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Property values along Canada Line may spike, report says

Kerry Gold, Special to The Globe and Mail, August 29, 2008

VANCOUVER -- Big parts of Vancouver are grousing about the Canada Line, and much of the Lower Mainland is fretting about real estate prices - except for those with property along the Canada Line.

Construction of the new light-transit line could give a big boost to the value of real estate along its flanks, says a report by Landcor Data Corp., which tracks residential developments in B.C.

The company looked at what has happened to real estate values along the Expo Line built for Expo 86. It found that vacant land prices around Expo Line stations rose 628 per cent in the decade that followed Expo 86, compared with housing prices overall, which rose 352 per cent.

With the exception of a few stations such as Broadway, the Expo Line has mostly boosted residential construction, says the report, which compares construction growth in the decade before Expo to the decade after Expo, when the line was in place.

The key is density, said Landcor president Rudy Nielsen, whose real estate data company compiled the report over a two-month period. He concluded that city planning should locate SkyTrain stations near vacant commercial properties that can be rezoned for condo development.

With gas prices soaring and Vancouver's limited vacant land, condo development around SkyTrain lines is key to shaping the Lower Mainland, Mr. Nielsen said.

If the past is any indicator, it's hopeful news for the Canada Line corridor being built through downtown and out to central Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport - at least for investors of residential towers to be constructed near the stations.

"The winners circle will include new construction and price increases along the transit corridor," the report concludes.

Mr. Nielsen pointed to the new Richmond stations that have rezoned land for residential towers.

"That's what you call successful planning," he said. "The key thing we found from this thing is that if market conditions are favourable and you have supportive land-use planning and decisions made by council and planners, then you see successful stations."

"If you don't have proper planning and market conditions, then you see problems."

Construction is also under way for Cross Roads retail-condominium development adjacent to the Canada Line station at Cambie and Broadway.

But Susan Heyes, who owns a clothing store at Cambie and 16th, doesn't see the benefit of a new SkyTrain station.

Construction of the Canada Line along the Cambie corridor has so far been the ruin of more than 100 businesses, according to Ms. Heyes, who is also a Cambie Village Business Association board member.

"I don't think anything can make up for the hell we've been through," Ms. Heyes said. "I lost $700,000 in revenue. ... My customer count has dropped by about 60 per cent. ... I have mortgaged my house twice.

"I would have to work for the next 10 years to get back to where I was three years ago, before this started."

Ms. Heyes's leased store space is in a one-level building, and she fears that future redevelopment will only wipe out properties such as hers because of increases in property values.

"A lot of those low-level rise buildings will be demolished. Property values have increased so much that they are not sustained by a low-level retail business with a retail shop in it.

"The people who are going to benefit are investors in real estate along Cambie Street and the real estate arm of TransLink and their private partners."

Mr. Nielsen's report looked at properties built within a 500-metre radius of SkyTrain stations. It did not include downtown stations Waterfront, Burrard, Granville or Stadium, because factors other than SkyTrain would drive real estate development in that area.

It discovered that market conditions also play a role, and they were optimal for new construction when the Expo Line finished construction.

The biggest success stories were in the suburbs, particularly in New Westminster and Burnaby. Residential growth around Burnaby's Edmonds, Metrotown and Patterson stations accounted for 25.2 per cent of total Burnaby building activity during 1986 to 1996. Edmonds and Royal Oak stations continued to dominate building activity through to 2007.

In New Westminster, Columbia and New Westminster stations accounted for one-third of the city's total new residential construction for the same period.

Areas with single-family dwellings do not benefit from SkyTrain. The land doesn't allow for density, and if too close, the SkyTrain would have a negative impact on property value, Mr. Nielsen said.

"As long as you can't hear or see that train, then you're fine."

And the Broadway station area actually suffered a decline in activity after the line was built.

"It could be due to crime," Mr. Nielsen said. "I think it's crime, and not the right planning in place."