Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Laneway Housing Public Hearing: Night One




Below are the speaking notes that I prepared in advance of last night's Public Hearing. Unfortunately, I only got to speak to the first two items before running out of time. As it turned out, I was the only person speaking in favour of requiring a second parking space to address potential neighbourhood concerns...I couldn't believe it. It seems like everyone in this city has now traded in their cars for bicycles, if you were to believe the first 15 or so speakers at the Public Hearing!

Near the end of the evening, representatives of Arbutus, Kerrisdale, Shaughnessey and Dunbar came out to express their opposition to the zoning changes, due in part to concerns over the lack of consultation. But by then, the Laneway Housing supporters had won the evening. It was a surprising and impressive display of support.

I stayed until the end...around 11:30 and I'm glad I did, since while most members of Council and staff were not very impressed with my argument to treat this more as a 'pilot project' with more discretion in the hands of the Director of Planning, the last speaker, Bob Williams did note that he was in agreement with my suggested approach. So who knows, while I don't expect the councillors to take advice from me, hopefully they will consider the wise counsel of Bob Williams.

SPEAKING NOTES FOR MICHAEL GELLER: LANEWAY HOUSING PUBLIC HEARING

I STAND BEFORE YOU AS AN ARCHITECT AND THE FORMER MANAGER OF A CMHC STUDY ON SENSITIVE INFILL HOUSING THAT LOOKED AT LANEWAY HOUSING IN VANCOUVER, TORONTO AND MONTREAL IN THE 70’S. I AM ALSO PRESIDENT OF LANEWAY COTTAGES INC. A COMPANY THAT HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED TO BUILD LANEWAY HOUSING IN THE CITY.

I AM PLEASED TO SUPPORT THE PROPOSED REZONING AMENDMENTS AND CONGRATULATE STAFF FOR THE WORK THEY HAVE DONE. HOWEVER, I WOULD LIKE OFFER SOME THOUGHTS IN THREE AREAS: PARKING, BUILDING HEIGHT, AND THE CHARACTER OF THE LANES:

1. PARKING…WHILE I HAVE BEEN A VOCAL SUPPORTER OF REDUCED PARKING STANDARDS FOR RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENTS ELSEWHERE IN THE CITY, I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT COUNCIL REQUIRE AN ADDITIONAL SPACE FOR THE LANEWAY UNIT. GIVEN THE MAIN HOUSE, A BASEMENT SUITE AND A LANEWAY UNIT, THERE COULD BE 3 UNITS ON 33’ LOT TOTALING 2900 SQUARE FEET…REQUIRING 2 SPACES IS NOT UNREASONABLE AND WILL HELP ADDRESS A POTENTIAL SHORTAGE OF PARKING WHICH COULD BE A LEGITIMATE COMMUNITY CONCERN IN SOME NEIGHBOURHOODS;

WHILE SOME WILL SAY LOWER INCOME PEOPLE WILL NOT HAVE CARS, THE FACT IS THESE UNITS, WHEN RENTED ON THE OPEN MARKET, MAY RENT FOR $1200 TO $1600 A MONTH OR MORE DEPENDING ON THE SIZE AND LOCATION (BASED ON WHAT A RECENT UNIT WAS RENTING FOR ON CRAIG’SLIST!)

I KNOW THAT SOME OF YOU MAY NOT WANT TO REQUIRE A SECOND PARKING SPACE SINCE IT WILL LIKELY RESULT IN A 1 ½ STOREY UNIT ON A 33’ LOT. HOWEVER, THERE IS ANOTHER OPTION THAT HAS NOT BEEN PRESENTED BY STAFF….AS EDWARD DE BONO MIGHT SAY, LET’S BRING SOME LATERAL THINKING TO THE PROBLEM….AND ALLOW TANDEM PARKING (ONE SPACE BEHIND THE OTHER)….WITH A REQUIREMENT FOR PERVIOUS MATERIALS. WHILE NOT AS PRACTICAL AS TWO PARKING SPACES, THIS IS BETTER THAN NOT REQUIRING ANY ADDITIONAL PARKING;

2. NOW SPEAKING OF HEIGHT, I WANT TO THANK COUNCILLOR LOUIE FOR PROPOSING THE AMENDMENT TO ALLOW LONGER, LOWER UNITS ON DEEPER LOTS. WHILE I DON’T WANT TO FLOG A DEAD HORSE, FOR THE RECORD, I DO WANT TO NOTE THAT I STILL THINK A 36’ DEEP SINGLE STOREY FLAT ROOF UNIT WOULD BE LESS OBTRUSIVE ON A 33’ LOT THAN A 1 ½ STOREY UNIT THAT ONLY INTRUDES 26 FEET.

