September 4, 2012

Low-rise project in historic Vancouver neighbourhood

Numerous measures put in place to address any noise concerns among residents of Avant


Project location: 2901 Wall St. Vancouver
Project size/scope: 48 two and three-bedroom townhomes in six buildings on a 52,129 square-foot site, many suites with panoramic views of Vancouver’s harbour and the North Shore mountains.
Prices: 2-bedroom + den (1,193 sq. ft) from $618,900 to $629,900; 2-bedroom (1,422 sq. ft) $818,900; 2-bedroom + recreation room (1,755 sq. ft) $789,900; 3-bedroom + den (1,530 sq. ft) from $742,900 to $745,900.
Contact: Hanh Huynh or Kara Nantais
Telephone: 604-298-2240
Builder and Developer: Aragon Properties Ltd.
Architect: Ramsay Worden Architects, Vancouver
Interior Design: Aragon Properties
Presentation Centre Address: 2965 Wall St. Vancouver
Hours: noon — 5 p.m., Sat — Thurs
Occupancy: Immediate


Sometimes finding a home is as simple as riding a bike. At least that’s how Walter Martz and his spouse ended up buying a unit in a development on East Vancouver’s Wall Street, aptly named Avant. “The encounter was not planned for,” Martz says. “We accidentally ran into the property while on a bike ride one day.” What attracted the couple to Avant, a six-building low-rise development overlooking Vancouver harbour, was the resemblance to their hometown of Hamburg, Germany, also a harbour city. “The [North Shore] mountains are a little extra.”

The couple had considered buying a heritage home, but worried about the expense of upgrading and maintaining an older home. A new two-bedroom suite in Avant was a major attraction, especially with a 2-5-10 year comprehensive New Home warranty that covers everything from appliances to defects in the building. While the decision was a relatively easy for Martz, coming up with a design that satisfied the city’s development board and residents living in the tightly knit neighbourhood was anything but for Doug Ramsay and his Vancouver architecture firm. From start to finish, the process the process took seven years, with Ramsay’s firm being called upon after the first architect’s concept was turned down by the city’s development board.

“So many neighbours came out [to oppose the concept] that it was defeated,” said Ramsay, adding the area’s residents were concerned about their views and the density of the proposed development, a U-shaped two-building mid-rise structure. But necessity is the mother of invention, and Ramsay and his team went to work to come up with a plan that would win over the neighbours. After much consultation, the compromise solution was a lower density development consisting of six separate low-rise buildings that preserved some of the neighbourhood’s view corridors. While the design did win over the neighbours and the development board’s approval, Ramsay’s challenges were not over.

The neighbourhood, one of the city’s oldest, and has a rich heritage of commercial and industrial use alongside single-family homes and one-storey apartments. To the east is a warehouse and grain elevators, to north, the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, and between the residences and the harbour are the CPR’s railway tracks.

The environment appeals to those who like to be in the ebb and flow of things, including the freighters and tugs plying the harbour waters, the movement of trains in and out of the rail yards and the stream of flatbed trucks hauling containers to and from the docks. Extensive acoustical testing was undertaken to determine what level of soundproofing would be required. “That led to a strategy of dealing with the noise through the use of bricks and enclosed balconies and the adoption of geo-thermal heating and cooling,” Ramsay said.

“The use of heat pumps for every unit meant not only economical heating, but also flexibility for residents. With regulations requiring non-opening windows facing the tracks and roads, residents can use the heat pump’s air-conditioning feature in the summer to cool their units,” said Ramsay. In the summer months, the extraction of heat from the units also allowed the geo-thermal system to recharge the earth beneath the development.

Also reducing possible noise is an insulated parking garage that effectively raised the development’s profile on the slope even higher above the road and railway beds. The measures appear to have worked well. During a visit, the train and truck traffic below was barely audible from any of the units, including those closest to the road and railway. Also supporting soundproofing was double-glazing and the use of alcoves off the master bedroom to provide an air buffer from the noise below.

In a bid to integrate Avant into the area of single-family homes, all units have their own entrance, some with front porches. There also is a refreshing absence of gates or walls. Within the development, the long, thin units that are oriented 90 degrees to Wall Street, giving as many Avant residents as possible views of the harbour and mountains. Increasing the view possibilities are the long and angled bay windows. The units are also stacked in such a way to match living and sleeping areas above and below.

The units come in five types, ranging in size from 1,193 to 1,755 square feet and of the 48 put on the market last year, just 11 remain for sale. The lower-level units have back doors and walkout patios that open onto a landscaped courtyard between the buildings.

Many of the units have rooftop patios that provide expansive views of the harbour and North Shore mountains. They are accessed through narrow stairwells leading up to a piston-mounted skylights that easily open like hatches. On the steel-clad roof deck are cosy built-in outdoor fireplaces to take the edge off cool spring and fall evenings. There are also water hose bibs for those wanting to develop a roof top gardens. The patios are separated by glass dividers that allow for view while providing some sound privacy.

Inside, the living, dining and kitchen areas are organized to maximize the views through the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows while creating the greatest sense of space. Units have full-height feature walls of reclaimed brick or white ledge stone. Floors are wire-brushed wide plank engineered oak through the main living area. Units have linear burner gas fireplaces set in porcelain tile. All kitchens have granite slab countertops in a honed or polished finish and Kohler single basin undermount sinks. Cabinets are in flat panel vertical grain with a clear walnut or oak finish. The appliance package is premium quality GE Monogram with a 36-inch built-in Energy Star-rated refrigerator in stainless steel, four-burner gas range with electric oven, a built-in microwave and stainless steel dishwasher with hidden electronic controls.

The main bathrooms have granite slab countertops and frameless glass shower enclosures while powder rooms and ensuite bathrooms have marble slab countertops and tub-shower enclosures. The units have Energy Star-rated large capacity GE washers and gas dryers. One extra perk for Martz is the fitness room. He said he has not used them before but after noting how it is so well equipped and easy to access through the garage, he has added keeping fit to his schedule.

Special to The Sun

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