Sunday, March 13, 2016

Times They Are A Changing

4218 West 12th circa 1956
The biggest story by far these days in Vancouver is the real estate story.  It's all everyone talks about and it gets more and more outlandish by the day. Rising property values, bidding wars for any house coming on the market, and everywhere you look there is major construction under way. While it's great for the economy, indeed it seems to be the only one we have in this City, it's also having a profound effect on everyone's sense of place and commonly held assumptions about their own particular neighbourhood.

4218 West 12th circa 2016
The old Point Grey house I grew up in the late 1950's and early 1960's was originally built in 1918 and purchased for less than $9,000.00 by my father who at the time was a Safeway employee and a regular working class person like everyone else in the neighbourhood. It was a 1,600 square foot home on two floors with a finished basement suite that, like most of the other houses in the area, was rented out to students at UBC as a mortgage helper. Today that same house has an assessed value of over $2.3 million.

1723 - 1729  Pendrell Street circa 1958
It's sometimes hard to imagine that up until the 1950's the West End was also a working class area of modest single family dwellings and mansions that had been converted into rooming houses. But in 1957 the ban on buildings over 6 stories was lifted and for the next 15 years a construction frenzy was under way with houses being torn down and replaced with more than 220 high rise apartment buildings. With its 45,000 residents the West End became the most densely populated area in Canada and in 1973 Council put the brakes on further high density development.

Stratford Place 1725 Pendrell Street circa 2016
With its easy going lifestyle, proximity to downtown, and of course beautiful Stanley Park and English Bay it's no wonder people have always flocked to the West End. But, like all parts of Vancouver, the rapidly rising property values are making for profound change. On the Cambie, Oak, and Granville Street corridors entire blocks of single family houses are being torn down to build multiple family townhouse developments and, with the overwhelming success of new condo developments in Yaletown and the Olympic Village, the eyes of the developers are turning once again towards the West End.

Proposed development for 1750 Pendrell Street
Where there is money there is corruption or, at the very least, influence peddling and one can't help but wonder why City Council and the Courts would otherwise disregard its Community Plans and zoning by-laws to accommodate big name developers.  In federal elections and most provincial ones it is illegal for any corporation or union to make contributions to a political party but in B.C. it's the rules of the wild West that seem to prevail.  There is no provincial or municipal limit or corporate prohibition on campaign contributions and consequently the list of donors to either the Vision or NPA party is a Who's Who of developers, architects, and construction companies.

View of English Bay from my apartment - photo by Junie Quiroga
As a result, my view of English Bay is about to be ruined because Council decided to overturn its height restriction of 6 storeys and a density of 1.96 FSR to an FSR of 6.96, which is more than triple what has been in place for more than 40 years, and approve the construction of a 21 storey building across the street from my own apartment at 1725 Pendrell Street. The City says it is trying to increase the stock of apartment rentals but it doesn't mean they care about affordability. Because of the location and view these will be apartments with expensive rents. Once upon a time the West End was a place for the wealthy and, with all the new luxury buildings going up, it looks like things have come full circle.  The times they are indeed a changing and, while I'm not against development per se, it's the way the changes are handled that rankles.