Friday, December 9, 2016

Vinson House Cottages:

I am pleased to report that we will start marketing the Vinson House Cottages development early in the new year. Approved in May of this year, construction is now underway on this large 77 foot by 150 foot lot.  The development includes the conservation of the 1913 heritage Vinson House; construction of a single level Garden Suite below; and two new cottages: The Garden Cottage at the front of the lot, and a Laneway Cottage at the rear.

The balance of the site is being designed like an Edwardian Garden, reminiscent of what it might have looked like when the house was first built.

Below are earlier artist's illustrations and photographs of a model which was recently completed and on display in our small presentation centre. Details of the project, including plans and specifications can be found on the website which is now live at 
For sales information, contact Elaine Biggan at or call 604 880 4559. 
early artist's illustration showing Vinson House and Garden Suite below; Garden Cottage in front and Laneway Cottage behind
photo of model showing similar view
Artist's illustration of view along the lane
Photo of model showing similar view
Artist's illustration showing view along Gordon Avenue
Photo of model showing similar view

Opinion: Deferring property taxes, housing affordability among 2016 column highlights Vancouver Courier December 8, 2016

In Europe, I was struck by how many people were out on the water, enjoying picnics in small boats, often rented by the day.

Looking back, looking forward

Where did the year go? It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating New Year’s Eve, and here we are approaching Christmas.

In January, I will offer some predictions for the coming year. But this month, I would like to review some highlights of earlier 2016 columns.

In January, we received our 2016 BC Assessment tax notices and my first two columns examined whether it was time for the provincial government to revise how it classifies residential properties, rewarding those who live in more compact, sustainable housing forms.

I also wrote how many of us can defer paying our property taxes, and was shocked how many people were unaware those 55+, as well as others, can defer property taxes at minimal interest cost.
As we await our 2017 tax assessments, which will result in substantial increases for many single-family homeowners, you may want to learn more about deferring your taxes. Just go to the B.C. government tax site here.

In February, I wrote from London where I discovered the high cost of housing was forcing many people to commute long distances to work. But rather than commute daily, they were commuting weekly, spending the week in a small furnished bedsitting room. I wrote that I hoped that would not happen here, only to be told it is already happening.

Many of my subsequent columns looked at different ways to address housing affordability, a topic that consumed Vancouverites throughout the year.

Some ideas I suggested for investigation included allowing housing to be built above or alongside light-industrial developments such as high-tech offices and craft breweries.

I also urged the city to allow housing along the South Shore of False Creek, where a berm is located next to West 6th Avenue, and upon a narrow strip of land along Cambie Street, currently forming part of the Langara Golf Course.

These properties could accommodate a lot of affordable housing and generate revenues to fund social housing elsewhere around the city.

In May, I suggested Vancouverites could learn from the tragic fires in Fort McMurray. While we are not likely to suffer from fires, we are likely to be subjected to flooding and earthquakes. I urged readers to review their insurance policies to see what coverage they had in place. Government officials were also urged to think about the need to upgrade the older rental housing stock, much of which will not survive an earthquake.
Also in May, I wrote about the results of a significant survey undertaken by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) in collaboration with the Conference Board of Canada. It examined how Vancouver compared with 19 other world cities, under a variety of economic and social indicators.
We came 9th, due in large part to our unaffordable housing and the relatively small percentage of the population aged 25-34.

In a related GVBOT workshop on housing affordability, it was noted that while much of Vancouver is zoned for single-family houses, there is a shortage of land zoned for multiple family housing.
(As an aside, last week, the president of CMHC also chastised the city for its severe shortage of land suitably zoned for more affordable housing choices.)

In June, following a visit to Hamburg, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, I wrote that Vancouver should make better use of its waterways for transportation, housing and public enjoyment. I questioned why we do not have more ferry services around the region, including a TransLink ferry to UBC.
In Europe, I was struck by how many people were out on the water, enjoying picnics in small boats, often rented by the day. Others watched them from the many waterside restaurants. Many people were also living on the water in barges, converted live-aboards, and floating homes like those found at Granville Island and Canoe Pass Village in Ladner.
I thought we should better emulate these European cities.

In two weeks, I will review highlights from other columns. In the meantime, you can review past columns of any Vancouver Courier columnist by clicking here and typing in the columnist’s name.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Geller's 2016 Holiday Greeting Card

One of my favourite holiday traditions is getting in touch with new and old friends and colleagues with a holiday greeting card.

