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Aggressive Passive tower will test new condo price ceiling

Built on dirt valued at $3,900 per square foot with a construction costs up to 20 per cent above market, new 60-storey Curv condos could be Vancouver’s most expensive
Nelson Street brivia Curve (1)
Curv, world’s tallest Passive House tower, will begin construction this year in Vancouver’s West End if condo pre-sales warrant it. | Brivla Group

Vancouver’s 60-storey Curv development is planned as the world’s tallest Passive House tower, but it may also challenge the upper price limits of the city’s condominium market.

The Curv is to be built on a 0.37-acre infill site at 1059-1075 Nelson St that is the highest point of land downtown. It also represents perhaps the wildest real estate flip in Vancouver’s history.

Back in March 2016, the site, which still contains two 70-year-old walk-up apartment buildings, was bought for $16 million. It was flipped weeks later for $60 million and then resold within a month for $68 million to China-linked Hensen Developments Ltd. in a share-sale.

That pencils to nearly $4,000 per square foot just for the raw land costs.

Since the site was transferred as a share sale, which avoided the provincial property purchase tax, BC Assessments still values the land at $16.3 million.

In June 2020, Hensen achieved rezoning approval from the City of Vancouver for a 585-foot-high energy-efficient tower with a total of 501 housing units, including 350 condos, 102 social housing units and 49 market rentals.

The total floor area is 427,000 square feet, giving the project a floor space ratio density of 24.7 times the size of the 17,300 square-foot lot.

In April 2021, Hensen sold the land and the approvals to Montreal-based Brivia Group, which this week announced they are planning to build the Curv tower.

Brivia won’t release the price they paid but suggested it is higher than what Hensen bought the land for six years ago.

The Curv homes will be expensive.

Vancouver has Canada’s highest hard construction costs with even wood-frame, low-rise condos costing more than $500 per square foot to build, according to local residential developers.

But building to the near-zero emission Passive House requirements pushes cost to a whole new level. Passive House is the highest standard for energy efficiency in buildings worldwide, and the Curv would be the tallest Passive tower ever built. Passive buildings require improved insulation, sound transmission materials and advanced HVAC equipment, and consume up to 90 per cent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings.

Vincent Kou, chief investment and development officer with Brivia Group, told Western Investor he expects Curv construction costs will be 16 per cent to 20 per cent higher than conventional Vancouver luxury condo tower construction, which Altus Group pegs at $605 per square foot in 2022.  

Add in the land costs, and the final Curv prices could be double that of the highest new condo prices being seen now in Vancouver.

Kou said marketing of the Curv condos will begin this fall. Construction won’t start, he said, until pre-sales of the new units prove there is demand for the tallest and perhaps priciest Passive House tower in the world.