By John McDonald
There’s really only two ways to make money in real estate. Buy and hold until the price goes up or subdivide, that is, cut a lot in two and sell each piece for a bit more than half of the original price.
Cutting it into four lots is even better, especially if you can afford to build on each piece. Now economy of scale starts to kick in when servicing the lots and constructing the building.
High-rises are this principle taken to the surreal extreme. Find a piece of property, jump through the bureaucratic hoops, and start subdividing the sky. There’s a reason why developers are willing to go through that at-times painful process and it ain’t philanthropy.
The higher you can go, the more money you will make, because now you can not only sell a piece of the sky, but the view from it as well.
So it’s not hard to see why developers like Philip Milroy would love to take the best part of downtown Kelowna, subdivide and it and start selling it back to us. It’s also not hard to see why the man would put up $500,000 of his own money to see that vision through.
What is hard to fathom (as apparently the city planning department does) is how anyone could think that Milroy would do this out of the goodness of his heart. He wants to make a buck and lots of ‘em.
Working in his favour is the commonly-accepted notion that if medium-density housing is good, then high-density housing has to be better.
It’s a standard reply to anyone who questions the need for skyscrapers in downtown Kelowna. “We can’t keep building out, we have to start building up.”
I’ve said it myself, a well-meaning reply to a subject about which I have only instincts, no book-learning.
Is it possible that building a high-rise in downtown Kelowna, the so-called “up instead of out” solution to soulless suburbs built on farmer’s fields, can actually contribute to urban sprawl?
Peter Chataway, a local building designer and community activist who moved here from Vancouver in the 1970s, says it is.
Unlike John Zeger, another well-known CD-21 zone critic, Chataway doesn’t advocate dampening growth through development control, but he’s right on board with Zeger’s dislike for high-rises, especially in downtown Kelowna.
In his view, it’s all about human scalability.
“Anything higher than five stories, you can’t wave to your neighbour on the street. High density creates more crime and alienation. You put more rats in the cage, they fight more often,” says Chataway, who was on hand Monday afternoon to watch Kelowna city council backtrack on the zone. “They talk about putting eyes and ears on the street. You can’t police your community from any more than five stories.”
He points to some of the world’s great cities – Paris, Barcelona, and yes, Vancouver – as examples of this.
Furthermore, Chataway says high-rises and improperly planned communities actually turn neighbourhoods into “up and out” rather than “up instead of out” by forcing growing families to relocate to the ‘burbs in search of a bungalow big enough to raise a family. “Then they move back when the kids leave home,” he added.
While Zeger loves to bash what he calls Vancouver-style development, Chataway points to that city, or at least part of it, as an example how it should be done.
“Look at False Creek, the south slope, not the north side,” says Chataway, who puts it up as one of the best neighbourhoods in North America.
The south side of False Creek – Chataway makes a strong distinction between it and the north side – with the award-winning Granville Island as the jewel in the crown, is set amongst blocks of low to mid-rise housing strung along the seawall and marching up the slope to Broadway.
Mixed amongst the high-end market housing are co-operatives and rentals, along with a strong social housing component, managed by B.C. Housing.
“You get people like Art Phillips, the former mayor, who’s a millionaire stockbroker living beside someone on social assistance,” he said. “They might even bump into each other on the elevator.”
Chataway says that egalitarian concept is far from what he sees the CD-21 zone becoming in Kelowna – a sterile bank of condo high-rises sitting mainly empty while their wealthy absentee owners live somewhere else.
“It’s an economic ghetto where most of the units will not even be occupied on a regular basis,” he says. “Development here in Kelowna is already investment driven, not use-driven. You want property to be used, not just bought.”
And that includes, in his view, a healthy dose of social housing dropped in and amongst the high-end condos.
“It’s the scattered unit philosophy,” he adds. “You put scattered affordable units in all the buildings. You don’t ghetto-ize the poor and unfortunate in one building.”
What downtown needs, he says, is housing and amenities that can accommodate families, big and small, so as to keep them in place.
“If a young professional buys a condo downtown and it doesn’t have the amenities to raise his family, he will end up having to move,” Chataway adds. “The place he can afford is way out in the suburbs.”
The CD-21 Zone, as it stood before yesterday afternoon, was designed during the real estate frenzy predating the 2008 recession.
That was then. This is now.
The return to first reading of the CD-21 Zone is a chance to take a breath and really dig deep into not only what the community wants, but what it needs. And that might not be 27-storey condo towers.
250-575-0521CD-21 Zone developers want to sell you a piece of the sky