February 25, 2013

Heritage home centrepiece of housing development

Family-friendly Jeffs Residences have seven renovated apartments in original 1908 home, plus 13 townhouses

Jeffs Residences

Project location: 1298 Salsbury Dr., Vancouver
Project Size: Seven heritage home apartments, 13 townhouses
Residence size: Two-bedroom apartments 738-930 sq. ft; three-bedroom townhomes 1,165-1,351 sq. ft.
Prices: Two-bedroom apartment from $399,900; three-bedroom townhouses from $629,900.
Sales centre: 1829 Charles St., Vancouver
Hours: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday to Thursday
Telephone: 604-558-1907
Web: www.jeffsresidences.ca
Developer: Jeffs Residences Ltd. Partnership
Architect: Ankenman Marchand Architects
Interior Designer: Different Designs Group
Sales began: Feb. 9
Occupancy: April 2013

Special to The Sun

The concept of ownership expresses itself in many ways in neighbourhoods. It can be a plot of vegetables and flowers lovingly tended by people who don’t own the dirt beneath the plants, or volunteers who pick up litter in their strolls around the neighbourhood.

In the case of Grandview-Woodland, many people feel a sense of ownership toward the Jeffs Residence — even though their names are not on the deed. It’s easy to see why. The landmark home dominates historical and current photos of the corner of Charles and Salsbury streets. It has stood for more than a century, a huge presence with a distinctive octagonal turret soaring two and a half storeys high.

Dr. Thomas Williams Jeffs moved into the new home with his family in 1908. The physician was a prominent citizen in turn-of-the-century Vancouver, serving as a city alderman, police commissioner and city coroner. He died in 1923, and his widow Mary converted the house into apartments. She lived there for another two years before moving away. The property certainly piqued the interest of developer James Evans. He had lived in the neighbourhood for nearly a decade, wondering what the story of the house was. In a chance encounter with the then-owner, the man detailed that the manor was aging and difficult to maintain. Evans began exploring the idea of redeveloping the home and surrounding land.

That’s where he ran smack dab into how people in the wider community felt about the Jeffs house. “The property, as it was, included 17 units of low-income housing,” he explains. “People were understandably concerned about what would happen to the tenants, and what might be put up in its place. Issues like the state of rental stock in the city of Vancouver, a community garden created by the tenants, their efforts to create a housing co-op, they all came into play.”

The competing interests led to heated public meetings, and, Evans acknowledges, some feelings of ill will. “Ultimately, it came down to this: the old house was falling down. Was it worth developing or keeping? I thought so, and I believe people have gradually come around to my way of thinking.” Evans took on the task of navigating rules around developing a registered heritage home, and brought on business partners: Olga Ilich would fine-tune details and handle marketing, while Mohan Sandhu would deal with construction.

They came up with the concept of putting seven apartments into the heritage home, and building 13 new townhouses. It took a lot of work. Additions had been tacked on to the heritage house over the years, stucco had been slapped over the original siding, wooden windows were taken out in favour of aluminum ones, and a wonderful veranda with gently rounded columns had been closed in.

Crews pulled handmade nails out of old-growth wood beams, some rotted wood was taken out, and additional supports were deftly manoeuvred into place to meet current seismic requirements. The original house was also jacked up and moved across the site to create better placement for the townhomes. The partners also had to be mindful of conforming to heritage requirements; Evans estimated that, and the public consultation process, added approximately six months to the development.

On a tour through the construction site, Evans and Ilich engaged in easy banter. She pointed out all of the spots in the new townhomes where she insisted on adding storage space, while he noted down areas where a dab of paint was needed or a door needed to be straightened. Evans worked for Ilich at both Suncor Developments and Progressive Construction. She was elected as the Liberal MLA for Richmond Centre in 2005, and served in cabinet as minister of Labour and Citizen Services, as well as minister of tourism. The Jeffs Residences is her first real estate project after leaving politics in 2009.

Ilich was appointed co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability in December 2011, and is quick to point out all of the approvals related to this development were in place before her appointment “so there’s no conflict of interest.” However, she says the issue of affordability has been top of mind for some time now, particularly as she sees her two grown sons try to figure out where they can live within the Lower Mainland. It’s part of the reason why the Jeffs Residences have been designed to be very family friendly.

In the main floor kitchen of the show suite, a wall of millwork surrounds the refrigerator, serving as a pantry. A door leads to a small deck, where children can play under the watchful eye of a parent busy preparing a meal. A powder room on the same floor is convenient for anyone hanging out in the living room. The second floor has two bedrooms separated across the length of the townhouse, with ample storage and a washer-dryer tucked away behind a closet door. There’s a rough in ready to go for a built in vacuum.

The upper floor is reserved for the master bedroom suite, with a lofty vaulted ceiling. A walk-in closet has yet more storage, while an ensuite bathroom with an oversized glassed in shower feels spa-like. The apartments in the heritage home have been carefully designed to fit around the existing bones of the house, with each having its own points of attraction. One lays claim to the restored veranda, while another gets the octagonal turret and a roof deck. The vista outside demonstrates why the neighbourhood was named grand view — the streets and houses roll out underneath your gaze for kilometres in almost all directions.

The location is a short distance to downtown Vancouver, transit, parks, restaurants, an elementary school, and the Britannia Community Centre. It has a rare 100 walk score. in which neighbourhoods are rated for their walkability. A grand opening sales event held at the end of January was truly elbow to elbow, with hardly room to turn around. It’s a welcome sight for Evans and Ilich, after all of the work to get the project to that point. They say it feels good to help keep a piece of Vancouver heritage alive, and to give families a chance at owning in the neighbourhood at the same time.

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