Creek crossing

West Vancouver Rotarians Judith Harder, Bob Michieli and Michael Upward pedal across Rodgers Creek Bridge during the new crossing’s official opening last week. British Pacific Properties funded the $10-million bridge and the extension of Chippendale Road, a designated heavy truck route that provides alternative access to Mulgrave and Collingwood private schools.

The new bridge and road will also connect older British Properties neighbourhoods with the future Cypress Village, a development concept central to the Upper Lands vision that council recently endorsed.

Wine cellars a ‘standard feature’ for luxury real estate

Hardwood floors? Check.

Wok kitchen? Check.

Landscaping? Check.

Bathroom counters, high-end appliances, media room? Check, check, check.

Wine cellar? Oh.

“We’re not serious wine collectors, but it’s something we’ve always wanted,” says Merle Jarvis, opening a heavy door to a new glass-encased, 400-bottle cellar, which was carved out of a small room in her home that was formerly used for storing hockey gear.

“We look at a lot of houses for sale,” she adds, referring to her husband, Kevin. “Most have nice wine cellars.”

In Vancouver’s feverish high-end real estate market, it has become increasingly popular to have a cool, climate-controlled wine room as a lifestyle and entertainment feature. For homes worth $3-million or more, it is almost mandatory.

“It’s like the hot handbag of the year,” says Elfie Pavlakovic, a real estate broker and proprietor of Gloss Interiors, which designed the Jarvises’ wine cellar with its custom cabinetry millwork in rift-cut white oak and back wall built from Nantucket ledge stone.

“It started a few years back with the wine fridge,” she explains. “I designed a lot of kitchens with wine fridges built into the end of an island that opened up into the great room.

“From there, it went to separate wine rooms that make a statement. A lot of the luxury homes have them, especially in the North Vancouver and Edgemont areas that cater to the Asian markets. The Asians are really big on wine. From a retail perspective, it’s a very good selling feature. I call it ‘the bling.’”

Lined in jade and gold leaf or fitted with comfortable seating areas and central tables, modern wine rooms are not just glitzy; they are de rigueur.

Christa Frosch, a real estate and vineyard specialist with Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, agrees that wine cellars have become a “standard feature” in the luxury marketplace over the past five or six years, a trend that’s come about, in part, because Canadians have become much more savvy wine drinkers.

Consumer trend reports by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada confirm that Canadian wine consumption has indeed been growing in both value and volume sales, and is expected to grow even more in the future.

In 2013, France’s Vinexpo predicted that Canada’s wine consumption, in the span of 10 years, will grow six times faster than the world average, surpassed only by China and the United States.

“Also, we have to remember that Vancouver is a global market, on par with London or New York,” Ms. Frosch says. “The majority of buyers are not local. They come from all over the world. They expect a wine cellar.”

Monique Badun, a West Side real estate broker, recently sold a house for $8-million. “It had everything – except a wine cellar,” she says. “The buyer, a very serious collector, had to put one in. It cost $500,000. He didn’t even blink at the cost.”

West Vancouver’s British Pacific Properties now includes a wine storage feature in all of its custom homes. Even its “downsizer” townhouses and condominiums are fitted with central wine-storage features, consisting of built-in wine fridges and displays covering an entire wall.

“The wine cellar is the new media room,” president Geoffrey Croll says. “Everyone wants a place to not just store wine but also entertain. Wine isn’t hidden underground any more. It’s celebrated and shown off.”

Everyone seems to agree that the modern wine cellar should be centrally located near the great room or entertaining area. “That’s the trend now,” Ms. Pavlakovic says. “Let’s get it out of the basement and bring it upstairs where we can all enjoy it.”

Those in the resale market, however, should be aware of cultural differences. Rollin Fox, president of Sleeping Grape Wine Cellars, says he hasn’t been able to crack the Asian market, partly because he incorporates a lot of handcrafted woodwork and antique fixtures.

