May 29, 2013

Kitchen designs spark envy among developers

Victoria highrise at Beacon Hill Park opts for high-end finishes to draw in buyers

200 Douglas on the Park

Location: Beacon Hill Park, Victoria
Project size/ scope: A 38-suite, six-storey residential highrise of reinforced concrete construction; 34 condominiums ranging from one bedroom to two bedrooms + den, plus 4 custom penthouses
Price: Condominiums from the mid $300,000s
Monthly Strata fees: estimated at $0.25/sq. ft per month.
Telephone: 250-883-2715
Address: 200 Douglas St., Victoria
Developers: Dallas Point Developments Ltd. & Homewood Constructors Ltd.
Construction Manager: Homewood Constructors Ltd.
Architect: de Hoog & Kierulf architects
Occupancy: March 31, 2014

Suzanne Morphet
Special to The Sun

You’ve heard of people getting kitchen envy, but how about developers? Turns out they’re not immune to feeling a little jealous when they see another developer’s project that trumps theirs in the kitchen department. At least that’s what happened in Victoria recently, according to John Newton, president and general manager of Homewood Construction and president of Dallas Point Developments.

“I know of at least two other developments that had to upgrade their kitchens … they saw ours and said ‘oh my goodness.’ One of them is a direct competitor, and the other is not really a competitor, but they just felt that with this in the marketplace, they have to upgrade their kitchens as well.” “This” is 200 Douglas on the Park, a new six-storey, 38-suite, luxury condominium project going up near the foot of Douglas Street and directly across from Victoria’s historic Beacon Hill Park.

Show suites at the company’s sales office display two modern kitchens, each with a large island, sleek oak veneer cabinets in a choice of dark or light colours, energy efficient stainless steel appliances, undermount sinks and maintenance-free quartz countertops with matching glass tiles for a backsplash. But what really got potential buyers talking — and other developers paying attention — says Newton, are glass hood fans over glass cooktops, double drawer dishwashers by Fisher Paykel and “cloud” ceilings with pot lights over the islands.

“Even the architects will tell you that our kitchen designs … made an impact on the city,” is how Newton sums it up. The supplier for the kitchen cabinetry is Benson Industries, a local company that, in the last decade or so, has shifted its focus from mass production to creating customized products for the high-end, multi-unit residential market. Benson kitchens can be found in numerous residential projects on the mainland, as well as on Vancouver Island, including Laguna near Stanley Park and Atelier on Robson.

Their cabinets qualify as “green” because they’re made from waste wood chips that have been recycled into composite boards, which are then covered with veneers made from poplar wood. The wood comes from trees grown specifically for that purpose and harvested in 12-year cycles. Had he had his way, Newton would be installing more than 38 kitchens at 200 Douglas. At one time, the developer hoped to build a 10-storey building. “We’re right across the street from the park and if you go to any major city in the world, that’s the appropriate place to build a 10- or 12-storey building,” he explains.

“But dealing with the municipality and the James Bay (Neighbourhood) Association, it just wasn’t in our interest to try and do that.” Newton says the local residents’ group didn’t want the original building on the site torn down because it provided economical rents for people in the mixed-income neighbourhood. However, Newton argues the former three-storey apartment building badly needed to be replaced. “It was an environmental nightmare. It was rapidly deteriorating, the plumbing systems, the boiling systems, everything. We were really just keeping the building alive on a string.”

So instead of fighting the local residents, the developer had the architect design a building that was strictly in accordance with the zoning already in place. The old building came down last fall — something that was originally scheduled to happen back in 2008, but was delayed by the recession. Waiting five years hasn’t changed the final design, Newton says. “We basically bring the outdoors inside (with) floor-to-ceiling windows and very little concrete interferes with people’s views.”

“It comes down to sort of a play of concrete and glass,” says Charles Kierulf, project architect, who describes the design as very clean and simple. Kierulf agrees the prime location would have been ideal for a taller building. “It’s the kind of site that you would want to do a little more on but if you can’t, if it’s too onerous to do so, then you scale back.” In this case, scaling back hasn’t meant cutting corners or reducing overall quality. He says the kitchens speak to that.

“They’re very subtle things but (do you) have a hood fan over your range, or do you have an over-the-range microwave? The microwave fan unit is sort of seen to be lower market and the proper hood fan with the nice glass … is upper market and that’s what they did at Douglas.” The kitchens, combined with a variety of floor plans, large balconies or terraces on each floor, good views and lush landscaping on the ground floor are attracting buyers from as far away as Ontario, Newton says. “On the value of the building, we are just over 50 per cent sold. We’ve sold all the penthouses and they’re sort of working from the top down picking the suites they want.”

Prices range from $359,000 to $1.3 million, not including taxes, while the units range in size from 650 square feet for a one-bedroom, to 955 square feet for a two-bedroom and up to almost 1,900 square feet for a penthouse. Kierulf isn’t surprised the response from buyers has been strong, even though the project is in the early days of construction. “If you look at Douglas, if you look at the history of buildings along that street … my guess is this is probably the first new building along that strip of Douglas since the early ’80s.”

“There’s a segment out there, of people who’ve … waited a long time to find something that’s right on the edge of the park and not in a ’70s apartment building,” he adds. Kierulf thinks some of the buyers are probably the same people who expressed interest in 2008 and would have bought had the building gone ahead then. “For some people, it’s a very desirable spot and an opportunity that doesn’t come along every day,” he says. “They just stuck it out and waited.”

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