Archive for November, 2008

Brooklyn, Abbotsford

November 27, 2008

Brooklyn, Abbotsford

I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath. I almost lost a lung laughing at this. So, yeah, the place is called Brooklyn and it’s in Abbotsford.

This condo brand is not only vintage condo hype, it’s a greatest-hits of condo hype. The marketing materials bubble with references to “prestigious address” and “hardwood-style floors” and pretty much every non-feature available. This includes installations required by law. Yes, sprinklers and smoke detectors are listed as special features.

Abbotsford’s Brooklyn is a gated community. Unlike the real Brooklyn where a walk to the park is a walk to the park, Abbotsford’s Brooklyn would have you proceed through an “architecturally designed” control portal.

But don’t worry, from there you’re only steps from glorious, New York-style amenities like the Highwayman Pub!

Rennie’s face foreshadows Jameson flop

November 24, 2008

WestEnder - May 11-17, 2006

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” –Anton Chekhov

Chekhov’s Gun refers to the literary technique of introducing a story element that only later proves significant. This goes beyond simple foreshadowing. To Chekhov, a proper story should contain no irrelevant information.

In May 2006, Bob Rennie graces the WestEnder with a look of uncharacteristic consternation. His serious face is at odds with the news item. The condo he’s promoting, Jameson House, is supposedly a glory in the making, and the cover story is an all-out ego stroker. (The reporter describes the condos as so luxurious that “residents of such digs should not indulge in such base acts as eating or using the washroom.”) But why so serious?

Fast-forward two-and-a-half years. The world-class Jameson House is caught in a world-class credit crunch. Demand for seven-figure condos is dried up. Bank financing is pulled due to market conditions. Construction stops at the project site. A developer’s dream is dead unless new money comes through to save it.

All that remains is the look on a face, and the power of hindsight for us to interpret it.

As heard at the Opus public hearings

November 20, 2008

This Opus Hotel rooftop thing is something else. I hope it doesn’t make me a bad person that I’m amused by condo-dweller rage.

Some people are talking about Yaletown turning into Whalley. About never sleeping again. About gang violence. About linen trucks picking up linen.

Consider these comments made by residents at the hearings:

Some people who have been given the opportunity to speak should not have been given the opportunity. One young man who spoke is from Kitsilano and has no stake in the neighbourhood. He should have not been allowed to speak.

This is about an 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. party outside your window. If you have children, you know how hard it is to get them to bed. How can you get them to bed when there’s noise? The future of the neighbourhood is under siege.

Noise is an issue. It’s intensely loud at night. I sometimes have to close my windows. I have a responsible job and need to get good sleep. Blaring music, people running up and down the lanes, kicking things, vomiting — it all goes on here. It’s gonna become Granville Street.

This is all real folks. I went through the public hearing videos to bring you this. Yeah, I’m that cool and have that much time on my hands. This is why you love me.

The rooftop revolution is on

November 20, 2008

Vancouver City Hall

Spent yesterday trading emails with Dino Celotti, the project manager behind the Opus Hotel rooftop patio. As you probably know, city council voted to reject the patio proposal after residents in adjacent condos worried it would bring about the apocalypse.

Tellingly, these fears don’t seem to have much life outside of public hearings. Read the comments over on CBC and you’ll find plenty of opinion in support of the patio and making Vancouver a more fun city. Ask your friends and they’ll probably tell you the same.

This support isn’t lost on Dino Celotti. Here are highlights of what he shared with me about the decision and where things go from here:

I think the truth is that the majority of Vancouver, even Yaletown residents, wanted this proposal to go through, but a few opposition residents banded together and created a very powerful campaign that mobilized those willing to voice a negative opinion.

Although disappointed about the outcome, we value the process and will return to meet with the city planning staff and the new city council to ascertain whether or not to proceed on some revised basis with the support of this new council. We will continue to be ‘good neighbours’ to the surrounding residents as we value our presence in Yaletown.

If the public wants to help and be part of the policy creation they should by all means contact the city planning department and ask them how to do it. I will be calling them tomorrow to ask the same question.

As far as things stand now, the Opus proposal is dead until the city comes around to developing rooftop patio guidelines. No word on how many pages this document will involve, but I’d wager a loonie it’s more than four but less than seven. Probably Times New Roman font.

Anyway, I’ll be contacting the city about how people can get involved in shaping the policy. If it becomes a question of majority rule at public hearings, the NIMBYs will always win. This culture must change.

Opus Hotel loses patio bid

November 19, 2008

City Council rejects Opus Hotel rooftop patio

Way to go, condo yuppies. You’ve made your point: Yaletown is no place for a rooftop patio. Last night, city council swallowed your hype and rejected the Opus Hotel proposal to bring more fun to our no-fun city. You know, because a district with 21 restaurants “isn’t ready” for the “dangerous precedent” of a rooftop bar.

Vancouver, you embarrass me. I love you but you embarrass me.

More on this tomorrow.

Developer crashes the Vision bash

November 17, 2008

Photo by Mike Tippett

Being a guy who loves a good party, I spent my Saturday night at the Vision Vancouver victory bash. It was a mad scene. Progressives aren’t used to winning so when they party, they party big. Long after Gregor gave his first speech as mayor-elect — where he promised everything from the end of homelessness to a formula for cold fusion — the party kept roaring. Even condo mogul Francesco Aquilini dropped in for an appearance. I offered my date ten bucks to ask the man about the “market benefits” of a condo speculator’s tax. She laughed and we went back to dancing. I kept the ten bucks and went home by myself.

