Live in Nanaimo, Work in Vancouver. Less Than 30 Minutes From Your Office.

Found this one in Vancouver’s weekly free publication known as "The Straight". I have long thought that living in Nanaimo and commuting to Vancouver would be an option for some professionals, particularly as it’s only a 20 minute commute from downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver by float plane. It’s a pricey way to do your commute but when you factor in that real estate prices in Nanaimo are roughly half what they are in Vancouver and that it’s safer and quiter here to boot, it seems like it might be a reasonable option for some. I had never met anyone who actually did it, but here is a profile of someone who does.

Ryan Coffey

Commuting by floatplane takes off in B.C.

Dave Mannix lives on the 15th floor of a beachfront condo with a view of the Strait of Georgia, and has a traffic-free, 25-minute commute to his job in Vancouver’s financial district. He pays $1,200 a month toward his mortgage. What is this insanely convenient, affordable location? Nanaimo.

Mannix, the CEO of a Vancouver-based investment firm, walks a block to the floatplane dock, spends 20 minutes and $67 on a flight, and arrives in Coal Harbour, two blocks from his downtown office. No gridlock, no Coal Harbour price tag.

“I’m at home on the Island and sitting at my place by the time other people are just starting to leave downtown,” Mannix told the Georgia Straight. “But the problem is, it’s such a good value and so convenient and so efficient, it’s greatly oversubscribed. Just try to get a flight!”

Mannix is one of a thousand or so people who commute regularly from Nanaimo to Vancouver for work. That’s an old number collected by the City of Nanaimo from the 2001 Canadian census. The city’s acting economic development officer, Amrit Manhas, told the Straight she’s not sure how many people are commuting these days, but numbers have probably increased.

Add those who commute on the scheduled flights offered by Harbour Air and West Coast Air from Sechelt, the Gulf Islands, and Victoria, and that’s even more people. According to the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board, during the 12-month period ending in August, the average price of a home in Nanaimo listed on the Multiple Listing Service was $372,669. In contrast, the average price of a home in Greater Vancouver from January to August was $606,088, according to the B.C. Real Estate Association. Given the huge price difference, living on Vancouver Island is a deal.

“With technology, it’s really possible to be anywhere,” Manhas said, “so why wouldn’t you choose to do that?”

Indeed, the size of the floatplane facilities at Coal Harbour will likely expand by one-third if a plan is approved at Vancouver’s development permit board meeting on Monday (September 22). Architectural group Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership has applied to build a new permanent facility adjacent to the new Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre expansion project. On September 16, city council decided to hold a public hearing about the rezoning, set for October 14.

For folks like Mannix, more floatplanes would mean it would be easier to catch a flight. But for some residents of the neighbourhood, the prospect stinks—literally.

Debbie McKeen is the Coal Harbour Residents Association’s floatplane representative. In a single day two weeks ago, she said, a resident counted 202 flights coming and going from the current temporary marina, sending fumes and noise into the adjacent children’s park and neighbourhood. McKeen said that although the CHRA has tried to work with the proponents of the project, and isn’t suggesting the floatplanes shouldn’t be in the harbour at all, she thinks the new facility could have been planned to better accommodate residents.

McKeen plans to speak at the development permit board meeting and the public hearing.

One problem, though, is that the city doesn’t regulate most of the annoyances associated with the floatplanes, according to Vancouver city planner Michelle McGuire. The city’s role is limited to rezoning and approving the development permit for the marina, she said. Planes are regulated by Transport Canada. Harbour Air didn’t return the Straight’s calls by deadline. West Coast Air spokesperson Vera Hromada told the Straight she didn’t want to comment on this story.

The continuing saga of the floatplanes hasn’t made a dent in the desirability of Coal Harbour real estate, according to Dexter Associates Realty agent Joy Chao.

“We put quite a few people in the area, and they seem to find it [the planes] quite fascinating,” she told the Straight. “But to be honest with you, where they [the planes] were before, people were just starting to move into the condos.”

For Mannix, more flights would be a relief. “You’ve got more people in their 40s and 50s who are relocating to the Island for the lifestyle and commuting, or they’re home-based consultants,” he said, noting that the price of real estate is making it difficult to recruit skilled staff. “Just try to get a flight on a Monday morning, or the 4 o’clock rush out of Vancouver. They’re booked.”

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