In years gone by I would design, print, sign and mail them out. Now, like so many of you, I have resorted to an electronic greeting card sent by email.

For 2016, I decided to create a card using photos from travels during the year to Russia and Northern Europe. I hope readers will be inspired or have a chuckle. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The deplorable state of streets and lanes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Last night, on CBC's The National, there was a story on the dramatic increase in fentanyl-related drug overdoses across Canada, but especially in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The situation is both horrifying and tragic and one can only hope that some solutions can be found before many more people die.

I was also struck by images of the physical condition of a DTES lane shown at minute 6:42 of The National broadcast.

I suspect it was quite horrifying to many Canadians, but probably not to most Vancouverites. Sadly, we seem to have become unfathomably complacent about the state of DTES streets and lanes.

As I watched, I wondered if our mayor and members of Council were watching; and if so, were they as ashamed and disgusted as I was at how our city appeared on the newscast.

I have complained in the past about the appearance of DTES streets in the Huffington Post, The National Post and Vancouver Courier
Often I have been criticized for worrying about the condition of the streets rather than doing something about the lives of the people who live there.

I care about the lives of the people on the streets, and while I spent a year volunteering as a founding director of the Building Community Society, regrettably I do not feel I can do much about this, other than pay taxes to support health care and other needed services.

However, as an architect and planner, I would like to think that I can help improve the physical appearance of the lanes and streets. We need to do this because I believe that in some small way, the deplorable condition of the streets contributes somewhat to the deplorable lives of the people who roam them. I also think it is essential that we 'normalize' to the extent possible, this outlier part of the city.

So please, Mayor Robertson and Council, City Manager Sadhu Johnston and Director of Planning Gil Kelley, I call upon you to lead a concerted effort involving all city departments and the general public, to improve the streets and lanes of the DTES.

Let's bring out the street cleaners, artists, painters, and landscapers and do whatever it takes to regain control of this now derelict part of our city.

For those readers who may not understand what I am writing about, below are just a few of the images off the internet offering a glimpse of the neighbourhood.

Vancouver's Character House Zoning Review Open House Today November 26 10-4 City Hall

Earlier this week I attended Vancouver's first Character House Zoning Review Open House at the Hellenic Community Centre. Another Open House is being held today. Details of the program can be found here:

This is a very important initiative and I therefore decided to write this week's Vancouver Courier column on the topic. Unfortunately, to meet my deadline, I had to write the column before attending the Open House, but was pleased that some of the ideas I have been promoting are included in the proposals under discussion.

These include:
  • allowing an infill coach house for sale in return for retention of a character house;
  • allowing a character house to be subdivided into multiple suites for sale;
  • allowing increased density to those wanting to build additions to a character house along with a laneway house.
However, one of the ideas I would like to see considered was not included; namely allowing owners of character houses on larger, corner lots to subdivide their properties in return for retention of the character house. 

In addition to offering density bonuses to those keeping and conserving a character house, the city is looking at further restrictions on the size of new houses built in established neighbourhoods.

This raises a critical issue that is missing from the discussion so far.

What APPEAL PROCESS will be put in place for those who are told their ant-invested rotting house is a character house and as a result, if they want to redevelop their property, the size of any new house will be restricted.

While I need to study the city's proposals in more depth, I am concerned that many of the important details that will determine whether future zoning changes will be effective have not yet been considered and are not part of this discussion. For instance:
  • how much renovation will be required to a character house in return for the density bonus?
  • what legal agreements will be required? does the house have to be retained for a specific period of time? forever?
  • what happens if the heritage house is destroyed by fire or the ravages of time?
  • will the city allow character houses to be moved, and if so, will reduced front yard or other yard setbacks be permitted?
  • does a character house have to be on a lot with a lane in order to qualify for a coach house?
When I asked staff these questions I was advised this level of detail has not been considered. They responded that the purpose of the current round of Open Houses is to determine if there is a public attitude for retention of character houses. However, I question this since as noted in the display the city carried out a similar survey in February 2015 and it confirmed public support for heritage.
I was also disappointed to learn that there did not appear to be any significant input by architects, builders or developers into the latest one-year study process. Had there been, city staff would have learned that it is the answers to the questions and details outlined above, and other related design and technical details that will determine whether new zoning changes will be acceptable or not

Another of my other concerns is that this review is being carried out in isolation of another much needed investigation, namely the future of all single family zoned neighbourhoods.

