Monday, July 28, 2014

The Land of Jericho Poses an Opportunity Vancouver Courier July 23, 2014


No one should question that it is time to put the Jericho Lands to a higher and better use

It is not often that I find myself in a Point Grey church hall seated between a lanky NDP MLA and former federal Liberal leadership candidate.

This was the case last week when I joined David Eby and Joyce Murray at a Town Hall to discuss the “impending sale and development” of the nearby Jericho Garrison property.
I put impending sale and development in quotation marks since there has not been any formal federal announcement on the future of the lands. 

However, last year it was reported that the lands were being sold by the Department of National Defence to Canada Lands Corporation (CLC) a federal Crown corporation that oversees the disposition or development of federal surplus properties. 

MP Murray recently met with CLC officials in Ottawa and thought some decisions were likely imminent. She therefore organized a Town Hall meeting to begin a process of community input.

I was invited to provide a developer’s perspective on the future of the property and was surprised by the turnout. Given the hot sunny evening, I expected 20 people to show up. The number was closer to 200.

The 21 hectare Jericho Garrison extends from Highbury Street westward between West 4th and West 8th Avenues. A 15.5 hectare Provincial property is immediately to the west. The current federal uses are expected to end in 2017. Portions of the provincial lands are leased for community uses until 2020.

While there are fears that the federal government will do whatever it wants with the lands since this is the federal prerogative from a zoning perspective, previous CLC projects including Garrison Crossing in Chilliwack, Garrison Lands in Calgary, and Rockliffe in Ottawa, have each gone through a planning process involving a considerable amount of community input. 

However, just like the performance of your investment portfolio, whatever happened in the past may not necessarily happen in the future.

An issue related to these lands is the potential for native land claims.  However, last year it was reported there had been a business agreement between the federal government and First Nations which would allow the sale of this property.

In advance of the meeting, I anticipated many would like to see the lands become parkland. Others would worry there might be a forest of high-rises. While I told the audience development was inevitable, there would be an opportunity for community input and redevelopment could be a good thing.
 
Twenty five years ago I rezoned the land immediately east of the Jericho Garrison. Based on that and subsequent discussions, I know there are many Point Grey, Kitsilano and Dunbar residents ready to move out of single family homes.

Most do not necessarily want to move to UBC or downtown. Instead they would like to remain closer to home.  A planned community on the Jericho Lands could be a very attractive place to live. 

I will never forget two conversations I had when I was developing the highrise at the corner of West 5th and Highbury. One was with an older gentleman who asked why we developers always made the second bedroom in an apartment so small.
When I told him it was generally thought of as a den or guest room he stopped me. “No it’s not” he said. “It’s his bedroom!”

Ever since, whenever I build a two bedroom apartment for empty nesters and seniors, I include two master bedrooms.

The other conversation was with a longstanding Kitsilano resident seeking an upper floor view apartment. Unfortunately they were all sold. She responded how ironic it was that for decades she and her husband had been active in the community fighting against highrise buildings, but now that they were ready to move into one, they couldn’t find one.

I suggested to the audience that a new community on the Jericho lands should include smaller, cottage-style detached homes, condominium and individually owned townhouses, lowrise, midrise and high-rise apartments, similar in scale to those in Kerrisdale. There should also be parks and an array of community facilities.


Many nearby residents might like to move into an apartment similar to these buildings immediately east of the property.
 The remaining revenues from the sale of the land should be part of the federal contribution to improved rapid transit out to UBC.

Well Designed Cities Improve Citizens' Health Vancouver Courier July 16, 2014


Vancouver's waterfront walkway and bikeway system encourages active healthy living.

“You know there is something wrong when you need to consume a litre of gas just to purchase a litre of milk.”

This was one of the many thought-provoking statements I heard at a recent Canadian Institute of Planners conference in New Brunswick. The underlying theme was ‘Public Health and the Built Environment’ and it focused on the different ways community and neighbourhood design can contribute to better health.

Given the original purpose of zoning was to improve health, it is a sad irony that in subsequent years, it appears to has contributed to many of the new illnesses we face today.

Development and building codes were first written to combat contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and yellow fever. By separating noxious industrial and residential uses, and ensuring buildings had access to clean water, daylight and fresh air, city planners assisted medical professionals in curing these ailments.

