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Custom House 816 Government Street Victoria 57 homes in a 7-storey heritage building by Cielo Properties

Customs House takes an iconic location on Victoria’s Inner Harbour

Michael Bernard
The Vancouver Sun

Customs House

Project Address: 816 Government Street, Victoria

Project Scope: A total of 57 one-, two- and three-bedroom condominium homes in a seven-storey heritage building facing the Inner Harbour, along with the provincial legislature building and the Empress Hotel. Homes range from 618 to 4,422 sq. ft., including penthouses with rooftop patios up to 1,990 sq. ft. Set in the heart of Victoria, Customs House has easy access to seaplane service and high-end restaurants and shops, in a historic structure with commanding views in all directions

Prices: From $850,000 to $11 million

Developer: Cielo Properties Inc.

Builder: Farmer Construction

Architects: Merrick Architecture, Studio One Architecture

Interior Designer: Insight Design Inc.

Sales Marketing: Magnum Projects

Sales Centre: 955 Wharf St., Victoria

Telephone: (250) 590-9881

Centre Hours: By appointment only

Website:  customhouse.ca

Completion: Late 2019/early 2020

Redesigning a building that sits alongside the Empress Hotel and the B.C. legislature — the “grand dames” of Victoria’s Inner Harbour — could be an intimidating exercise for any architect, even one as experienced as Paul Merrick.

The renowned B.C. architect, whose honour-winning heritage projects range eclectically from the Orpheum Theatre and Pennsylvania Hotel in Vancouver to Victoria’s St. Ann’s Academy, knew there would be high expectations in an estimated $100-million makeover of a landmark heritage building facing the legislature on the Inner Harbour.

His first thought, when transforming the building into 57 luxury residences known collectively as Customs House?

“I was humbled,” he said. “Its significance took a while to sink in, which says something about what kind of place that it is. It is really one of the most magnificent urban rooms in all of the world.”

Much of that humility results from his respect for famed British architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury, who designed both the legislature and the Empress. Today, both buildings are seen as among Canada’s most stately and historically important heritage structures.

Customs House, which takes up an entire city block framed by Government, Wharf and Courtney streets, was built on the harbour between 1894 and 1898. It has been variously known as the Federal Building, Post Office and Customs House, the latter for its role in processing goods leaving and entering the country. Its important historical features include the façade’s sandstone walls, quarried from nearby islands in Georgia Strait.

It also has what might be considered an eminently forgettable element — the addition of a post office, built in 1952 in a drab post-war style. That made it easier for Merrick and his co-partner in the project, Studio One Architecture, to recommend to Customs House developer Stan Sipos to demolish that portion and replace it with new construction that constitutes about half the project.

Merrick said Sipos moved back and forth between considering long-vacant Customs House for commercial, office, retail and residential development before settling on a mixed use.

About 16,000 square feet of retail space at ground level will eventually be home to high-end restaurants and boutique retail stores, says Johnathon Sipos, Stan’s son and vice-president of Cielo Properties Inc.

“We (Cielo) have always been drawn to it,” said Sipos. “It was just such a prominent location in Victoria that we really wanted to do something that was a true landmark, a true legacy. It is really the last unfinished piece in Victoria downtown.”

Studio One managing partner Jim Wong said his firm worked alongside Merrick focusing on the building’s interiors and underground parking.

“It’s an A-1 location in Victoria, the best location in the city,” said Wong, whose firm has undertaken several other building restorations in the city. “Obviously, when you have the legislature and the Empress as your neigbours, you are in good company.”

Among the project’s greatest challenges has been retaining the heritage features of the windows, including those at ground level, and adapting the interiors, which had the typical floor plates of office and administrative structures of the day, to modern-day living standards.

“The building has much larger floor plates than those in residential buildings,” he said, adding the original design has “long, narrow bowling alley-like footprints from the building’s core to the facade” that are not suitable for residential living. “We went through many iterations.” Also challenging is shoring up the heritage façade while performing seismic upgrades and excavating under the building to construct three levels of underground parking.

