The Lower Mainland real-estate market bounced back this year from the dreadfully low number of transactions in the latter part of 2012. Last year’s slowdown was caused, in part, by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s decision to cut the maximum amortization rate to 25 years, which had a disproportionate impact in the Lower Mainland, where housing prices are traditionally higher than in most other parts of Canada.
Prices remained stable, too, confounding many bloggers who’ve been predicting a Japan-style housing implosion. Part of the reason is continued migration—B.C. Stats predicts 38,000 new arrivals in the province this year and another 41,300 next year.
There’s also a rising number of residents entering the 25- to 44-year-old age group, which drives aggregate demand from first-time buyers, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Below, you’ll see our picks for the most significant real-estate stories of the year in Greater Vancouver.
False Creek North
The Vancouver development board’s recent decision to approve a much larger Edgewater Casino along with two hotel towers near B.C. Place Stadium will dramatically change the look of the city for those coming north off the Cambie Street Bridge. It will also reinforce Northeast False Creek’s identity as a sports-and-entertainment zone, which is anchored by B.C. Place Stadium and Rogers Arena. Meanwhile, Concord Pacific unveiled plans for eight high-rises containing 1,300 condominiums, as well as 90,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. If city council gets rid of the viaducts, this neighbourhood is likely to become one of the hottest real-estate plays in town.
Surrey City Centre
This year, Surrey council approved the second stage of a land-use plan for the 581-hectare urban zone bounded by 112th and 96th avenues and 132nd and 140th streets. It includes three more parks, and anticipates that the population will more than double to 68,000 by 2033. Surrey hopes to attract lots of jobs, too, christening its network of health institutions, universities, and high-tech companies in the area as “Innovation Boulevard”. The city has attracted hordes of developers, including Concord Pacific, which revealed this year that it has about $750 million invested in the municipality. Bosa Properties senior vice president Daryl Simpson told the Straight that his company plans to develop 15 buildings in Surrey City Centre.
According to Heritage Vancouver, there are more than 25 development projects under way in the corridor along East Hastings Street between Carrall and Renfrew streets. The area burst into public consciousness when the Solterra Group of Companies bought the Waldorf Hotel. Many properties are not listed in the city’s Heritage Register, which means the kitschy and quirky character could be lost to redevelopment.
Vancouver city council approved the West End community plan, and long-term strategies are expected to be completed in 2014 in the Downtown Eastside and Marpole, with Grandview-Woodland coming after that. The process has attracted intense interest from residents precisely because these plans will have a profound impact on the future of these areas. Early iterations called for densification in some neighbourhoods that many deemed unacceptable, most notably in parts of Marpole and near the Commercial-Broadway Station in Grandview-Woodland.
Disappearance of cultural venues
The Ridge Theatre site is being turned into condos; a church bought the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts; and the owner of the Hollywood Theatre wants it converted into a fitness studio. Earlier this year, former Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian told the Straight that the city should identify which cultural assets are important and vulnerable. A week after Toderian’s comment, Coun. Heather Deal brought forward a motion asking staff to do precisely that. Will it make a difference? On the upside, it appears as though the Western Front is safe, thanks to a pending rezoning application to make what it is doing legal under the zoning bylaw after 40 years in Mount Pleasant. And residents near the Hollywood have been given some time to suggest alternatives. As well, the York Theatre opened on Commercial Drive. All is not lost.