Monday, July 27, 2015

Why did City of Vancouver announce Brian Jackson retirement at 2:19 on a Sunday afternoon?


 

News Release: City of Vancouver General Manager of Planning and Development Announces Retirement


City of Vancouver
News Release
July 26, 2015

City of Vancouver General Manager of Planning and Development Announces Retirement

After 35 years of experience planning in the public and private sector, the City of Vancouver General Manager of Planning and Development, Brian Jackson has announced his plans to retire at the end of 2015.

Following an international search, Jackson was appointed by Council as the General Manager of Planning and Development Services, and has spent the last three years leading the most ambitious planning agenda the City has ever experienced. Under his leadership and through his ability to enable complex land use policy and related decisions, the City has delivered on both the development of and the implementation of key community plans including the West End Plan, the first ever Downtown Eastside Plan, the Marpole Plan, the Cambie Corridor Plan, and through the work which still continues on the Grandview-Woodland Plan has lead an unprecedented engagement using an innovative Civic Assembly methodology.  In addition, Jackson has overseen the most significant growth in job related commercial development in the downtown core in the history of Vancouver. Jackson has achieved the difficult goal of enabling large, complex planning initiatives to continue to create livable, sustainable communities while contributing to a vibrant and robust economy. Over the next few months prior to his retirement date, Jackson hopes to complete key elements of his legacy Heritage Action Plan to ensure the preservation of Vancouver’s historic assets.

In addition to his planning leadership, Jackson has also served as the executive lead of the Permits and Licenses project, which is a major information system update for the processing of the thousands of permits and licenses issued by the City – this is the most significant business transformation project in the history of the City.

“During his time at the City of Vancouver, Brian Jackson worked to create a more coherent approach for land use planning. He’s been a true leader in this area and has taken on the challenge of working with individual communities to take action on our vision for the future of Vancouver,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “He has made a significant impact and shown what smart, creative and integrated urban planning can look like. Although we’re sad to see him leave, we wish him the best in his retirement.”

A number of Jackson’s initiatives have received recognition through the Planning Institute of British Columbia. In 2015 the Marpole Community Plan with Silver for Excellence in Policy Planning. The West End Community Plan won the 2014 Excellence in Policy Planning for its innovative policies and comprehensive public engagement.

Jackson will retire as of December 31 2015 and an international search will be undertaken to find a replacement.

Media Contact:
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604.871.6336
media@vancouver.ca<mailto:media@vancouver.ca>

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Attachments14:19 (18 hours ago)


to Michael

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Opinion Vancouver Courier July 15, 2015 Concerns over The Kettle Society development warranted

A portion of the site is now occupied by a two storey building that was purchased by Boffo, adjacent to the Kettle Friendship property.

Last Sunday I went for a drive along The Drive.  My destination was a triangular property at Commercial Drive and Venables Street where a controversial development is attracting considerable debate within the Grandview-Woodland community.
This city owned parking lot would be sold to Boffo as part of the development arrangement. While details of the price are not available there's no doubt that it is a major factor in determining the height and density of the project
The proposal is a joint initiative by the Kettle Friendship Society, a highly-regarded non-profit organization, and Boffo Properties, a respected company within the Vancouver development community. Building lots along Venables are owned by the Kettle and Boffo, while the city owns a lane and parking lot to the north. Current zoning would allow a four-storey development up to 45 feet in height and a 3.0 floor space ratio (FSR). FSR is the ratio of building size to land area.
 
A 13 storey building by the Vancouver East Lions, (that I may have approved while at CMHC in the early 70s) is east of the site. While the height is similar to what is being proposed, the density is approximately one third of the current proposal
Preliminary plans illustrate a 12-storey condominium and five-storey building providing expanded society offices and 30 supportive housing units. The FSR is 6.8, which from a community planning perspective is very high for this neighbourhood. However, in the absence of any senior government funding, the non-profit society and developer claim this height and density is required to make the project financially viable.
 
Boffo and Kettle have been working on this proposal since 2012, but it was put on hold pending the outcome of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan and final report from the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly. The proposal has garnered recent media attention since the society and developer would now like to move forward. However, many in the community oppose the building height and density and have gone so far as to suggest the project would destroy Commercial Drive.