It’s a dishonour to be nominated

November 14, 2008

540 Beatty

Most awards are invented for promotional purposes. The Oscars are probably the most popular example. B.C. developers have an awards program of their own. It’s called the Georgies. Awarded annually — presumably because it would look bad to give out trophies every day — the Georgies recognize “the high caliber of expertise and hard work” associated with homebuilding.

The importance of marketing to the development industry is not ignored by their awards. No less than eight awards are marketing-related. One of 2008’s most applauded campaigns is 540 Beatty. This “historic loft conversion” is nominated in categories for signage, website, sales centre and, incredibly, best print advertisement.

That this is the best the industry has to offer is a story in itself. It’s difficult to believe this ad is good, let alone so good it deserves award recognition.

It’ll be interesting to see next year’s nominees now that Vancouver’s condo economy is in full-on crash mode. Maybe the 2009 Georgies will be cancelled all together.

Olympic Village deal demands disclosure

November 11, 2008

It’s rare for Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan to issue a press release of importance. In the newsrooms, he’s known as “Spam” Sullivan because of his fondness for non-news. Late today, the Mayor issued an open letter about the Olympic Village scandal. The story became a major issue last Friday. It made the covers of all the local newspapers. It’s worth pointing out readers of Condohype knew about it on October 8 when I picked up on a report by Gary Mason.

The challenge with the scandal is that there’s very little we actually know. (Is it a loan? Is the city exposed? Did Oprah buy the penthouse?) As of now, all details are hidden from the public. The Mayor’s letter tries to clear the air by stating his confidence in city staff and the overall planning and management of the Olympic Village project. After four paragraphs of hype, the Mayor makes the following statement:

City Councillors and staff are legally bound to keep all property transactions confidential. That is the law. Taxpayers are not well served by politicizing these sensitive discussions or conducting negotiations by headline. As Mayor, you have my word that the moment our legal team and negotiators signal that this information can legally be released, it will be without any delay.

By saying he’s committed to disclosure even though he believes taxpayers “are not well served” by the release of information, Mayor Sullivan is telling you he doesn’t care about the public interest.

Is it not within the Mayor’s ability to encourage the parties to prioritize disclosure of information? Has the Mayor even set a timeline for the details to be released? What leverage does the developer have to assert secrecy over the information? While the specifics of the negotiation may be confidential, nothing prevents the city and the developer from agreeing to share some information. Furthermore, if the city is the only entity coming forward to provide a loan, how can the developer have any power to object to disclosure as a condition of the deal?

If taxpayers are to trust that city managers are acting in our best interest, we must be able to know about the decisions being made. Without disclosure, there can be no confidence.

Yaletown revolts against the lifestyle

November 10, 2008

Photo courtesy of Opus Hotel Vancouver

Oh how this is so Vancouver!

Residents in trendy, condo-laden Yaletown — Vancouver’s definitive “lifestyle” neighbourhood of swanky bars, bronze bodies and designer dogs — are furious over plans for a 250-seat rooftop patio at the Opus Hotel. One local dweller fears the “open-air eatery” will draw hordes of Cactus Club-type people “yelling and goofing around and partying” long into the night.

Hoping to curb the rage of nearby condo strata councils, Opus proposes to “muffle” noise and visible drunkeness by way of a tent and bamboo perimeter. (Never fear, local voyeurs — the barrier will not obstruct your ability to see Van Damme snort a line at a room window, provided he chooses to snort a line at a room window.)

Residents argue their rights should come first since their homes went up before the Opus came and ruined Christmas.

Public hearings continue Tuesday, November 18 at City Hall. In total, 140 people are scheduled to speak. Unofficial estimates suggest the majority of those opposing the patio are Cactus Club-type people who bought into Yaletown for the precise purpose of yelling, goofing around and partying long into the night.

Residents of 212 and 283 Davie Street are encouraged to post comments.

Now that the market has collapsed…

November 2, 2008

“There is no indication, at this point, of any kind of substantial decline in prices.” –Cameron Muir, BC Real Estate Association, July 4 2008

“The bull market in housing is over in British Columbia, and it’s been over for several months.” –Cameron Muir, BC Real Estate Association, October 30 2008

It’s fascinating to watch the ebb and flow of hype. Less than 90 days ago the pundits were openly denying the mounting evidence of the real estate bust. Now, it’s an openly acknowledged fact — one, we’re told, that’s been the case for “several months.”

The about-face gives the media a new license on how they can report real estate news. It’s no longer off-limits to go negative. But I caution anyone thinking the frame has changed. It hasn’t. Real estate reporting remains framed as a lifestyle and consumer issue. Fundamental questions, such as what are the real fundamentals to support housing prices, are largely ignored. Even Global News, which recently exposed the RE industry on its hype, concludes its analysis from a consumer frame. Here’s how reporter Ted Chernecki closes his October 23 report:

So if you’re on the inside looking out and planning on the equity in your home to finance your retirement, bad news. But for those on the outside looking in, for any first-time buyers — this is probably the best news you’ve heard in decades.

The statement is accurate but it’s also narrow. It leaves no room for the tens of thousands of Lower Mainland families who, even with current price declines, face no prospect whatsoever of being able to afford appropriate accommodation. Where is the coverage that looks into what housing should be worth? Where is the reporting that addresses the relevance of affordable housing to the future of the region’s economy?