“I hired a consultant who said, ‘Give your head a shake.’ In China, the worst products are made from hand. They don’t want old wood from a church. They want new materials and contemporary designs lined in jade and gold leaf.”

A wine cellar doesn’t have to be glitzy to increase the value of your home, but it does have to be functional.

“It’s not just a cupboard under the stairs,” Ms. Badun says. “It has to be a real wine cellar with proper racks and climate controls, and should hold at least 300 bottles. If you’re in the $3-million-plus market, you will get your money back on an upgrade.”

But should it be filled? The Jarvises decided it would look better, so they hired Vicky Ainley of Vino Allegro Wine Imports Inc. to curate a collection of moderately priced wines, about $40 a bottle, tailored to their popular tastes, which has turned the potential headaches of selling into a much more pleasant buzz.

“It’s a practical wine cellar, not a serious collection,” Kevin Jarvis says. “But it’s been great. We’ve been able to try something new every day. If we sell, we’ll take the wine with us. If we don’t get the price we want, we’ll still have the wine.”

Occupants of Aston Hill to enjoy some spectacular new outlooks

British Pacific Properties, stretched out across West Vancouver’s mountainside above the Upper Levels Highway, has been renowned for decades for its remarkable views of Vancouver’s downtown skyline and westside.

Aston Hill, the company’s lat- est multi-family development on its 4,000 acres of land holdings, takes those views to a whole new level, with a lot of work by the planners and architects to meet the demanding building stan- dards set by West Vancouver council.

The 20 strata duplex homes are built into the hillside along winding switchbacks with grades up to 30 per cent, requiring the architects to abandon conven- tional residential construction techniques and literally invent a new style of architecture to fit the terrain.

“We think of it as the Santorini of the West,” said Mike Huggins, of Burrowes Huggins Architec- ture. “We had to build buildings that are in effect retaining walls of the land. We really had to choose reinforced concrete because the earth pressures were too great to do in  conventional construction.”

The result is that the homes have low-pitched cedar-clad roofs and large overhangs don’t obscure the city views from other homes staggered up the hillside behind and appear to naturally grow out of the hilly landscape, Huggins said. He said it has also led to yet another genre of local design — West Coast Modern — an evolution that builds on the work of such architects as Arthur Erickson, Fred Holling- sworth and Ron Thom and the West Coast Contemporary style that succeeded them.

The concrete exterior is finished with a special stucco and the architects have added features, including timber arbour and a granite veneer clad chimney, to break up the fronts of the duplexes.

British Pacific Properties — or BPP — has had lots of experience building on mountainous terrain. The company, owned by the Guinness family of English stout fame, first bought the land in 1930 for as little as $20 an acre, with plans to build country estates and even polo grounds for the gentry. In order to boost low land sales, the company got into the homebuilding business to sell lots and got government permission to build the Lions Gate Bridge, a $6-million private construction project that opened to traffic in 1938. But demand for lots remained low through the Second World War and didn’t pick up until 1950 when the Park Royal shopping centre was opened.

While designed to meet the demands of downsizers, the homes have large dimensions, ranging from more than 3,000 to 3,800 square feet on three levels. All have elevators that can take homeowners of uphill models up to the top of three levels or downhill models where a reverse model puts bedrooms on the lowest level.

BPP President Geoff Croll says 40 per cent of the homes have been sold, mainly to Metro Van- couver residents rather than off-shore buyers. “We are an average of $875 a square foot. If you are downtown, for a similar type of product it would be well over $1,000 a square foot and even higher if you are over on the west side or Point Grey for this level of finishes and construction quality.”

Buyers have been attracted by a number of West Vancouver features, he said, including good schools either at Collingwood or Mulgrave private schools or the West Vancouver public school system, which earns high marks in the Fraser Institute’s annual schools survey; personal security evident in higher police officer citizen ratios relative to other parts of the Lower Mainland and even “the fresh air and being just 15 minutes from downtown.”

