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Redevelopment projects can be made more environmentally friendly by reducing their environmental impact
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Redevelopment projects can be made more environmentally friendly by reducing their environmental impact

Cutting the environmental cost of redevelopment

Glyn Lewis is saving a home in Vancouver that she wants to move before it’s demolished.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver needs more housing and more density. There has been much debate about this topic. However, the implications for the environment have been overlooked by those in the industry who are concerned about sustainability of massive redevelopment.

It is important because buildings and their construction account for almost one-third global energy consumption, according the International Energy Agency.

Glyn said that Metro Vancouver is experiencing an unprecedented increase in residential home demolitions. He also stated that the process of increasing urban density is being characterized as a wasteful and inefficient. Renewal Home Development is the 38-year old entrepreneur who aims to save homes, repurpose and retrofit existing houses to make them more efficient and give them a modern facelift.

Mr. Lewis said he was all for density. He doesn’t like wastefulness in getting there.

2,800 single-family homes in Metro Vancouver will be disposed of in the local landfills this year. Mr. Lewis states that the homes will have 250,000 or more old and new-growth trees that will be destroyed in the next 12 monthly. This wastefulness will only grow with all the pressures to increase urban density.

We are currently going through a grand demolition in Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria, and that’s because all levels are promoting urban density, because we are trying address the housing shortage crisis, to build complete communities and to invest in mass transport, he said.

I support urban densification as its ultimate goal. It is absurd to have single-family homes just blocks from a SkyTrain station. The process to achieve this densification is so wasteful. All levels of government must have a dialogue about how to divert homes away from landfills.

Mr. Lewis believes that the first step towards a solution should be to relocate existing homes, and the second to encourage deconstruction. Unbuilders, a young company that deconstructs homes in Metro Vancouver, ensures that very little goes to the landfill. The company also sells reclaimed lumber, most of which is old growth timber.

Glyn Lewis in Vancouver.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Michael Geller, planner and adjunct professor, is a former architect, real-estate consultant, and developer. He said that demolitions of fine homes are the result of rezonings which increase land values. He has Cambie clients who have benefited from rezonings. He says that instead of tearing down everything, there is an alternative: to encourage infill around existing homes.

Mr. Geller says that in the past, the most sustainable building was the one that is already there. They are now tearing down these relatively new houses, which could be as old as five years. They are being demolished because of the high land values. It seems like a waste.

The Cambie corridor houses will continue to fall. Mr. Lewis and others require assistance from municipalities in order to transport them.

Mr. Lewis’ current project is to move three large homes out of the Cambie Corridor to properties on a waterfront. He said he is currently working with an investor partner to purchase the properties in the Lower Mainland. He also has a partnership with Nickel Bros. who will transport the homes.

He repurposed and updated an old home he had moved to Gibsons last year. The only way to reach Gibsons by ferry was via the coast. The home was sold last fall for approximately $1.2 million.

Mr. Lewis’ ultimate goal in life is to masterplan a community made up of salvaged houses along the Sunshine Coast or Powell River. However, moving houses can be costly. There are fees for moving trolley lines and power lines in urban areas. It is cheaper to move all three houses at once for Cambie’s Cambie project. Because the houses are so large, they will need to be split in half to be moved. The multimillion-dollar houses are located on large lots at 650 West 29th Ave., 690 West 29th Ave., and 5235 Kersland Dr. They are part of the mass-rezoning of Cambie that allows for townhouses.

Nickel Bros.’ Jeremy Nickel says he and Mr. Lewis hope that the government and other agencies involved will facilitate such moves, like other jurisdictions in North America. They would like to see designated corridors for move-out that would make it easier to get barges in. Trees and branches would not be cut and trolley lines would not be clipped at intersections. This would create an express lane for houses that aren’t wanted.

A multi-family development is being built next to a Vancouver home.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Nickel cites Seattle as an example. He was able to move a historic house through a maze of trolley lines at one city’s busiest intersections, so that it could be barged to Shaw Island.

Nickel Bros. moves between 200-400 buildings per year. However, another 8,000 buildings, of all types, were demolished last Year in Metro Vancouver, according to Mr. Nickel.

We are the demo capital in the world, according to Mr. Nickel, a long-time conservationist.

We can only save 5- to 8% of the buildings from being destroyed. Even if we can save 5 percent, there is still a large percentage of homes that must be deconstructed.

I hope some of these young people will be successful. [like Glyn]Mr. Nickel stated that he could take the torch and continue the fight he has fought for the past 30-40 years.

Jamie Vaughan, a developer, is Mr. Lewis’ partner in two of the houses. In the Cambie Corridor Mr. Vaughan currently has three projects, totaling 116 townhouses. While biking along West 29th Avenue, Mr. Vaughan saw the row of houses for sale. He knew that the area was pre-zoned for density of townhouses and he bought all six houses. According to Redfin brokerage records, the house at 560 West 29th Ave. had been built 10 years ago. It sold for $6 million in 2017. The house at 590 West 29th Ave. was built in 1990s, but has undergone renovations. These large houses will be demolished this summer. Director of Sightline Properties Mr. Vaughan would like to save two of these houses and is working with Mr. Lewis. The developer had previously attempted to save another King Edward Avenue house and move it to Vancouver Island. However, the process failed.

It is hard to see the nicer houses go down. But, at the same, the city needs townhomes to fill the gap and desire there. So we have chosen this path.

A six-storey rental project is also underway at Dunbar and West 41st Avenue, according to Mr. Vaughan. He stated that it is important to move trolleys and utility lines in a way that works for everyone. It’s also difficult.

It’s not possible for many reasons. A large part of that is because it is difficult to get people to sign up. Timing is everything when you are a developer. If I want to move a house by 29th, but it takes me another month or six weeks, it becomes very difficult because I have deadlines and obligations towards the bank. Developers can be charged a lot for those six weeks.

He says that as the city grows, many houses will continue to be sent to the landfill.

I believe everyone should join the bandwagon and make it happen. . . What is the point in putting a beautiful house in the garbage?

Coast Mountain Bus Company and TransLink responded in writing to the question. They said that they support a designated corridor if infrastructure is able to manage repetitive moves along a proposed route.

They also stated that even if a route was designated, there would still be associated costs for each move.

The City of Vancouver didn’t respond to our request for comments regarding the idea of a designated moving-out route. However, a spokesperson indicated that they are open to discussing options.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

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