This past May, the city organized a community workshop to discuss the proposal, and from the planning department’s online presentation materials, it seems to me that city planners support the design concept. However, I believe this proposal raises some important planning and development issues:
  • Should the city approve a development at a greater height and density than might otherwise be acceptable from a community planning perspective because it provides much-needed supportive housing and community space?
  • In the absence of senior government funding, should the community plan encourage other non-profit societies and developers to partner on affordable housing projects along the Drive, albeit at greater heights and densities?
  • Should a decision on this or any other project be made prior to final approval of the overall community plan?
  • Given that the project involves the sale of city-owned lands, does the city have any special obligations to the community?
Newspaper stories and social media accounts of this proposal have generated considerable online commentary and much criticism of those opposing the development as NIMBYs. Fellow Courier columnist Mike Klassen wrote on Facebook that “a noble non-profit society has a good plan that is very sensitive to the neighbourhood, yet activists oppose it on the principle that no mid-rise buildings must get near them. These folks love street improvements, commercial activity, services and jobs, as long as they don’t have to see the building which allows it to happen.”
 
Formal B.C. Liberal candidate for Powell River-Sunshine Coast Patrick Muncaster agrees. “Thoughtless nimbyism is rife — a major contributor to high housing costs, slow economic growth, social inequity and shabby neighbourhoods. Resistance to change is perhaps even more prevalent on the left of the political spectrum than it is on the right.”

However, former city alderman and UBC professor emeritus Dr. Setty Pendakur writes: “If we classify any disagreement with development and densification as NIMBY, then we might as well forget about civilized conversation and serious and positive citizen participation. I remember similar outcries in the mid-sixties and early seventies when we marched against city centre freeways!”

Over the years I have been involved with many controversial development projects. In many cases I did not think the criticism was warranted. However, in this instance, I think we should listen to the opponents since the fact is a development of this size would never be approved if it contained just market condominiums.

Once again, like Brenhill’s Helmcken Street and Atira’s East 41 Hastings St. proposals, we have an example of “form following finance” rather than appropriate community planning and design guidelines.I therefore add my voice to those demanding senior government funding so that the final height and density will result in a better fit with the scale of Commercial Drive.

A trip to the Okanagan: Golf, wine and relaxation

It has been a while since I spent any time exploring the Okanagan, but earlier this month I set off with some old friends (old in both senses of the word) to play some golf and visit some wineries around the Okanagan. I had forgotten how beautiful it is.
We spent the first 2 nights at the Walnut Beach Resort on Lakeshore Drive in Osoyoos. I can highly recommend it. I particularly liked the fact that you could walk out of the resort into the pool or onto the beach and into the lake...a very clean and warm lake.
Dinner the first night was at the Tinhorn Creek Estate winery. While I don't know enough about wine to say whether this is a good winery or a great winery, the outdoor terrace of the dining room was very lovely and I enjoyed being able to sample flights of different wine with each course of dinner.

Below are some photos from my Okanagan scrapbook.
The view from the terrace of the NK-MIP restaurant was magnificent and Gail, our server was very special.
This is one golf course sign to which we all paid attention
The Mission Hill Winery is very reminiscent of the California wineries one finds and around Sonoma. It is a very sophisticated and elegant place....not what one expects when you think of BC wines of 30 years ago.
A creative chandelier in the Mission Hill winery
While Quail's Gate is not quite in the same league, it has a very lovely dining room and terrace with excellent food.
My small cheese board at Quail's Gate. (I'm watching my cholesterol)
If this Kelowna restaurant reminds you of a former Vancouver restaurant that's because it is. Yes the former owner of Cafe de Paris is now operating Bouchon's Bistro in Kelowna. He even kept the frites containers!
Another golf course sign we respected
When we asked around for another good Kelowna restaurant a number of people recommended Raudz. While I didn't like the fact it wouldn't take reservations, I enjoyed the vibe and food including this very deluxe filet burger. (I'm watching my cholesterol)
I was surprised to learn the yellow cherries are considered sweeter than the red
The dining room at Summerhill Pyramid, with an adjacent outdoor terrace. Good, but not great.
The Harvest Golf Course was my least favourite of the lot. I much preferred NK-MIP, Desert Gold in Osoyoos, Fairview Mountain, Tower Ranch and Rise. Gallaghers Canyon and Quail are also fine to play.

By the time we left we could see the smoke on the horizon from our unit at the Manteo Beach Resort. Thanks Mary Ann and Jon for making it all happen.