The show home’s entry and reception level has an over-sized two-car garage and a Japanese-inspired water feature at the front door that opens to a foyer with heated stone tile. To one side of the entrance is a large den, while straight ahead a millwork archway marks the entrance to the galleria. A bathroom and laundry room are off one side of the galleria.

Homeowners can either walk up the glass and stainless-steel staircase with dark wood treads or take the designer-wood-walled elevator, which fulfils the goal of “aging in place,” Croll said.

The middle level features open-concept living with the kitchen against the back wall with an offset layout lead-ing to a family room, a dining room and then a living room with a contemporary linear gas fireplace framed in marble and exotic wood finishings. All areas look out to the spectacular view and a large sliding glass door opening onto a 325-square foot terrace. The level also has a powder room.

The kitchen is fitted in oakwood cabinetry, custom stained to match the hardwood floor. Homes come with a Sub Zero 36-inch integrated fridge and freezer with internal water and ice dispensers and a custom panel to match the hardwood cabinetry. Contrasting with the wood are glossy upper cabinets with a granite backsplash.

A 36-inch five-burner stainless steel cooktop is embedded in a long polished granite island, with room for four stools. Overhead is a 42-inch Wolf chimney-style hood fan, while on the back wall are a Wolf 30-inch wall oven and large Wolf microwave. A Miele dishwasher with a fully integrated custom panel rounds out the appliances. The level comes with a pass-through pantry that can be converted into a hardwood-panelled wine station with ample storage, including an under-counter refrigerator for white and sparkling wines.

On the top level are an expansive master bedroom and a “retreat” sitting area, walk-in closet and balcony. Lighting controls for the entire home are contained in iPads, which are fitted into wall niches for easy access both at home and from outside by the Internet.Two other bedrooms share a second bathroom. One bedroom has a walk-in closet and a smaller-sized terrace, while the second smaller bedroom has a large window view without a terrace.

The master ensuite designed with an exotic wood veneer vanity topped with a granite countertop, in-floor heating, an obscured glass toilet room enclosure, and a low-profile drain system leading to a frameless shower area, convenient for those in a wheelchair. The entire area is fitted in stonewall and floor tile.

Buyer Joan Porter, who lives near the University of B.C., says she and her husband “wanted a change in lifestyle.”

“I like to hike, so it’s nice and close to the mountains rather than having to drive over the bridge all the time. It’s getting really busy over here, so we thought it would be a nice option.”

They had checked out downtown Vancouver, Ambleside and Dundarave, but found all too busy and dense and then found Aston Hill online.

“I loved the view and it’s quiet and really close to the trails.” She also liked plans by British Pacific Properties to develop a commercial area for residents living above Highway.

West Van’s Aston Hill offers spectacular views

British Pacific Properties, stretched out across West Vancouver’s mountainside above the Upper Levels Highway, has been renowned for decades for its remarkable views of Vancouver’s downtown skyline and west side.

Aston Hill, the company’s latest multi-family development on its 4,000 acres of land holdings, takes those views to a whole new level, with a lot of work by the planners and architects to meet the demanding building standards set by West Vancouver council.

The 20 strata duplex homes are built into the hillside along winding switchbacks with grades up to 30 per cent, requiring the architects to abandon conventional residential construction techniques and literally invent a new style of architecture to fit the terrain.

“We think of it as the Santorini of the West,” said Mike Huggins, of Burrowes Huggins Architecture. “We had to build buildings that are in effect retaining walls of the land. We really had to choose reinforced concrete because the earth pressures were too great to do in conventional construction.”

The result is that the homes have low-pitched cedar-clad roofs and large overhangs don’t obscure the city views from other homes staggered up the hillside behind and appear to naturally grow out of the hilly landscape, Huggins said. He said it has also led to yet another genre of local design — West Coast Modern — an evolution that builds on the work of such architects as Arthur Erickson, Fred Hollingsworth and Ron Thom and the West Coast Contemporary style that succeeded them.