Patrick O’Callaghan, marketing manager of Magnum Projects, which is selling the homes, said about 50 per cent of the units — including one of the penthouses for $10 million — have been purchased since the sales campaign began in late August.

The majority are local buyers, including people downsizing from larger homes in Oak Bay, Uplands and Saanich, as well as from Vancouver. The project has also attracted buyer interest from farther afield, including Calgary, New York, Texas, New Zealand and Asia. Residents will be able to enjoy easy access from Vancouver’s Coal Harbour to Customs House via seaplane, O’Callaghan noted.

“It really is unprecedented in Victoria,” he said. “It has had private previews for the most part and we’ve reached out the realtor community and our private database.”

O’Callaghan notes that the homes range from 618 to 1,178 square feet for a one-bedroom unit, 1,125 to 2,378 for a two-bedroom, 2,279 to 3,433 square feet for a three-bedroom and from 3,531 to 4,422 for the penthouses. The penthouses also have up to 1,900 square feet for a rooftop garden, which is accessed by a small elevator from the main living area.

The ceilings range from 10 feet to 13 feet high, with some units having views of the Inner Harbour. Buyers have choices of light and dark palettes. Imported Italian cabinetry is used for kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Perimeter countertops in kitchens are made of engineered stone, while the island is quartzite with a waterfall edge.

Appliances vary depending on the unit group: the Harbourview kitchen features Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances, with a 36-inch gas cooktop, 36-to-42-inch integrated refrigerator-freezer, a 30-inch combination wall oven and steam oven, and a built-in Asko dishwasher and built-in microwave. The kitchen is completed by a wine fridge.

The Kohler cast iron sink ranges from 24 to 36 inches with white enamel finish and a Kohler pull-down style faucet. Glass backsplashes are back painted. Some larger kitchens have a pull-out pantry.

Main bathrooms and secondary ensuites have large-format 12-by-24-inch porcelain floor tiles, and marble dual vanity countertops with marble mosaic tiles in the shower stalls.

Customs House has a second-floor gym complete with sauna and steam room, a car-wash station underground, and a 24-hour concierge service in the lobby.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc

Real estate ‘headwinds’ could slow B.C. output

Real estate ‘headwinds’ could slow retail, construction sales

Joanne Lee-Young
The Vancouver Sun

The province’s economy, which enjoyed a robust year in 2017, is expected to downshift in 2018, according to the Business Council of B.C.

The residential real estate industry has driven so much growth across the B.C. economy in recent years. Now, with so-called “policy headwinds” in sight, there will also likely be an accompanying impact on retail sales and construction, says BCBC chief economist Ken Peacock, whose group analyzes economic prosperity and competitiveness.

Total retail spending in B.C. was up nearly 10 per cent in 2017. In particular, sales at building material stores were up nearly 30 per cent in the second and third quarters of 2017. Automobile retailers posted an annualized gain of more than 25 per cent in the third quarter.

“The steady inflow of foreign money and wealthy immigrants are factors, but so is the broader wealth effect from soaring real estate values as more B.C. homeowners tap into their home equity to help finance renovations and other large purchases,” wrote Peacock.

“The resiliency of the real estate market has been a surprise, but it’s a characteristic of the Vancouver market,” says Peacock.

Ahead, however, rising interest rates and possible provincial government action to dampen speculation in the housing market “could have a material effect on economic growth in the province over the next two years.”

It’s difficult to quantify predictions, and Peacock declined to give even a range, but says, in general, it will be tougher for borrowers to qualify for loans in order to purchase properties.

“We’ve had record low interest rates, with some bumps up, here and there, but for over a decade it’s been low. And now, we are moving out of that in a more serious way. The direction we are headed is clear.”

Says Peacock: “It’s not calamitous. It will be gentle. As long as we have good job growth, in-migration, then traditionally, we have been OK.”

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Major lenders hike rates following BoC decision

Steve Randall
Canadian Real Estate Wealth

Canada’s major banks have been quick to react to the Bank of Canada’s decision to raise interest rates to 1.25%.

CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank and TD were among the first lenders to increase their prime lending rates by 25 basis points to 3.45%; the new rates take effect from today (Jan 18).