While it is one thing to encourage retention of character houses, Vancouver's 65%+ land zoned single family offers significant potential to increase housing stock and housing choice.

I worry that at a time when we should be promoting increased densities on many RS zoned lands, with duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and small low-rise apartments, we could be unduly focusing on character houses.

Hopefully a study on how to make better use of single family zoned land can proceed concurrently Otherwise this  Character Home Zoning Review may end up being a step backward, rather than forward.

Opinion: It's time for another character home zoning review Vancouver Courier Nov 24th, 2016

To illustrate the column I photographed the house at the corner of West 33rd and Arbutus which my wife and I owned from 1982 to 1990. When we sold it we hoped it wouldn't be knocked down and are delighted to see it has been well maintained in subsequent years.

Last week, the City of Vancouver announced a series of public consultation events to explore options for retaining character or heritage homes in single-family (RS zoned) areas of Vancouver.
If this sounds familiar, it might be because Courier reporter Naoibh O’Connor reported on a similar city initiative in February 2015: “Conserving heritage subject of City of Vancouver open houses.”

According to the city press release, the latest review will consider zoning changes in several neighbourhoods with higher concentrations of character homes including West Point Grey and Upper Kitsilano, Dunbar, Kerrisdale, Second and Third Shaughnessy, and parts of Arbutus Ridge.
Character homes are those built before 1940 and not necessarily on the city’s Heritage Register. However, they are deemed to have merit in accordance with a "Character Checklist" set out in a June 2014 Planning Department bulletin.

In addition to exploring zoning options to encourage retention of character houses, the city will also be looking at zoning changes to improve how new houses fit into established neighbourhoods.
I support city initiatives to conserve heritage and character houses. As I mentioned in a 2014 column entitled, “New homes a shadow of what they could be.”
The Vinson House Cottages development in West Vancouver. A partnership between Trasolini Chetner and my company.
 I’m currently conserving a century-old house on a large lot in West Vancouver, in return for approvals to build a coach house, garden cottage and garden suite on the property. Not only will this project retain one of West Vancouver’s original houses, it will create new housing choices for nearby residents ready to downsize and remain in their neighbourhood.
Vancouver wants to do the same thing with pre-1940s homes. However, as I wrote at the time of the Shaughnessy Heritage Conservation Area zoning changes, just because a house was built before 1940 does not mean it necessarily merits protection and conservation. (See: “City’s handling of Shaughnessy heritage cause for concern”)

Therefore, as part of any heritage program, there needs to be a clearly defined and accessible appeal process. This became apparent in a letter I received last week from a Dunbar resident who was hoping to build her dream home on a large 60-foot-by-130-foot lot. After hiring an architect, she discovered the city has assessed her 1930 house as having “character merit.”  

Consequently, she can only apply for an ‘outright’ permit for a new house not to exceed 2600 sq. ft. over two floors. Although a “conditional” application would allow a larger home, she cannot apply unless she is prepared to retain the existing house. She claims this would basically mean a big and expensive renovation on a house that is falling apart.

She approached the city with additional information and explained that many of the supposed “character” features are foam elements that she glued to the walls, but to no avail.  
While she wanted to know if I could identify an appeal process, unfortunately, she may be out of luck.
Instead of using a zoning stick, I believe the city should be offering zoning carrots to those prepared to keep a character house. One carrot would be to allow the development of an infill coach house for sale on the property. Its size would be determined based on the size of the lot and area of the character house, combined with a modest density bonus.
If a character house is to be retained on a corner property, the city might permit a subdivision to create two smaller lots.

In some situations, it might be feasible to allow a single-level suite for sale under a character house. In others, a larger home could be converted into a duplex or triplex, with each unit offered for sale or rent.
The first of the 4 open houses was held last Monday, but after this column was filed.
 If you have your own ideas on what the city should be doing to retain and conserve character houses, four open houses are being held over the coming weeks. Times and places, and an online survey can be found

Recommendations from the Character Home Zoning Review are expected to be presented to Council in early 2017, followed by additional public consultation before any zoning changes are made.
Since February 2015, many lovely character homes have vanished on the west side of Vancouver. Hopefully, this time city hall will follow through with zoning changes, along with a fair appeal process.

The result will be many character houses conserved for decades to come, and new neighbourhood housing choices.