The concrete exterior is finished with a special stucco and the architects have added features, including timber arbour and a granite veneer clad chimney, to break up the fronts of the duplexes.

British Pacific Properties — or BPP — has had lots of experience building on mountainous terrain. The company, owned by the Guinness family of English stout fame, first bought the land in 1930 for as little as $20 an acre, with plans to build country estates and even polo grounds for the gentry. In order to boost low land sales, the company got into the homebuilding business to sell lots and got government permission to build the Lions Gate Bridge, a $6-million private construction project that opened to traffic in 1938. But demand for lots remained low through the Second World War and didn’t pick up until 1950 when the Park Royal shopping centre was opened.

While designed to meet the demands of downsizers, the homes have large dimensions, ranging from more than 3,000 to 3,800 square feet on three levels. All have elevators that can take homeowners of uphill models up to the top of three levels or downhill models where a reverse model puts bedrooms on the lowest level.

BPP President Geoff Croll says 40 per cent of the homes have been sold, mainly to Metro Vancouver residents rather than offshore buyers. “We are an average of $875 a square foot. If you are downtown, for a similar type of product it would be well over $1,000 a square foot and even higher if you are over on the west side or Point Grey for this level of finishes and construction quality.”

Buyers have been attracted by a number of West Vancouver features, he said, including good schools either at Collingwood or Mulgrave private schools or the West Vancouver public school system, which earns high marks in the Fraser Institute’s annual schools survey; personal security evident in higher police officer-citizen ratios relative to other parts of the Lower Mainland and even “the fresh air and being just 15 minutes from downtown.”

The show home’s entry and reception level has an oversized two-car garage and a Japanese-inspired water feature at the front door that opens to a foyer with heated stone tile. To one side of the entrance is a large den, while straight ahead a millwork archway marks the entrance to the galleria. A bathroom and laundry room are off one side of the galleria.

Homeowners can either walk up the glass and stainless-steel staircase with dark wood treads or take the designer-wood-walled elevator, which fulfils the goal of “aging in place,” Croll said.

The middle level features open-concept living with the kitchen against the back wall with an offset layout leading to a family room, a dining room and then a living room with a contemporary linear gas fireplace framed in marble and exotic wood finishings. All areas look out to the spectacular view and a large sliding glass door opening onto a 325-square-foot terrace. The level also has a powder room.

The kitchen is fitted in oak wood cabinetry, custom stained to match the hardwood floor. Homes come with a Sub Zero 36-inch integrated fridge and freezer with internal water and ice dispensers and a custom panel to match the hardwood cabinetry. Contrasting with the wood are glossy upper cabinets with a granite backsplash.

A 36-inch five-burner stainless steel cooktop is embedded in a long polished granite island, with room for four stools. Overhead is a 42-inch Wolf chimney-style hood fan, while on the back wall are a Wolf 30-inch wall oven and large Wolf microwave. A Miele dishwasher with a fully integrated custom panel rounds out the appliances. The level comes with a pass-through pantry that can be converted into a hardwood-panelled wine station with ample storage, including an under-counter refrigerator for white and sparkling wines.

On the top level are an expansive master bedroom and a “retreat” sitting area, walk-in closet and balcony. Lighting controls for the entire home are contained in iPads, which are fitted into wall niches for easy access both at home and from outside by the Internet. Two other bedrooms share a second bathroom. One bedroom has a walk-in closet and a smaller-sized terrace, while the second smaller bedroom has a large window view without a terrace.

The master ensuite is designed with an exotic wood veneer vanity topped with a granite countertop, in-floor heating, an obscured glass toilet room enclosure, and a low-profile drain system leading to a frameless shower area, convenient for those in a wheelchair. The entire area is fitted in stone wall and floor tile.

Buyer Joan Porter, who lives near the University of B.C., says she and her husband “wanted a change in lifestyle.”