Opinion Vancouver Courier July 7, 2015 Time to reconsider how realtors charge for services


While I normally provide The Courier with photos to accompany my columns, this week they used a file photo, not knowing that it is of Oak Gardens, one of my projects at Oak at West 42nd. I'm sure it was easy to sell!

Last week, I looked at new legislation in Ontario that now makes it illegal for real estate agents to use fictional or phantom bids to encourage someone to pay more for a property. I also promised to look at outdated real estate commissions, alternative approaches to buying and selling homes, and what I learned about real estate agents from the 2005 book Freakonomics.
 
Just the reference to “outdated real estate commissions” prompted an email from a Vancouver agent who claimed that in the Lower Mainland we have the lowest commissions in North America. He added that while the public sees large and easy commission cheques, they forget about the brokerage and licensing fees, commission-splitting and absence of any cushy benefits.

Not knowing the agent, I looked at his website. This is what he had to write about his industry: “I tell it like it is, and that is a rare commodity in the real estate business. It’s a part of what differentiates me from the rest in a business where most are focused on getting the next commission cheque rather than doing only what’s in the best interest of their client.”
 
Hmmm.

Given the price of housing, and the impact of the Internet on how we buy and sell things, I think it’s time to reconsider how real estate agents charge for their services. The current recommended fee structure is typically seven per cent on the first $100,000 and 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent on the balance. I should emphasize that this is a recommended structure and agents can charge more or less.
A number of things intrigue me about this. The first is the $100,000 benchmark. Surely it dates back to a time when the average home sold in the hundreds of thousands, not in the millions.
However, rather than revise the benchmark, I would suggest it’s time to rethink the entire fee structure. After all, why should the first $100,000 or $1,000,000 be at a higher rate? Why isn’t it the other way around?
 
We now have in British Columbia a comprehensive Property Assessment System. If you go online at evaluebc.bcassessment.ca you can find the assessed value of your property, your neighbour’s properties and every other property in the province. While assessments do not take into account the latest sales or whether a property had a kitchen or bathroom renovation, they usually provide a good basis for property evaluation.
 
This prompts me to question why real estate commissions are not perhaps tied to property assessments. For a sales price up to assessed value, the commission might be quite low. As higher prices are achieved, the commission rate would increase. While this may not bring down the price of housing, it might more equitably reward agents who work harder to achieve higher prices.

This brings me to what Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics, wrote about real estate agents. They looked at real estate commissions and the amount of time properties were on the market. They concluded that while a small increase in a sales price benefits a seller, it does not significantly benefit the real estate agent. They examined the sale of nearly 100,000 houses in suburban Chicago and discovered that more than 3,000 of those houses were owned by the agents themselves.

Using the data from the sales of those homes, and controlling for any number of variables, it turned out that real-estate agents kept their homes on the market an average of 10 days longer and sold their properties for an extra three-plus per cent.

Recently, Toronto realty service the Red Pin also looked at real estate commissions and the time properties were on the market. It argued that while selling commissions have ballooned along with Toronto housing prices, the effort required to sell a house has not. To make its point, the Red Pin calculated that for 8,477 home sales last year that were on the market for three days or less, Toronto realtors made an average of $1,000 an hour. This study concluded that we all know many homes take much longer to sell; however, it doesn’t seem right that many agents make on a sale what the rest of us earn in a year.


Hmmm.

Opinion Vancouver Courier June 30th 2015 Phantom bids a menace in real estate business


Have you recently bought or sold a home? If you were a buyer, did you pay more than you wanted because you were told there was a competing bid on the property? If so, you are not alone.

Many of us have encountered this real estate strategy even though it may be contrary to the Canadian Real Estate Association Code of Ethics. More specifically, a realtor cannot tell a prospective buyer about another bid unless they know for a fact it was formally submitted in writing.
To address this practice, new rules come into effect in Ontario today (July 1) to make real estate bidding wars more transparent and so-called “phantom bids” a thing of the past. Under these rules drawn up by the Ontario government and Ontario Real Estate Board, real estate agents will no longer be allowed to tell a potential buyer there is a competing offer unless that offer is signed, sealed and delivered.
If someone has suspicions about the validity of a competing offer, his doubts can be taken to the Real Estate Council of Ontario and the listing agent will be required to show proof. If the agent has fabricated the offer, he or she may be liable for a substantial fine or jail time.

