On July 21, Vancouver City Council will begin a Public Hearing on the Laneway Housing zoning by-law proposals. I say begin, since I suspect the discussion may go on for a number of evenings. I plan to speak in favour of the proposals, since I consider this to be just one of a number of initiatives that can help provide greater housing choices in our city. However, I will be suggesting that the city require an additional parking space, since I believe this will help increase neighbourhood acceptance.
Recently, I was invited to speak on a panel in Seattle to a group of young leaders from the Urban Land Institute. On the same panel was Diane Sugimura, the Director of Planning in Seattle. When I told the group about Vancouver's proposed laneway housing, she passed over to me a brochure describing a current proposal being considered by Seattle Council that would permit 'backyard cottages'- essentially small infill units to be built in the rear yards of homes with or without 'alleys' (as the Americans call them).
Interestingly, although backyard cottages have been permitted in Southeast Seattle for the past couple of years, on a demonstration basis, only 17 units have been built. Unfortunately, time did not permit me to study why more had not been built. However, it may be that some of the city's requirements are too onerous. At any rate, the current proposal is to allow these cottages throughout the city.
I raise this point since some prospective purchasers of laneway housing in Vancouver have suggested to me that Vancouver's requirement that the units have interior water sprinklers and meet all applicable code requirements for a new house may make them too expensive to build as affordable rental housing. Time will tell.
Diane directed me to a number of projects around the city and to the city's website where I found an excellent planning document from which I have extracted a few pages below. http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/static/Backyard%20Cottages%20Guide_web_LatestReleased_DPDS015822.pdf
From this document, I noted that the city requires an additional parking space, but it can be in the front of the house, or a tandem parking space in the rear. Seattle has also prepared some very good guidelines addressing different types of lots. I understand Vancouver also plans to prepare a similar document. Hopefully, we will attempt to better understand why there has not been more take-up in Seattle before finalizing our new requirements and guidelines.