From Los Angeles all the way up to Vancouver, new neighbourhoods of tower blocks are changing the skyline Developers along the Pacific coast are getting bullish on residential towers, but Steve Simi is upset. The owner of the Connell Auto Centre, the largest of 22 dealerships along Broadway's Auto Row in Oakland, knows that he soon has to move out. Many dealerships here will be replaced by residential towers. Mr Simi owns six dealerships, including Nissan and Chrysler, but his lease expires in a year. Ted Dang, a one-time mayoral candidate and one of the most active developers in Oakland, has bought the land where Mr Simi's cars sit and he wants to build a condo high-rise. 'I can see condos marching up the street,' said Mr Simi, who shares the destiny of all dealerships along the Auto Row. It became famous as Oakland's Golden Goose, generating 9 per cent of the city's sales tax revenue. But escalating land values are overtaking the dealerships. Rents for their lots have climbed from an average of US$20 per sqft to more than US$100 per sqft. At the site of the former Negherbon Auto dealership, which sold luxury cars with the Audi and Porsche brands, Signature, the city's leading developer, is building a 425-unit tower. 'I never imagined we would have so much interest from developers,' said Mr Dang. 'The activity in the past year has been more intense than I have ever seen.' The Essex Building, the sole residential high-rise to come out of Oakland's dotcom housing boom, was converted to condominiums more than a year ago and took in close to US$550 per sqft. Even with the strong housing market, Oakland prices had been around US$400 per sqft. With high-rise buildings needing to sell at around US$500 per sqft to be profitable for developers, the Essex proved to be the catalyst for a new high-rise mania. Along the US and Canadian Pacific coast, from Los Angeles through Portland and Seattle all the way up to Vancouver, new neighbourhoods of high-rises are taking shape. Last month Seattle's City Council cleared the way for sweeping changes to the downtown skyline by relaxing rules to allow taller condo and office towers. Councillor Peter Steinbrueck calls the new zoning a 'milestone' for the city. William Justen, a former city planner, expects Seattle's downtown to be able to support 10 high-rise towers in the next five to six years. Mr Justen is developing a condo tower near the Pike Place Market. In Seattle's Bellevue, a Houston developer recently began clearing a site to make way for a 20-storey, US$80 million luxury apartment high-rise. The tower will offer lots of upscale amenities that make urban living exciting, like a demonstration kitchen with visiting chefs, a Hollywood-style screening room, a performing arts theatre and an outdoor plaza. The apartments will feature high ceilings, fireplaces, high-speed internet and Berber-style carpet floors. San Francisco's city skyline may be completely reshaped during the next decade by up to 12 residential towers, the highest so far being designed for 167 metres. It will be the South Tower of San Francisco's catalyst project One Rincon Hill, which was approved by the city's Planning Commission last August. The One Rincon Hill twin towers are a US$435 million development project with 44 and 54 storeys. The South Tower will be the tallest residential building in the US west of the Mississippi, once it is completed next year. Rincon Hill is a primarily industrial neighbourhood where only 1,000 people now live. The city's master plan allows for nearly 4,000 new units that could house up to 10,000 residents. Being faced with escalating real estate prices and scarce land, the Pacific West's tightest housing markets are turning to the only direction that is left to them - up towards the clouds. Almost everywhere, hotbeds of the 'New Urbanism' are springing up. They are also fuelled by the rapidly rising number of empty-nesters among America's 77 million baby boomers. As their children move on, they leave their spacious detached houses in the suburbs, trading them off for endless traffic jams while commuting to their downtown offices. Dennis Serraglio, director of sales and marketing for Vancouver company Bosa Development, said: 'There's always been a condo market, but with boomers ageing and more and more wanting the condo lifestyle, demand is tremendous.' In San Diego last year, condo sales outstripped sales of detached houses. Los Angeles is expected to follow suit this year. In Seattle, sales of condominiums hit 28 per cent of residential sales last year. New developments are already split in half between increasingly costly single-family homes and more affordable condominiums and apartments.