“I like to hike, so it’s nice and close to the mountains rather than having to drive over the bridge all the time. It’s getting really busy over here, so we thought it would be a nice option.”

They had checked out downtown Vancouver, Ambleside and Dundarave, but found all too busy and dense and then found Aston Hill online.

“I loved the view and it’s quiet and really close to the trails.”

She also liked plans by British Pacific Properties to develop a commercial area for residents living above the Upper Levels Highway.

Project: Aston Hill

Project Location: 2726 Highview Place, West Vancouver

Project size/scope: 20 2-bedroom-and-den/3-bedroom-and-den hillside homes arranged in 10 duplex strata concrete buildings. Extensive views of downtown Vancouver, the harbour and the city’s west side

Residence size: 3,065 — 3,820 sq. ft.

Price: $3.1 million — $3.5 million

Developer: British Pacific Properties

Architect: Burrowes Huggins Architects

Interior Design: Insight Design

Sales Centre: 2726 Highview Place, West Vancouver

Centre Hours: noon — 4 p.m., Sat — Thurs, or by appointment

Contact: Shirley Clarke, 604-925-8002

Cypress Mountain village open house ends today in West Vancouver

Today is the last day for people to review an proposal for a new mountainside village in West Vancouver below the Cypress Mountain ski resort.

A series of community open houses about the proposed Cypress Village, a new dense neighbourhood with restaurants and shops, has its final session on Friday from 4 p.m. PT to 8 p.m. at the West Vancouver Community Centre.

The idea is to concentrate density along Cypress Bowl Road in the area known as the Upper Lands, while preserving much of the mountainside, said the District of West Vancouver’s senior community planner David Hawkins.

“One of the ways to preserve that mountainside is to concentrate future development into a village.”

The exact location has yet to be determined, but Hawkins estimates about 121 hectares of land on Hollyburn Mountain will be developed.

He said a working citizens’ group that had put together a study of the Upper Lands has suggested that any development should not go above 365 metres elevation. The group also wants to prevent housing sprawl.

Hawkins says Cypress Village would be similar to Whistler Village’s look and feel, but it won’t be centred around tourism and recreation.

“We know West Vancouver’s mountainside is a destination, and the idea is the village might be a gateway to that, but it’s not only that,” he said. “The intent is for it to become a complete community.”

New Vancouver model home in small development has an interior that vies for attention with its views

Highlighting sweeping southerly views that take in Mount Baker in Washington State, downtown Vancouver’s skyline, and across the University of British Columbia’s peninsula to Vancouver Island beyond, the new development of Aston Hill has a view to a thrill in abundance.

Designed by British Pacific Properties, the 20-unit development — scheduled for completion in May – offers semi-detached properties with a three-bedroom floor plan, and a location in West Vancouver’s Whitby Estates neighbourhood. This has easy access to skiing and snowboarding (it’s at the base of Cypress Mountain), a future shopping village, and the esteemed Mulgrave and Collingwood private schools.

This particular home has a layout spanning three levels and boasts an elevator to each floor. The main level features engineered hardwood flooring set on cork underlay, and nine-foot ceiling heights allow for the large windows that maximize the amount of natural light in the home, and showcase those far-reaching scenes.

In prime position, the kitchen overlooks the adjoining family room where sliding glass doors open onto an entertainment-sized terrace. Horizontal grain rift-cut white oak cabinets with back-painted glass doors provide an elegant combination, alongside high-end integrated Sub-Zero, Wolf and Miele appliances. An adjoining pantry acts as wine storage with dedicated shelving for bottle racks as well as a built-in wine cooler.

The open-concept formal living/dining area is designed to take advantage of the views; its interior focal point is the linear floating gas fireplace.

Two of the three bedrooms are located on the top floor – each has an ensuite and a private terrace. The sumptuous master suite boasts a walk-in closet, a seating area and a lavish bathroom complete with a soaker tub and an oversize curbless shower, with Kohler, Blanco and Toto fixtures, and a double vanity.