Today we are seeing a rising incidence in chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, osteoarthritis, depression and cancer. Their causes are numerous and complex. However, research is increasingly showing connections between how neighbourhoods and buildings are designed, and the incidence of these diseases.

In the Greater Toronto Area, some doctors claim they can often assess someone’s health from their postal code.

It is not just a question of whether they live in a poor or affluent neighbourhood. It is also a question of whether it is ‘walkable’ and well served by transit, or a suburban, car-dependent community.

Research carried out by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and other organizations is revealing that money spent on public transit and active community design will ultimately pay dividends in the form of reduced healthcare costs, all other things being equal.

Some conference speakers presented alarming maps and statistics illustrating the increase in adult and child obesity across the country over recent decades using Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure.

Doctors will tell you there is a correlation between BMI and chronic diseases, especially diabetes in adults and children.

While BC has the lowest obesity rate of any province, it still increased from approximately 15% of the population to 20% from 2000 to 2011. Moreover, health professionals question these statistics since women often under-report weight while men over-report height!


In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg made it a priority to address community health. While his efforts to restrict the size of sugar-laden drinks are well known, what is less known is how he has promoted active living through design.

One of his initiatives was to retain Dr. Karen Lee, a Canadian doctor, to work with architects and planners in the preparation of now internationally-recognized Active Design Guidelines. He also converted roads to bike lanes, public spaces and pedestrian areas. Today New Yorkers are amongst the healthiest Americans.

There is no doubt the layout of a neighourhood determines whether you walk, bike or drive a car. While some things are obvious, such as whether there are shops or community facilities within walking distance, others are more subtle.

Slightly wider sidewalks separated by a landscape boulevard encourage walking, as do routes that include high degrees of pedestrian interest. One planner suggested we should think of a sidewalk as a room, with design attention given to walls, floor and ceiling. Ideally the ceiling is rain protection or a canopy of trees.

As I listened to the presentations I was struck by two sad ironies.

For decades architects and planners have worked hard to make buildings more accessible for those in wheelchairs. While admirable and necessary, this has had the unintended consequence of making it easier for the rest of us to use elevators instead of stairs.

If we try to use the stairs, often the doors to each floor are locked for security reasons.

Security concerns also discourage parents from allowing their children to walk or ride their bikes to school.

We need to design safer routes to school and more attractive, well lit stairwells. 

Furthermore, just as we now undertake Environmental Impact Assessments of new plans and projects, we should also carry out Health Impact Assessments.

They could help us all live longer.


Twitter/ @michaelgeller




Sounds of Silence a Challenge in Vancouver Vancouver Courier July 9, 2014


In Europe cars are not allowed to beep when being locked with a remote. The lights flash instead.

When crossing at an intersection, have you ever been startled by a loud horn from behind you, only to discover it was someone locking his Explorer?

West Side resident Karl Raab has, and he responded to my invitation to Courier readers for ideas from other countries on how to improve Vancouver’s livability.

Mr. Raab wrote that after returning from two decades in Europe, he and his wife were appalled at the use of horn-based acoustic vehicle alerts in their formerly quiet neighbourhood.
He thought these honks and beeps were not only intrusive — they were potentially unsafe since they could distract drivers and pedestrians.

Vehicles in Europe make no such noise, as European Union regulations mandate visual signals.
I am told that a vehicle dealer can disable the remote’s horn function in a few minutes since many vehicle security systems have a switch with two positions: “North America” and “Other.”
Mr. Raab also introduced me to two initiatives to address urban noise: The Right to Quiet Society (quiet.org) and silencethehorns.org.

I share Mr. Raab’s disdain for unnecessary urban noises. In addition to beeping security alarms, I would add excessively noisy automobile mufflers, motorcycles and inconsiderate neighbours.
I particularly dislike noisy motorcycles. That is why I was pleased to read that Harley Davidson is coming out with an electric motorcycle.

As the owner of an electric car, I know first-hand how much quieter electric vehicles can be.
While I suspect most motorcyclists will scorn electric motorbikes since they like the noise and attention they attract while roaring down a quiet street, in time I expect more and more electric cars, motorbikes and scooters on the road.

It is perhaps not just a coincidence that since deciding to write a column about urban noise, the Courier has featured two stories on this topic.