According to a recent Toronto Star story, officials in British Columbia say they haven’t received many complaints about phantom bids and therefore do not believe similar rule changes are needed, adding there are ethical codes in place that prohibit agents from using deceptive practices.
However, based on my experience and discussions with real estate agents in preparation for an interview tonight on CBC’s The National, similar rule changes in B.C. would be of benefit to potential buyers.
Realtors tell me that while more sophisticated buyers often know when “phantom offers” are being fabricated, first-time buyers are more easily duped. They could benefit from new legislation.
Since the Vancouver real estate market is even hotter than the weather, this may be a good time to discuss other real estate practices.
Recently, some Vancouver media have expressed alarm over the fact that properties are selling well above their listing price. What they do not realize is that in many cases, the listing price is deliberately set below market value as a strategy to obtain multiple offers. Once the offers have been received, it is not uncommon for agents to play one off against another. Some of these agents then boast in their real estate listings about the many properties they sold above listing price.
As I observe the Vancouver market, I am reminded of a New Zealand television program I watched during a 2007 trip called School of Home Truths. It followed 13 potential house buyers and sellers as they learned how to successfully play the real estate game under the tutelage of a critic of the real estate industry, a psychologist and financial expert. Through the use of hidden cameras, the students and real estate agents were observed and evaluated on their performance. 
One episode opened with a classic card trick to reveal how some real estate agents, like good magicians, can make you think you are in control, when you really are not. Through a hidden camera we see an agent telling a prospective purchaser what a “nightmare” a property has been to sell, and why the vendor will likely accept significantly less than the asking price. Another agent encourages a prospective vendor to list a home with her noting, “I really don’t have to work for a living because my husband is an importer.”
The program stresses the importance of not letting your emotions take over when buying a home, and how to carry out an initial inspection of a house. The teachers then grade the students on their performance. “She didn’t even check the shower for water pressure,” exclaims one teacher in justifying a student’s poor mark.
I suspect it is just a matter of time before we have a similar program in Vancouver.
In future columns I will discuss alternative approaches to buying and selling homes, outdated real estate commissions, and what I learned about real estate agents from the book Freakonomics.

Opinion: Vancouver Courier June 23, 2015 More ideas for a clean and tidy Vancouver

UPDATE: This property was cleaned up the day after the following column appeared.
As regular readers of this column are too well aware, I am troubled by unsightly streets and gardens, overflowing garbage cans, and weeds growing where they ought not to grow.
I therefore could not resist an invitation last week from Global TV to comment on a front page Province newspaper story about vacant properties along Cambie Street.

The story reported on local resident Todd Constant’s concerns about the loss of his neighbourhood, which is changing from an area of manicured mid-century single-family homes to mid-rise apartments. His other concern, however, was that many of the properties awaiting redevelopment are being left vacant and subject to squatters, graffiti, late night parties and crime.

The newspaper story and subsequent media attention prompted many to question what should be done to ensure that vacant properties are properly maintained, and those living in neighbourhoods undergoing redevelopment who do not want to sell, can stay without being disturbed.
Before the interview, I visited the properties in question and was reminded of a 1960s Toronto practice known as “blockbusting.”

At the time, downtown properties were being assembled for highrise apartment redevelopment. When a property owner was “holding out” or otherwise not willing to sell, unscrupulous developers would fill the neighbouring properties with rowdy tenants or vandalize them to “encourage” the holdouts to sell.

While I have no reason to believe anyone is deliberately blockbusting along Cambie Street, I could not help but wonder why any property owners would allow the houses to become so derelict. I am also troubled by the increasing number of neglected houses in other city neighbourhoods.
On Blenheim Street, near Marine Drive, is a property once known for its beautiful garden. Today it is completely overgrown with weeds. What makes this so remarkable is that two Sutton Realty agents have “For Sale” signs stuck in the weeds.

I contacted one of the agents to tell him I thought the situation was most disrespectful to the neighbourhood. While this house will sell for lot value, I thought the owner should at least cut the grass. I also suggested that as a realtor, he too had a responsibility to ensure the property was maintained as long as his sign was on it.

He apologized and promised to review the situation. But nothing has changed.

If the garden is not tidied up, I intend to file a grievance with the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver naming the two agents. I would urge other Vancouver residents faced with similar situations to do the same.

I also urge residents to contact the City of Vancouver by phoning 311. The city has bylaw 4548 to prevent the existence of untidy premises. While I often wonder why the city is not taking better care of its own streets and parks, it has the ability to ensure that private properties are not allowed to become derelict.