WHILE I APPRECIATE IT IS NOT REALLY FEASIBLE TO ANTICIPATE ALL THE SITUATIONS WHERE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS WOULD BE PREFERABLE, I WOULD PROPOSE THAT COUNCIL ASK THE LAW DEPARTMENT TO COME UP WITH SOME WORDING TO GIVE THE DIRECTOR OF PLANNING DISCRETION DURING THIS TRIAL PERIOD, TO APPROVE SUCH UNITS; A CONDITION OF SUCH DISCRESSION MIGHT BE A REQUIREMENT FOR THE APPROVAL OF THE IMMEDIATE NEIGHBOURS.

THIS WOULD BE CONSISTENT WITH THE ORIGINAL GOAL OF COUNCIL, THAT THIS BE A ‘PILOT PROJECT’ TO TEST OUT DIFFERENT IDEAS. I AGREE WITH COUNCILLOR REIMER…IT IS COUNTER INTUITIVE TO REZONE MUCH OF THE CITY SIMPLY TO ALLOW 100 DEMONSTRATION UNITS. BY GIVING THE DIRECTOR OF PLANNING DISCRETION (EVEN IF THIS WILL INCREASE HIS WORKLOAD) THIS WILL ALLOW MORE CREATIVE SOLUTION.

3. FINALLY, SOMETHING WE HAVEN’T DISCUSSED BEFORE…A KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF LANEWAY HOUSING COULD BE THE CHARACTER OF THE LANES UPON WHICH THEY ARE BUILT. MANY VANCOUVER LANES ARE AWFUL, AND I DO HOPE THAT SOME OF THE LIMITED ADDITIONAL MONIES THAT WILL FLOW TO THE CITY FROM INCREASED PROPERTY TAXES CAN BE DEDICATED TO THE UPGRADING OF REALLY BAD LANES WITH LANEWAY UNITS.

THIS MIGHT EVEN BE AN INCENTIVE FOR THE RESIDENTS OF SOME BLOCKS TO COME FORWARD WITH LANEWAY PROPOSALS!

MANY MUNICIPALITIES ACROSS NORTH AMERICA WILL BE WATCHING VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL AND THIS EXPERIMENT. I KNOW WE ALL WANT TO SEE IT SUCCEED. THIS IS MY MOTIVATION FOR OFFERING THESE COMMENTS. I HOPE YOU FIND THEM HELPFUL.



4 comments:

Desmond said...

Great piece; I'm glad that this discussion is happening. I am curious, however, why you believe that parking should be required? Why not leave this up to the homeowner/developer, to see if they think that they can successfully market a project without protected, off-street parking?

Some homeowners/developers might believe that making the most of a green, livable backyard will be more important than at-the-doorstep parking - while others might choose to prioritize the parking and supply the off-street spaces regardless of whether or not they are required. Why should the regulations make this choice for them.

Of course these issues go beyond the individual parcel and affect the free and easy street parking to which the neighbourhood is accustomed. While it's true laneway housing might allow for three units on a 33' parcel, doesn't this mean that there are usually two street spaces in front (~15' each)? Even if all three units have one vehicle each, wouldn't only one off-street space be necessary to satisfy the desire for 'one space/unit'?

It would be unfortunate to see homeowners'/developers' creativity and options in terms of making the most of a backyard and laneway dwelling limited by parking requirements. If some wish to supply off-street parking, great, if not, that should also be their choice. Eventually, if street parking becomes sufficiently scarce, that will be an incentive to supply off-street parking. Why determine this by a blanket rule, when this process will likely vary significantly within and between neighbourhoods?

Anonymous said...

Well Done Michael. Your support and rational approach towards this project is great.

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