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At home on the New Westminster waterfront


Vancouver Sun

October 9, 2010


South Dyke Road, New Westminster

When Jim Dorval told friends he was building a float home that would sit on the Fraser River, they were surprised and assumed the retired electrician would settle into a quirky little boathouse.

"When you say 'float home', you can see it in their eyes -- they have this vision of a rusty old steel barge with a one-storey crooked shack on it and a stovepipe sticking out one window," Dorval said in an interview from his current home in Prince George.

"Most people think you have rocks in your head. And it takes a lot to turn that [stereotype] around."

In fact, the home that Jim and his wife Kathy Dorval will move into next spring marks the fulfilment of a dream.

This month the Dorvals will see their new three-bedroom, 1,750-square foot home placed on a water lot in Queensgate Marina. Once it's connected to the sewer, electrical and gas systems, the couple will be able to park their car in a private lot and move into a residence with a permanent view of Delta's Annacis Island parkland.

Their back door will open up to a view of a small foreshore and stone walkway separating residences from additional water where ducks gather. A covered ramp connects the walkway to the residential parking lot.

This new section of New Westminster's Queensborough neighbourhood is the brainchild of John deWaal, the developer of Queensgate Marina and a self-proclaimed hippie. He's selling five water lots that include boat slips, a shared ownership of the foreshore and a 40-year water lease with Ports Canada.

Shelley Whitlock, deWaal's partner of 20 years, lives in the float home that serves as a show home for the project. As a labour of love, DeWaal designed her home with a bedroom loft and open bathroom upstairs, and an open-plan area downstairs that includes the kitchen, living room and dining room. The main floor is also fitted with a second bedroom and bathroom.

Whitlock's front door slides opens to a deck, where she says she can fish or enjoy the views of Annacis Island and the passing boats and more recently, of the "eagles swooping down to scoop up fish" during the record sockeye salmon run.

DeWaal asks for $300,000 for each of the water lots, a purchase that will bring owners into the strata. They can then commission builders to construct a home to suit the lot. The few conditions include the stipulation that they build with "positive flotation" -- guaranteeing the stability and integrity of the building. It also specifies the homes must be equipped with sprinkler systems and take up no more than 45 per cent of the lot.

That 45 per cent may sound small, but homeowners who purchased in Phase 1 of the development have built two-and three-bedroom homes ranging from 1,600 to 1,800 square feet. Strata fees cover the maintenance of the walkway, ramp, and city services that include garbage and recycling pickup.


Location was a magnet for the Dorvals, avid boaters who long wanted to retire to a coastal home. They wrote up a wish list: they needed to live mostly on one level, and with guest amenities on a second floor.


"I wanted something that resembled a regular house but on the water, something with secure tenancy," Dorval said. "I preferred to own something, rather than pay moorage."

Queensgate's strata was attractive, as was the connection to city services.

The view to Delta's green space is as rural as the location is urban. The small community is a five-minute drive from central New Westminster, 20 minutes from Vancouver International Airport, and close to spans connecting to Surrey and Delta. It is also two blocks from schools, a community centre and a large retail centre.

In the end, the Dorvals hired float-home specialist Lynnwood Construction to design a three-bedroom home with vaulted ceilings and a layout that's more conventional than many floathomes.

The comfortable 1,750-square-foot home has front and side decks that will be "just the right size for a hot tub and a couple of fishing-rod holders," says Dorval.

This development was a long time coming for John DeWaal, whose site was zoned in 1995 to allow float-home development that meet federal, provincial and city standards.

Since then, New Westminster has undertaken a review of the Queensborough Official Community Plan, and must approve any new float-home construction.

Meanwhile, the city is focusing more on the river's conservation and safety, and cracking down on unsafe "liveaboards" in the area -- large boats with no sewer and water connections, and which have people living on them, says New Westminster development planner Jim Hurst.

Jim Dorval says he trusts that planners and community activists will be proactive about the health and esthetics around the Fraser.

"The Fraser is a lot like many rivers in North America. It's only going to get much, much better with time."

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

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