Jen St. Denis

freelance journalist

Category: Uncategorized

Why own when you can rent?

Newly renovated Pacific Palisades is appealing to young urban professionals with creative design and amenities like meeting rooms and a gym.

Skyrocketing condo prices have made renting a necessity for many youngish Vancouverites. With a new generation of rental buildings, developers are trying to take the sting out of renting.

They’re appealing to urban professionals by offering extra amenities and quality design.

Newly-renovated Pacific Palisades at Robson and Jervis offers an art gallery, soundproof music practice room, extra suites to rent when guests are visiting, as well as meeting rooms, large storage lockers, and a gym.

District Main on south Main Street, built in two stages in 2007 and 2010, has a gym on every floor, and a wine cellar, film library and concierge available to its tenants.

Leave it to Vancouverites to convince themselves that renting is trendy.

If you can afford to pay around $1500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, these are lovely places to make your home. (Your boomer parents will still tell you’re throwing your money away on someone else’s mortgage.)

For the rest of us? Well, we can settle down in an older, cheaper building built the last time new rental stock was added to the West End.

The high rises built in the 1960s and 70s may be a little worse for wear, but they still feature pools and penthouses, sleek (and sometimes strange) modernist design, fountains and elevator music – all to appeal to the modern, urban renter.

Bob Rennie in the West End

Community space disappears at 1401 Comox

Rendering of proposed development 1401 Comox

On Feb. 10, I wrote about an open house for the proposed 1401 Comox development. The developer had made some changes based on community feedback, and was presenting the changes at the open house.

The changes included lowering the height by one story and reducing the amount of space the building takes up on the lot. The developer had also removed a community space which had been in the original proposal, which City of Vancouver planners had described as “a little gem on the site.” The site had housed St. John’s United Church, which had provided space to many community groups.

I contacted Pottinger and Associates, a real estate consultancy firm who is working with the developer, Westbank. They sent me this explanation:

The feedback from the general public during consultation on the earlier plan was that the inclusion of the community space wasn’t perceived as a benefit for the entire community, and it did not outweigh other considerations felt to be impacting the immediate neighbourhood like the adjacency of the
proposed building to nearby, existing buildings.  As a result, the design has been modified with the removal of the community space (Westbank met with both Agencies to discuss this) which resulted in a smaller building with larger set-backs and a proposal to close off Broughton to Comox Street to cars, creating an extension to the existing Broughton mini-park and a large open, gathering space in front of our site to be used by the general public.

Does a tiny park with a tiny playground make up for the loss of a community space? I also have to wonder how “large” and “open” the gathering space would be, and how exactly this would be different from a park.

Renovation creates smaller, pricier apartments

1075 Burnaby Street, at Thurlow (photo: Gordon Nelson Investments)

When developers Jason Gordon and Chris Nelson bought 1075 Burnaby, the building “wasn’t awful.”

“But it was run down, it was dirty” says Gordon. “The maintenance hadn’t been kept up.”

The three-story dingbat, once painted a Miami-like shade of peach, is one of those older West End buildings that fairly shouted “artists and eccentrics live here.” The penthouse balcony overflowed with a collection of tropical plants. Cats lounged against the windows. Patterned curtains blew in and out of the basement apartment windows.

In order to completely renovate the building, Gordon Nelson Investments evicted the tenants, a move which was not without controversy. At least one tenant had no idea where she would find another bachelor apartment for $600, the price she paid to rent at 1075 Burnaby.

The building under renovation

The renovation has been going on since spring 2011, and Gordon and his partner, Chris Nelson, plan on adding 31 units to the existing 20 apartments. Gordon says they are doing this by breaking up the existing apartments, which were relatively large units. They will also be building on the roof, where the penthouse apartment is currently, to create a fourth story.

Around 40 of the units will be bachelor-plus-dens (they need to call the extra room a den, says Gordon, because it doesn’t meet the permitting requirements to be called a bedroom). Twelve or 13 of the remaining units will be one- or two-bedrooms.

Many of the doors and windows have been boarded with plywood during construction

“We try to get looks for less,” says Gordon, calling their approach “affordable luxury.” For instance, Gordon says, they are putting in IKEA kitchens and some stainless steel appliances.

He says they are trying to keep the building affordable by offering smaller units that can be rented for less.

So how much will it cost to live at the new 1075 Burnaby?
$1150 for a bachelor
$1400 for a one-bedroom
$1800 for a two-bedroom

I have a feeling the building might not be housing any more free-spirited Davie Street eccentrics for a while.

1401 Comox: a glass tower in the West End?

Concerns about parking, traffic, and the growing income gap were on West End residents’ minds on Thursday.

At an open house held at the Coast Plaza, residents got a chance to look at a revised rezoning application for 1401 Comox Street. The proposed development is a 21-story, all-rental tower, which is being proposed under the STIR program.

A model of the proposed 21-story tower at Comox and Broughton

The developer has lowered the height of the proposed 22-story building, reduced the amount of space the building takes up on the lot, and has increased the number of townhouses from four to six. Because of the reduced building height, an amenity room for tenants which was to have been built on the top floor of the building will now be located on the first floor of the building.

These changes seem to have come at the expense of a proposed community space, which would have been available to groups like Q-munity and Gordon Neighbourhood House.

I noticed a real us-versus-them feeling at the meeting, a feeling that introducing a whole wack of people who could afford to pay a minimum of $1,100 for a one-bedroom apartment would change the character of the neighbourhood. There also seemed to be an assumption that the renters would be moving in from outside the neighbourhood.

Several people said they were worried that if this building were approved, more tall towers would follow, and the West End would eventually turn into a “forest of towers” like Yaletown.

The developer is also proposing to build 79 parking spaces, including 2 car-share cars. For some at the meeting, this conjured up visions of traffic congestion and battles over already-scarce parking spots.

Location, location, location

For $2195 a month, you and your family can live in a two bedroom apartment in the West End. And it seems that humble Nelson Park has been transformed into a luxury amenity.

I often walk along Bute Street and pass the Berkeley, a three story walk-up across from Lord Roberts Annex school. It’s an attractive red brick heritage building that always catches my eye.

After all the tenants were renovicted from the Berkeley in  2009, the building was transformed to high-end rental. Now the men in hard hats are gone, the sawdust has been cleaned up, and a big banner adorns the side of the building, advertising suites for rents.

The building is the “featured rental” on easyrent.ca, and shows photos of beautifully renovated apartments. One bedrooms are listed at $1595 a month. Copy on the site plays up the proximity to Nelson Park, which, the site points out helpfully, includes “playground equipment designed for young children.”