Last Wednesday, reporter Naoibh O’Connor wrote how noise topped the list of complaints against Port Metro Vancouver; and on Friday, reporter Christopher Cheung told the story of how Richmond industrial activity is disturbing the residents of Vancouver communities along the north shore of the Fraser River.

As higher density residential development encroaches on industrial land, we can expect many more similar complaints, as well as many concerns associated with condominium living. As an architect and developer of multi-family buildings, I have had a longstanding interest in how best to ensure noise from one townhouse or apartment is not transmitted to adjacent units.
 
While building codes establish minimum sound transmission ratings, they are often insufficient to prevent one household from hearing what is happening next door, or upstairs.

Noise separation is not just a question of design; it is also a matter of construction. If walls and pipes are not properly insulated, it is often possible to hear when your neighbour is going to the toilet, let alone playing the piano.

As more and more of us are moving from detached single family houses to duplexes, townhouses or apartments, it is especially important that new multi-family buildings incorporate improved sound separation.

One way to achieve this is by using special drywall products like QuietRock. It offers the acoustic qualities of eight to 10 sheets of drywall. If you move into an older, noisy multi-family unit, you can even install it over an existing wall.

A more challenging problem is reducing noise transmitted between floors and ceilings, especially where hardwood or tile flooring has been installed instead of carpeting. Strata councils should require that anyone replacing carpet with wood flooring in a concrete building install a layer of cork between the new flooring and existing slab. It costs more, but it can help.
 
When I moved into a 15th floor downtown apartment with three glass walls in the master bedroom, I was surprised to discover I could reduce outside noise by replacing the glass in the exterior window frames. The cost was less than I expected, and I was astounded at the difference new glass and seals made.
 
Finally, I have a message for those people who decide to cut their lawns at 7 o’clock on a Saturday night, just as their neighbour’s guests are arriving for an outdoor dinner party. Please cut the lawn in the afternoon.
 
© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/opinion-sounds-of-silence-a-challenge-in-vancouver-1.1198306#sthash.Zyc9XwAZ.dpuf

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Putting all your eggs in one bracket: Vancouver Courier July 2, 2014

By obtaining Farm Tax Status, the owner of this Southlands estate can save tens of thousands of dollars in taxes each year. 
July 3 is the deadline by which most Vancouver residents must pay their property taxes. I say most since many residents, me included, have chosen to participate in the provincial government’s low interest Property Tax Deferment Program. If you are aged 55 or over, or living in a household with children, you, too, may be eligible and should investigate the program.

However, this column is not about people who defer their property taxes. It is about people who avoid paying taxes. But before proceeding, as my accountant often tells me, avoiding taxes is legal; evading taxes is not.

One creative way to avoid property taxes is to convince the B.C. Assessment Authority to reclassify a property from “residential” or “business” to “recreational and non-profit” or “farm” categories.
Although the assessed value may not change, the tax rates for both recreational and non-profit and farm classified properties are significantly lower. Properties with a farm classification also receive a 50 per cent reduction in school taxes.

In my Southlands neighbourhood where most of the properties are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, it is no secret that many properties have sought and obtained farm tax status and consequently pay less in property taxes than some smaller, less valuable properties outside the neighbourhood.

When these properties are actively engaged in agricultural activities, such as a garden nursery, the farm classification may be warranted. However, some grand estates of between two and 10 acres have been classified as farms because they generate $2,500 a year in income from incidental agricultural activities. This can be achieved with a few dozen chickens in a corner of the estate.Given the tens of thousands of dollars in tax savings that must be borne by other taxpayers, these are very expensive eggs.

Not all Southlands estate owners have sought farm classification. Many are proud of the fact that while they could easily qualify, they pay their fair share of taxes based on their residential classification.
It is not just Southlands property owners who are playing this game. Earlier this year, Scott Bowden of Colliers, a recognized expert in the field of property taxation, presented a report to the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors.

He noted tax-avoiding landowners are offering free pasture to cows and renting llamas in a bid to achieve farm status. In some instances, the property owners reduced their taxes by up to 90 per cent and more.
Ironically there are some farmers who will not be able to achieve farm status, namely commercial medical marijuana growers. Recently the provincial government created a new business classification for these facilities given the potential loss in taxes.

To appreciate the tax ramifications, if a $2.1-million, 25,000-square-foot warehouse on a one-acre industrial property in Richmond was allowed to get farm tax status for growing marijuana, it would pay just $395 in annual taxes — 99 per cent less than the $33,100 a comparable business would pay.

