Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thank You Councillor Raymond Louie

On June 16, Vancouver City Council approved the referral of a report on Laneway Housing to Public Hearing on July 21. While I strongly supported this concept, which was initially proposed as part of the EcoDensity plan, I was concerned with some of the staff recommendations. More specifically, the requirement for 2 parking spaces on a 33' lot, combined with another requirement that units not penetrate into rear yards by more than 26', would result in predominantly 2 level laneway houses.

My concerns were that these would not be as appealing to seniors; they would upset some neighbours; and prevent the installation of an alternative concept, namely a longer, narrower prefabricated modular unit, such as that illustrated above.

Following an email exchange with city staff and members of council, at the meeting, Councillor Raymond Louie proposed an amendment that addressed my concerns, thus allowing longer, thinner units on deeper lots during the trial period. As evidenced by my comments in the Georgia Straight, (below) I believe this is a positive change to the guidelines, which will result in a greater range of ideas to see and review during the trial period.

And it should be a trial period. I strongly believe staff made a mistake in proposing permanent changes to the RS-1 and RS-5 in order to accommodate a 100 unit pilot program. Both Andrea Reimer and Suzanne Anton picked up on this. Councillor Cadman had nothing to say on the matter....but that's because he wasn't there! Carbon Cadman was no doubt off in some far away place talking about environmental solutions. It's a pity he wasn't here to support this important initiative.

Vancouver laneway housing motion approved

Laneway houses on single-family lots in Vancouver are a step closer to reality after city council voted unanimously to send the issue to a public hearing.

“This is the final step,” Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told the Georgia Straight following council’s June 16 meeting. “It will go to public hearing, and if it passes at public hearing, it will be allowed in short order after that. If it doesn’t pass at public hearing, it will not be allowed.”

Vision councillor Raymond Louie amended a staff recommendation to allow the construction of one- or one-and-a-half-storey buildings on existing single-family lots.

Reimer said that when looking at building laneway housing, homeowners should consider three interrelated factors: parking, the height of the unit, and the length of the lot. The public hearing will determine how much parking would be required on each site.

Speaking outside council chambers, development consultant and 2008 Non-Partisan Association council candidate Michael Geller told the Straight that laneway housing is “a good idea” and that he’d “love to see it succeed”. He promoted this policy during the last civic campaign.

“What this (ed note: Councillor Louie's amendment) means for Vancouver is that we will be able to see more single-level units—which I think of as more like cottages, as distinct [from] two-level units,” Geller said. “But at least there will be a chance to see both being built and people can evaluate them. I really want this to succeed as an experiment, because it is a wonderful idea. In England or in Australia, we call them ‘granny flats’. ”

Last October, the previous NPA–dominated council approved 25 directions for laneway housing and instructed staff to come back with a report laying out how plans could proceed citywide. City planning director Brent Toderian told council at the June 16 meeting that permitting laneway housing in all areas of the city would lead to an equitable distribution of the units and avoid concerns over varying tax rates.

“We were hearing from the public that there was a great deal of interest in these housing types across the city, and that there was a certain benefit to trying the housing type in all different neighbourhoods,” Toderian said at the meeting.

Reimer told the Straight her amendments to the staff recommendation dealt with the “monitoring and review” of the introduction of laneway housing.

“A report would be made available to the public at least every six months that looked at eight different impacts and tracked those—things like tree retention and location,” Reimer said. “ ‘Are they all happening in one neighbourhood? Are they spread out?’ Also, quite importantly, it’s 100 pilots [100 laneway houses] or three years—whichever comes first—and we will review the policy in its entirety [after that].”

On the same day, council also approved a staff recommendation to amend the Zoning and Development By-law to introduce land-use definitions for a “principal dwelling unit combined with a secondary dwelling unit” and a “secondary dwelling unit”. If approved, this would allow secondary suites within apartment buildings downtown, in commercial districts, and in Southeast False Creek.

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