but you call ’em “loops”, I call ’em “ramps”, let’s call the whole thing off…. as you should know if you’ve ever entered freeway traffic via an access ramp, said approach is immeasurably more conducive to smooth traffic flow than 3 consecutive right turns. That’s a deranged way for even as few as 5,000 cars a day to access one of the main traffic arteries into and out of downtown, and a surefire generator of severe traffic congestion. Those two towers are going to be like trees stranded in the middle of a flowing river (of cars). And hey, you are aware, I hope, that Engineering wants to turn the Granville Bridge into a main access route for heavy trucks (we’re talking 18-wheelers) bound north into downtown? (Possibly southbound as well, but I’m not clear on that.) This is the reason why a major strengthening project is due to begin this year on the Hemlock on-ramp, and possibly some of the others– so it/they can bear heavier loads. David Cadman blew the whistle on this months ago. It’s supposed to provide an alternate route for trucks and large buses headed for downtown and/or the waterfront during the Olympics, but speculation is that this routing will be left in place afterwards. Question is: What effect will all those big trucks have on downtown-bound traffic bottlenecks traffic like the one to be found along Seymour every weekday morning? (Not to mention the Granville corridor south of the bridge.) Even apart from the truck issue, the more I look at this demolish-the-ramps project, the crazier it appears. And a PS: I most definitely agree with your closing paragraph. But that’s just business-as-usual in Parvenuver.