I would like to conclude by sharing an email message I recently received from a colleague who is a landscape architect.

He writes: “I’ve been meaning to send you a note since I read your column about litter. Have you ever been to Rwanda? It’s an unbelievable place. After such a recent genocide (about 1 million people killed in 90 days 20 years ago), when I was there last year I was struck by the positive outlook of the country in general. There was a palpable sense of pride and unity and everyone spoke very positively about the president.

“Anyway, as of last year and hopefully still, the last Saturday of every month is called General Cleaning Day. Businesses are all closed in the morning, and everyone is expected to participate in cleaning up the public space — roadsides, parks, etc. Most communities appeared to be having work parties. After the physical cleaning, people are expected to gather with their families or communities to address any issues, i.e., the spiritual cleaning part of the day.

“Rwanda was spotless, which was especially noticeable when we crossed the border to litter-strewn Tanzania. I couldn’t help thinking that if every country in the world followed this idea, that it would be a much happier (and cleaner) place.”


As regular readers of this column are too well aware, I am troubled by unsightly streets and gardens, overflowing garbage cans, and weeds growing where they ought not to grow.
I therefore could not resist an invitation last week from Global TV to comment on a front page Province newspaper story about vacant properties along Cambie Street.
The story reported on local resident Todd Constant’s concerns about the loss of his neighbourhood, which is changing from an area of manicured mid-century single-family homes to mid-rise apartments. His other concern, however, was that many of the properties awaiting redevelopment are being left vacant and subject to squatters, graffiti, late night parties and crime.
The newspaper story and subsequent media attention prompted many to question what should be done to ensure that vacant properties are properly maintained, and those living in neighbourhoods undergoing redevelopment who do not want to sell, can stay without being disturbed.
Before the interview, I visited the properties in question and was reminded of a 1960s Toronto practice known as “blockbusting.”
At the time, downtown properties were being assembled for highrise apartment redevelopment. When a property owner was “holding out” or otherwise not willing to sell, unscrupulous developers would fill the neighbouring properties with rowdy tenants or vandalize them to “encourage” the holdouts to sell.
While I have no reason to believe anyone is deliberately blockbusting along Cambie Street, I could not help but wonder why any property owners would allow the houses to become so derelict. I am also troubled by the increasing number of neglected houses in other city neighbourhoods.
On Blenheim Street, near Marine Drive, is a property once known for its beautiful garden. Today it is completely overgrown with weeds. What makes this so remarkable is that two Sutton Realty agents have “For Sale” signs stuck in the weeds.
I contacted one of the agents to tell him I thought the situation was most disrespectful to the neighbourhood. While this house will sell for lot value, I thought the owner should at least cut the grass. I also suggested that as a realtor, he too had a responsibility to ensure the property was maintained as long as his sign was on it.
He apologized and promised to review the situation. But nothing has changed.
If the garden is not tidied up, I intend to file a grievance with the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver naming the two agents. I would urge other Vancouver residents faced with similar situations to do the same.
I also urge residents to contact the City of Vancouver by phoning 311. The city has bylaw 4548 to prevent the existence of untidy premises. While I often wonder why the city is not taking better care of its own streets and parks, it has the ability to ensure that private properties are not allowed to become derelict.
I would like to conclude by sharing an email message I recently received from a colleague who is a landscape architect.
He writes: “I’ve been meaning to send you a note since I read your column about litter. Have you ever been to Rwanda? It’s an unbelievable place. After such a recent genocide (about 1 million people killed in 90 days 20 years ago), when I was there last year I was struck by the positive outlook of the country in general. There was a palpable sense of pride and unity and everyone spoke very positively about the president.
“Anyway, as of last year and hopefully still, the last Saturday of every month is called General Cleaning Day. Businesses are all closed in the morning, and everyone is expected to participate in cleaning up the public space — roadsides, parks, etc. Most communities appeared to be having work parties. After the physical cleaning, people are expected to gather with their families or communities to address any issues, i.e., the spiritual cleaning part of the day.
“Rwanda was spotless, which was especially noticeable when we crossed the border to litter-strewn Tanzania. I couldn’t help thinking that if every country in the world followed this idea, that it would be a much happier (and cleaner) place.”
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
@michaelgeller
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/more-ideas-for-a-clean-and-tidy-vancouver-1.1977225#sthash.fV0wlzTJ.dpuf