Sheerweave roller shade window treatments throughout the home ensure the ambient temperature stays just right. Although with those views, why would you ever want to close them?

2763 Highview Place
West Vancouver, B.C.

Asking price: $3,418,000
Monthly fee: $707.09

Taxes: TBD
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 4

MLS # V1103464
Listing Broker: Royal LePage Sussex (Shirley Clarke)

West Vancouver mountainside village plan hailed as ‘wonderful’ opportunity

A new report is calling on the District of West Vancouver to plan a new dense neighbourhood along the bottom of Cypress Bowl Road. The idea is to concentrate development of the so-called Upper Lands in that area, while reserving much of the rest for a large new park.

The Upper Lands, above the Upper Levels Highway and between the British Properties and Cypress Provincial Park, is almost 2,500 hectares of public and private property representing just over one-quarter of West Vancouver’s total land area.

The issue for the district is balancing the needs of a sensitive ecosystem, while leaving room for recreational opportunities and future neighbourhoods.

A citizen’s group that was charged with updating a decade-old district study of the Upper Lands is calling on council to preserve as much parkland as possible by concentrating new development in a small area. The citizens’ working group was asked to re-examine the plan because new environmental information had become available and because the district now has a master plan for parks.

“Working groups can step outside of the day-to-day operations of the municipality and look at the big picture from a citizen’s perspective,” explained David Hawkins, a district senior planner who served as a staff liaison to the group.

The group’s chief suggestions for the Upper Lands include not allowing development above 1,200 feet (365 metres) elevation or west of Eagle Creek, and shifting density to the future Cypress Village, thereby preventing housing sprawl.

That leaves the potential for a 1,250-hectare park in the area above 1,200 feet — the most ecologically sensitive area.

British Pacific Properties owns most of the property below 1,200 feet, but also has some significant holdings higher up. It’s being recommended that the district purchase private lands above 1,200 feet that abut district property.

The concept of a mixed-use mountainside village at the base of Cypress excites Ashley Willard Bauman, who co-chaired the citizens’ group.

“I think Cypress Village has the opportunity to create something we are not seeing in the world right now — a wonderful mixed-use urban village that becomes like a gateway to a mountainside that is 20 minutes from a downtown centre,” said Bauman.

The idea would be to build trails to connect nearby Rodgers Creek to the new Cypress Village.

]”It’s only logical that you connect them up,” said Coun. Michael Lewis. “This idea of trading density on the far west of the community for more density around the proposed potential Cypress Village area — that makes a lot of sense.”

Planning for Cypress Village could begin later this year, with a final report going to council in June.

Community keeps West Van building

British Pacific Properties’ nine-year president Geoff Croll, 51, had the $12 open-face salmon-shrimp-turkey sandwich and an $8.50 Guinness stout at Red Lion Bar & Grill this week. Welsh-born prospector Grenville (Gren) Thomas built that Dundarave fixture after discovering the Northwest Territories’ 10-million-carat-a-year Diavik diamond property. UBC-grad civil engineer Croll’s employer hit pay dirt closer to home.

It was during the Depression in 1931 when Guinness family interests prevented West Vancouver’s bankruptcy by paying $75,000 for some 1,620 hectares of land. Individual lots are now worth 70 times that. Still, slow initial sales boomed only after the Park Royal shopping centre opened in 1950. Not that BPP sells bare lots today on its property’s undeveloped half. Introduced in 2000, construction agreements became mandatory in 2010 for the Highgrove project’s 11 single-family homes and 18 townhouses. Post-recession prices ran to $2.5 million.

By 2012, they’d more than doubled for the Highview project’s 16 single-family homes. Those smack on West Van’s 365-metre elevation contour, the present limit for residences, now resell for up to $10 million. Slightly downhill and averaging 3,700 square feet, five of 20 multi-family homes have sold in the contiguous Aston Hill development.

Such buyers “like to see the product,” Croll said regarding May’s construction completion.