While commercial marijuana growers will not get a tax break, owners of vacant sites such as the corner of Davie and Burrard will continue to obtain significant tax savings by allowing their properties to be used for agricultural purposes, namely community gardens.That is because under our property tax system, the province has agreed to reclassify these properties from “business” to “recreational and non-profit” as long as they are used for growing vegetables and similar purposes.

Since the tax savings for the owner can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, property owners are eager to allow their land to be used as a temporary park or community garden. I would add the reason their taxes are so high is that vacant land zoned for commercial uses is often unfairly taxed.

Since I and other taxpayers must make up the loss in taxes, I am not so enthusiastic about community gardens as an interim use in order to change the tax classification. I would prefer revisions to our property tax system to address its many inequities. Until that happens, community gardeners will continue to grow some very expensive tomatoes at the corner of Davie and Burrard.

twitter.com/michaelgeller

© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-putting-all-your-eggs-into-one-bracket-1.1187698#sthash.m49nRwjA.dpuf

Vancouver needs to clean up its act: Vancouver Courier June 25, 2014

As a child, I was amused whenever my visiting American relatives would comment on how clean Canada was. Really, I thought, who cares?
Now, more than 50 years later, I find myself caring a great deal.

Whenever travelling, I compare the cleanliness of other cities with Vancouver. Perhaps it is my upbringing and memories of a mother scrubbing the sidewalk outside our Lancashire rowhouse, but I am happier in a clean environment.

In the past, I was generally proud of how our city was maintained. However, in recent years, I have noticed a general decline. Weeds are growing in street medians and sidewalks. Boulevards and parks appear overgrown, and more cigarette butts, chewing gum and garbage are strewn about.
There is also an increase in the number of unkempt properties, presumably slated for redevelopment or unoccupied, which become scars on otherwise beautiful, well-maintained streetscapes.
On a recent visit to C Restaurant at the foot of Howe Street, I was disgusted by the neglect of a once-prized waterfront walkway. Weeds were growing through pavers, under benches and around tree grates. When I mentioned this to a nearby resident, he threw up his hands in despair. Local businesses and condominium owners were tired of complaining to the park board. He reminded me the city cleaned up the area after I posted a photo on Twitter and a radio station picked up the story of the neglected seawalk.

So last week I posted another photo of the weeds on Twitter.
I soon discovered I was not alone in my concerns. Other tweeters were disgusted with the deterioration in city and park board maintenance and shared their photos. One Twitter follower suggested the weeds were the result of the herbicide ban. Others quickly responded weeds could be controlled with steam, hot water and vinegar.

Some people told me not to be so uptight about weeds and overgrown boulevards. They should be viewed as sustainable alternatives to manicured lawns. This was all part the mayor’s goal of becoming the greenest city in the world.

While I support sustainable landscapes, it’s time for a public discussion on public maintenance and how best to keep our city clean.

I would like to see more waste receptacles around the city, especially in the Downtown Eastside.
To reduce collection costs, we should invest in solar powered “big belly” compacting garbage cans like those found in Chicago.

Public and private companies should install more “cigarette posts” and ashtrays, especially outside transit stations, office buildings and venues where smokers gather.

While I don’t support a Singapore-like ban on chewing gum, given its unsightliness and cost of removal, we might take a lesson from Croydon England’s “Chew this Over” program.

There the Business Improvement District hands out pocket-sized packets for discarded gum and people who throw gum on the ground may face fines. The city has also organized an awareness campaign to deter people from dropping their gum on the streets.

England has also instituted a “Love Where You Live” program, a multi-sector anti-litter campaign, led by Keep Britain Tidy and funded by companies including Wrigley. It brings together government, voluntary organizations, schools and communities with the aim of encouraging action over the coming years to change littering behaviour and significantly reduce the amount of litter by 2020.

In Dublin, residents are being shamed into keeping the city clean. Large posters on buses and transit shelters proclaim: “If you behave like a piece of filth, that’s how the world sees you. Litter is disgusting. So are those responsible.”

To keep Vancouver beautiful, we need our own awareness campaign to change behaviour. Developers and builders should know they are expected to properly maintain properties held for redevelopment. Absentee owners should be told to arrange for gardening services.