The BoC rate hike was widely expected but what happens next is the burning question.

Although BoC governor Stephen Poloz painted a rosy picture of the Canadian economy at the end of 2017, his speech Wednesday noted that growth is forecast to slow to 2.2% this year and 1.6% in 2019, compared to the forecast 3% growth in 2017.

NAFTA also presents a challenge to the economy and the governor sounded a cautious tone over its uncertainty.

Governor Poloz said that while interest rates would need to rise over time, the Bank would need to provide some continued “monetary policy accommodation” to keep inflation in check and keep the economy operating close to its potential.

So when might those increases come?

CIBC Economics chief economist Avery Shenfeld says one more increase is likely this year – he’s forecasting early in the third quarter – with two further increases (50 basis points) in 2019.

TD’s senior economist Brian DePratto says that July is penciled in for the next increase but notes that data may present a case for that to be moved forward or pushed back.

Copyright © 2018 Key Media Pty Ltd

What to do if council doesn’t enforce bylaws

Tony Gioventu
The Province

Dear Tony:

Our strata has never provided any information regarding the enforcement of bylaws to our owners. This recently became an issue over two owners, one, a council member who had not paid their special levies or strata fees for over six months.

At our annual meeting, someone started questioning why we had over $40,000 in receivables and we were told that was confidential information. As a result, we lost confidence in our council and elected five new council members who have discovered that council has been cutting special deals with owners on payment schedules and totally ignoring bylaw enforcement. 

We have also lost the ability to collect an insurance deductible from an owner who did their own plumbing, causing a flood. The owner recently sold, so the rest of us were stuck with the $10,000 deductible. 

Judith W., Penticton

Dear Judith:

As a basic requirement of governance in the Strata Property Act, “the council must exercise the powers and perform the duties of the strata corporation, including the enforcement of bylaws and rules”.

The enforcement is determined through the act and the bylaws of each strata corporation. The act then says the strata corporation “may” do one or more of the following to enforce bylaws by imposing a fine, remedying a contravention by physical actions permitted in the act, or denying access to a recreational facility permitted by the act.

It is common for strata corporations to go for years without ever having to impose bylaw enforcement penalties. Provided the council can manage compliance with the bylaws, further enforcement may not be necessary. 

In your situation, your strata council is not only ignoring its bylaw enforcement against owners, but also council members. Your bylaws stipulate that owners must pay their strata fees on the first of each month. If they do not, then a bylaw violation has occurred, which triggers two separate types of penalties in many strata bylaws.

The first is the financial penalty. In your strata, interest is automatically calculated at a rate of 10 per cent annually and imposed monthly. Interest in bylaws is not a bylaw infraction and may be automatically calculated and included in an amount to be liened against a strata lot.

The second enforcement issue is a bylaw that impacts the eligibility of council members to be either elected to council or continue to sit on council if the strata corporation is entitled to file in lien against a strata lot. Your strata has even gone as far as adding a third bylaw requiring council to issue a demand notice for payment for strata fees and special levies and notice of being entitled to file a lien if the owner does not pay within 14 days. 

Your bylaws indicate “the strata council must issue the notice within five days of anyone being late on their payments”. As a result of not enforcing the bylaws, your strata council permitted a fellow council member to continue to act contrary to the bylaws and interest has not been imposed or collected and the debts are still outstanding with no collections started.

There is no harm in sending out demand notices to enable the strata corporation to file a lien and take further action if the owners cannot pay their fees. Nothing requires the strata to file a lien after the demand has been sent; however, a strata corporation cannot take the next step on collections to secure debts without issuing the notice. 

A decision to enforce a bylaw is a decision of council at a council meeting as council is not permitted to delegate bylaw enforcement to the property manager or a single council member. A general list of bylaw enforcement and collection decisions that are included in the council minutes, but exclude personal information, is a valuable record for both council and owners. It provides council with a record of its decision-making and the ability to track monthly progress and indicates to the owners that bylaws are being enforced and collections are being applied equally and fairly against everyone. 