They may also wish to see the stores, restaurants and professional premises for which British Properties dwellers descend to Marine Drive. Croll envisages them for Cypress Village further west in the Rogers Creek Planning Area. Still three years away, the project may include two hectares of rare level land that BPP traded away in a density-transfer agreement. Called McGavin Field, it was to be a now-uneconomic rugby-football facility.

Croll, a former Hillside Secondary and Rowing Club flanker, admires its Georgia Strait-to-Burrard Inlet panoramic view. Figuring to live there himself, he said: “I have the perfect opportunity to create my ideal neighbourhood.”

For now, there’s Mulgrave Park to develop with 15 houses running to $6 million apiece, eight semi-detached homes, and 53 single-floor apartments. Other than three 1960s rental towers beside Park Royal North, “It’s our first venture into the apartment market,” Croll said of the units, which will range from 1,000 to 4,000 square feet. Some 200 more are planned for a 250-unit project in Planning Area 6, with servicing to begin in 2016.

“Rogers Creek was successful because it was a community plan,” Croll said. “Not one person spoke against 700 new housing units in West Vancouver. That’s when you know you’ve done your job.”

Taking the cake: Thomas Fung, whose Fairchild Group owns six TV and six radio stations across Canada, welcomed Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Chinese New Year celebrations in Aberdeen Centre. Instructively for politicians, owner Fung demolished his original mall and, for $135 million, tripled it to 380,000 square feet to compete with nearby Richmond Centre.

Harper sidestepped the Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle restaurant’s private dining room that the Hong Kong-born Fung says “is like my office.” Now owning international rights for the chain that Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou opened, Fung may soon acquire the original outlets.

West Vancouver, UBC-campus and L.A. Chef Hung outlets followed Aberdeen Centre’s. Others in Surrey and California are due. There are four in Shanghai and two in Beijing with two more imminent. Fung expects to have 60 in Canada, the U.S. and Australia by 2010. He said Air Canada has agreed to put Chef Hung dishes on international and domestic flights. The carrier also sponsors Fairchild’s Miss Chinese Vancouver Pageant, the 20th version of which will benefit Vancouver General Hospital on July 19 and air to millions in China and elsewhere. A related December event will benefit B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre.

Guinness Family quietly pushes ahead with West Van development plans

Not too many people are paying attention to what’s happening in West Vancouver. That’s because most of the change is happening in remote parts of the district, only visible if you’re a local driving through.

Geoff Croll, president of British Pacific Properties, has even tried to lure real estate agents over by picking them up in a limousine for a recent open house.

British Pacific Properties (BPP) has flown largely under the radar in its 84-year history as the development company in charge of developing 4,000 acres of property owned by Britain’s Guinness family. Until recently, the developer has been moving slowly.

“We have been kind of invisible, which is okay when you’re only selling 10 units a year,” Mr. Croll says.

The BPP of old was all about single-family housing. The BPP of the future is about townhouses, duplexes and condos as well. Mr. Croll wants to build apartments that are 1,000 square feet and priced at less than $1-million, featuring spectacular views.

“It’s a product we haven’t offered before,” he says.

Mr. Croll is standing inside the show home for their Aston Hill subdivision, which is part of West Vancouver’s Rodgers Creek area. Of the 20 duplexes built, they’ve sold six. They aren’t what immediately spring to mind when you think of “multi-family.” These duplexes are 3,700 square feet in size and priced at $3.2-million. At $875 a square foot, Mr. Croll reasons that it’s better value than what you get in Point Grey, which is well over $1,000 a square foot. To an international market, such as the buyer from mainland China, that’s especially good value.

The duplex is aimed at the wealthy downsizer who used to live in 6,000 square feet. But it’s still a riskier venture than the traditional single-family house. Not everyone wants to share a wall with a neighbour, even if it feels more like a big house than a duplex.

But another challenge is that the windy hillside roads make it tougher to entice real estate agents and buyers.