More neighbourhoods, like the Southlands Ratepayers Association, should undertake local area cleanup programs. People should be shamed for tossing cigarette butts and chewing gum on the streets and forgetting to clean up after their dogs.

Finally, the park board should be told to clean up its act since it is possible to be both sustainable and tidy.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com 
© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-vancouver-needs-to-clean-up-its-act-1.1156167#sthash.S8D2Kf84.dpuf

Opinion: Vancouver needs to clean up its act

Michael Geller / Columnist
June 24, 2014 01:32 PM
Weeds gather on what was once a prized portion of Vancouver's waterfront walkway system. Photo Michael Geller
NOTE: Michael Geller will talk about the concerns outlined in this column on CBC radio's On the Coast with Stephen Quinn at 4:50 p.m. today (June 25). Listen in.
As a child, I was amused whenever my visiting American relatives would comment on how clean Canada was. Really, I thought, who cares?
Now, more than 50 years later, I find myself caring a great deal.
Whenever travelling, I compare the cleanliness of other cities with Vancouver. Perhaps it is my upbringing and memories of a mother scrubbing the sidewalk outside our Lancashire rowhouse, but I am happier in a clean environment.
In the past, I was generally proud of how our city was maintained. However, in recent years, I have noticed a general decline. Weeds are growing in street medians and sidewalks. Boulevards and parks appear overgrown, and more cigarette butts, chewing gum and garbage are strewn about.
There is also an increase in the number of unkempt properties, presumably slated for redevelopment or unoccupied, which become scars on otherwise beautiful, well-maintained streetscapes.
On a recent visit to C Restaurant at the foot of Howe Street, I was disgusted by the neglect of a once-prized waterfront walkway. Weeds were growing through pavers, under benches and around tree grates.
When I mentioned this to a nearby resident, he threw up his hands in despair. Local businesses and condominium owners were tired of complaining to the park board. He reminded me the city cleaned up the area after I posted a photo on Twitter and a radio station picked up the story of the neglected seawalk.
So last week I posted another photo of the weeds on Twitter.
I soon discovered I was not alone in my concerns. Other tweeters were disgusted with the deterioration in city and park board maintenance and shared their photos.
One Twitter follower suggested the weeds were the result of the herbicide ban. Others quickly responded weeds could be controlled with steam, hot water and vinegar.
Some people told me not to be so uptight about weeds and overgrown boulevards. They should be viewed as sustainable alternatives to manicured lawns. This was all part the mayor’s goal of becoming the greenest city in the world.
While I support sustainable landscapes, it’s time for a public discussion on public maintenance and how best to keep our city clean.
I would like to see more waste receptacles around the city, especially in the Downtown Eastside.
To reduce collection costs, we should invest in solar powered “big belly” compacting garbage cans like those found in Chicago.
Public and private companies should install more “cigarette posts” and ashtrays, especially outside transit stations, office buildings and venues where smokers gather.
While I don’t support a Singapore-like ban on chewing gum, given its unsightliness and cost of removal, we might take a lesson from Croydon England’s “Chew this Over” program.
There the Business Improvement District hands out pocket-sized packets for discarded gum and people who throw gum on the ground may face fines. The city has also organized an awareness campaign to deter people from dropping their gum on the streets.
England has also instituted a “Love Where You Live” program, a multi-sector anti-litter campaign, led by Keep Britain Tidy and funded by companies including Wrigley.
It brings together government, voluntary organizations, schools and communities with the aim of encouraging action over the coming years to change littering behaviour and significantly reduce the amount of litter by 2020.
In Dublin, residents are being shamed into keeping the city clean. Large posters on buses and transit shelters proclaim: “If you behave like a piece of filth, that’s how the world sees you. Litter is disgusting. So are those responsible.”
To keep Vancouver beautiful, we need our own awareness campaign to change behaviour. Developers and builders should know they are expected to properly maintain properties held for redevelopment. Absentee owners should be told to arrange for gardening services.
More neighbourhoods, like the Southlands Ratepayers Association, should undertake local area cleanup programs. People should be shamed for tossing cigarette butts and chewing gum on the streets and forgetting to clean up after their dogs.
Finally, the park board should be told to clean up its act since it is possible to be both sustainable and tidy.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller
© Vancouver Courier
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-vancouver-needs-to-clean-up-its-act-1.1156167#sthash.S8D2Kf84.dpuf