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Demolition applications for houses increase across Vancouver

Detached homes in East Vancouver are coming down and many will be subdivided with more affordable housing options such as duplexes or townhouses being built.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

More people are applying to demolish detached homes across Vancouver this year than in the previous two, with the wrecking ball swinging almost as frequently on the increasingly unaffordable east side as in the city's posh western neighbourhoods.

In the past two years, compared with areas further east, dozens more houses have come down on the west side, where the median price for single-family homes in this luxury market reached $2.91-million last month, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

But so far this year, only six fewer demolition permits have been issued east of Ontario Street, the informal dividing line between the two sides. (The Globe excluded Riley Park, a neighbourhood that saw an average of about about 50 demolitions over the last four years, from this binary because it straddles the divide almost evenly.)

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Across Vancouver, this year will bring more demolitions – 1,141 – than any in the past decade if one includes the 384 pending applications, which the city says remained outstanding at the end of September and will likely be approved within the coming weeks.

The parity between east and west in detached home demolitions mirrors the trend on both sides of prices for such homes jumping more than 40 per cent in the past two years and it is indicative of the blurring of the traditional divide, according to Cameron Turtle, president and owner of Octiscapes landscaping and demolition firm.

"The boundary between east and west is Ontario [Street] and it's kind of crept over to Main Street," said Mr. Turtle. "Now there's not enough space on the west side, so it's pushing further east."

Mr. Turtle, who lives in East Vancouver, said his "booming" business has grown 20 per cent each year since 2010, when it began taking down homes in this city, mostly on the west side.

Bhupinder Mann, owner of GR8 Demolition, said his company is so busy that they have to turn some people down and put most on a two-week waiting list. He estimates that his three crews will have taken down 100 homes in Vancouver by the end of this year.

Bryan Yu, a senior economist with the Central 1 Credit Union, said many of these homes on the west side are often being demolished to make way for larger single-family homes, a trend he added is likely to stay. Whereas, further east, detached homes are coming down so lots can be subdivided and more affordable housing options such as duplexes or townhouses can be built, he said.

"The reality is there's just a lack of land in play for the region," Mr. Yu said. "Right now, this [densification on the east side] allows for some properties at a little bit lower price point."

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While about half of all homes in Metro Vancouver are detached, that could drop about 10 per cent over the next couple of decades as only a quarter of housing starts in the region are single-family homes, he said.

"Over time, the detached homes will become a scarce product," Mr. Yu said. "Even right now, if you look at Burnaby and Vancouver city, they are already below 50 per cent, in terms of detached homes."

Don Luxton, a heritage expert, said he is working with the city to determine whether it should slow the pace of destruction by banning the demolition of pre-1940s homes in several neighbourhoods on the west side.

At the end of September, council approved the city's first Heritage Conservation Area, which makes it extremely difficult for an owner to demolish a house in First Shaughnessy, the elegant neighbourhood home to many of Vancouver's largest mansions.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of these homes throughout the west side that could continue being destroyed at this pace "for a while certainly," he said.

A new recycling bylaw brought in last year to deter the demolition of such stock hasn't had any effect on the market, despite adding upwards of $10,000 to the process, he said.

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"It's something that's not a consideration within the cost of these projects when you're paying that kind of money for the land," Mr. Luxton said.

With a report from Kathy Tomlinson

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About the Author
News reporter

Mike Hager is a general assignment reporter at the newspaper’s B.C. bureau. He grew up in Vancouver and graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s Huron College and Langara College. Before joining The Globe and Mail, he spent three years working for The Vancouver Sun. More


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