“It’s hard to find. It’s been challenging,” Mr. Croll says. “They are used to a grid system for roads. This doesn’t show up on a car navigation system and some GPSs. It takes forever to get onto Google Maps. So people just give up.”

Anyone old enough to remember the historic Hollyburn chair lift will know where we’re standing. The chair lift is long gone, replaced by luxury houses with some of the best ocean views on the planet.

There is a lot of parkland, too. Although BPP owns the land, land use is determined through a collective process, helped along by a working group of volunteer citizens. In talks with residents, they found that trees mattered.

“The main focus of Rodgers Creek was to cluster development areas where it makes sense, and save the rest of it as green space,” Mr. Croll says. Roughly 55 per cent of the area is protected green space.

Over the decades, BPP has sold off or developed about half their land holdings. They’ve got about 1,000 acres of developable land. The other 1,000 acres or so is above the 1,200-foot elevation line, where development has long been out of bounds. But 1,000 acres is a lot of land to develop – the size of Stanley Park.

In 1931, the Guinness family purchased the land for $75,000 and then invested $1-million in infrastructure. The Olmsted Brothers designed the first British Properties subdivision. They were the firm that designed New York’s Central Park. And of course, the company also helped finance the Lion’s Gate Bridge and built the Park Royal Shopping Centre in 1950, to help grow the area.

Throughout the decades, BPP mostly sold off serviced lots of land to developers for various subdivisions. They rode the market highs and lows, including the ultra low recession of the 1980s.

The company is still family run, with four Guinness family members on a board of eight.

“We are a very small part of their overall business interests, but they’ve always shown interest and still care about it.”

With Rodgers Creek, the company returned to its roots in house construction. It’s a slow process. It took two and a half years to receive approval to develop Rodgers Creek. It takes six months for a building permit and 18 months to build a house.

“There is a lot happening in West Van right now,” Mr. Croll says. “And the number of building permits has skyrocketed. People are buying properties with bungalows on big huge lots, and they’re knocking them down and building new houses. I think the municipality is a bit overwhelmed with activity, and we get caught in the crossfire.

“They know we’re not going anywhere. We don’t own land anywhere else. Our business is completely in West Van.”

He’s got a vision for this environmentally important remaining chunk of land. A mountain trail is under construction to connect Rodgers Creek to the future Cypress Village, which is the key component in making these neighbourhoods walkable, and sustainable.

A council-appointed citizens group has drafted a paper that recommends concentrating density into the future village and increasing preserved park area, as opposed to creating residential sprawl. It would include rental and seniors housing.

“You need to concentrate development if you want to make those things happen,” says senior community planner David Hawkins. “One of the key ideas of Rodgers Creek is that it would be a community that would be served by a nearby village. It’s been on the radar for a while now.

“You’ve got a large landowner there, but the municipality also has land holdings, and ultimately it’s within our community.”

Rodgers Creek has already gone through the community planning process. Now there are a series of upcoming meetings about the future of the Upper Lands, a 6,700-acre parcel of undeveloped land north of the Upper Level Highway. It includes the plans for Cypress Village. The public is invited to give their feedback at meetings on April 11, 14 and 16. Details are on the district website.

“Cypress Village has the potential to deliver something that doesn’t exist in the Lower Mainland,” says Ashley Willard Bauman, co-chair of the Upper Lands working group, which prepared the report. “It’s a whole new way to live and experience the mountainside, one of the most exciting propositions. And it’s starting at the very preliminary stages.”

Mr. Croll is keen on the village creating vibrancy, but also acting as a destination, with good restaurants and pubs for mountain bikers. His renderings show a Whistler-style retail complex with a public square, surrounded by trees and a killer ocean view. But it’s too early to know how big the village will be, or its precise location.

“We would like to have it planned and zoned within three years,” he says. “And then put in a coffee shop within five years from now. That’s my goal, to be able to sit and look out over the ocean, and have a coffee there.”