If the council is not willing to enforce bylaws, elect a new council that will. The Civil Resolution Tribunal is always another option to order your strata to enforce its bylaws.

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Cascade City 271 homes in two towers 5788 Gilbert Road (tower A) and 5766 Gilbert Road (tower B) by Landa Global Properties

Richmond’s Cascade City takes high-end inspiration

Mary Frances Hill
The Province

Cascade City

What: 271 homes, with retail space on the ground level. The 15-storey towers will stand on a narrow 87,252-square-foot site at Gilbert Road and Elmbridge Way in Richmond

Where: 5788 Gilbert Road (Tower A currently selling); 5766 Gilbert Road (Tower B, coming soon)

Developer and builder: Landa Global Properties

Residence sizes and prices: One, two and three bedrooms, 505 – 1,505 square feet; one bedroom starting from mid-$500,000s

Sales centre: 7100 Elmbridge Way, Richmond

Sales centre hours: Noon — 5 p.m., Sat — Thurs

When Geèle Soroka envisioned the interiors of Cascade City, Landa Global Properties’ new-home community in Richmond, she found inspiration in the names often associated with comfort and luxurious living.

The illustrations of the details in decor and finishes in the Cascade City suites show the simplicity of great design. “The concept was to create a luxury dream space for potential buyers,” says Soroka, the principal of Sublime Interior Design. She based the look of the dining room lighting on the styles found at Restoration Hardware, while the dining room chairs take on the flavour of the luxury brand Minotti, and the living room chairs, sofa and throw were inspired by Versace, Roche Bobois, and Hermes, respectively.

Her rendering of the lighting over the kitchen island is a thing of beauty — a conversation piece inspired by Restoration Hardware that blends traditional with contemporary style, she says.

“We selected this light fixture because of its brushed bronze tone, sleek lines and sparkly crystal spheres. It has sleek contemporary lines with a traditional colour, making it a perfect mix.”

In a kitchen, the marriage of just two tones — high-gloss light grey upper cabinets and white lower cabinets by Aster Cucine — creates a dramatic effect.

 “The high-gloss finish creates a chic look and reflects light, while smaller details in the cabinetry and the island transform their look and practical uses,” Soroka adds.

“Using finger-reveals [which allow the homeowner to see a portion of the cabinet frame] instead of cabinet hardware creates a clean and minimalist look. The side gable on the island creates the illusion of a waterfall edge that integrates into the countertop, enlarging the appearance of the island.”

In a bathroom, the Sublime team used the same tile on the wall and flooring, which gives the room a posh feel. These Italian marble-inspired tiles “give the look of luxurious marble, but offer durability. By using the tiles on the floor and walls it creates a more streamlined and clean look, enlarging the appearance of the space, and … giving the room a luxurious spa hotel feel.”

The suites are shallow, which allows for room for more windows to brighten the space and emphasize the view, says Arno Matis, principal at Arno Matis Architecture, whose firm collaborated on the development’s design with Rafii Architects.

“Efficient floor plans [give] the homeowner gets more square footage in useful, living spaces (living, kitchen, dining, bedroom) as opposed to less desirable locations (like corridors),” he says.

“The shallow tower floor plate also means units have more access to decks: Each unit has a deck that wraps the full length of the unit. As units are more shallow, decks are more generous.”

© 2018 Postmedia Network Inc

No ban on foreign buyers says BC premier

Steve Randall
Canadian Real Estate Wealth

The premier of British Columbia has rejected calls for a ban on foreign buyers of real estate in the province.

John Horgan has reacted to the Green Party’s leader Andrew Weaver who has been calling for a ban similar to that implemented in New Zealand.

“I just don’t believe, in an open economy, that’s an appropriate way to proceed,” Mr Horgan said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that a ban would send the wrong message internationally.

He did acknowledge that something has to be done to tackle affordability issues in BC and said that there will be proposals in the budget to curb speculation, reduce demand and soften prices.

Mr Horgan says that the BC government will help boost the construction of rental apartments and single-family homes.

Copyright © 2018 Key Media Pty Ltd