Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is Your House Getting too Big?

Special to the Jewish Independent Published March 11, 2010

By Michael Geller B.Arch, MAIBC, FCIP

While younger households dream of moving into a larger home, many of us often find that our house is getting too big. Our concern is not necessarily the size of rooms, but rather the number of rooms, some of which are no longer used as children have grown up and left home. There is also the cost and inconvenience of looking after gardens and having to carry out repairs…a new roof, water tank, or often much more.

Years ago, when your house was too big, you moved into a rental apartment. But over the past few decades, developers have stopped building rental projects in Vancouver, favouring condominium apartments. In a few cases, new condominium townhouse developments have been built, but often in locations where we do not necessarily want to live.

As we get older, not only do we want smaller homes, but we want different features. We want a large, modern kitchen with the latest appliances and pantries, and large spacious bathrooms with vanity drawers for an increasing amount of ‘toiletries’. We are often willing to forego separate living, dining and family rooms for one large, well designed space as long as there is room for the family Seder. We want fewer stairs and better lighting and security features.

In response to the need for new housing choices in the community, fifteen years ago, in partnership with the beloved community leader Morris Wosk, I redeveloped four large single family properties on Oak Street into Oak Gardens. It offered a choice of apartment sizes along with a live-in caretaker suite, a guest suite for visitors, a card room and other communal spaces.

In Kerrisdale, I helped transform seven lots along West 41st Avenue, between Carnarvon and Balaclava Streets into what is today The Lanesborough, offering a mix of attractive apartments and two level townhomes. At Larch and W41st Avenue, I turned the former Shell gas station into Elm Park Place providing single level suites with larger terraces and garden areas. I promoted the building as apartments for people who do not want to live in an apartment!

While condominium apartment living is the right choice for many people, it is not for everyone. Many of us would prefer to move into a nearby duplex or smaller ‘cottage style’ single family home on a smaller lot. If only we could find one. Alternatively we might prefer a larger townhouse, especially if it could be individually owned, and not part of a condominium. Some of us might even consider moving into a ‘Laneway Home’ if it was well designed, with parking and an attractive outdoor space.

One of the problems in Vancouver is that most residential areas are zoned for single family houses and there are virtually no, undeveloped multi-family properties nearby. However, as Vancouver starts to plan for a growing and aging population, city planners and politicians are increasingly willing to consider the rezoning of single family lots, parking lots, and other properties to allow more housing choices. One goal is to accommodate aging households who want to remain in their neighbourhoods.

Considerable attention is now being given to the future rezoning of land along Cambie Street. The new development at the corner of Cambie Street and W33rd Avenue is one example of a new housing form and tenure, offering three, individually owned townhouses, each with a laneway suite over the garage. Another variation, that I am currently designing offers three separate townhouses designed to look like one larger house. In some instances, these could be individually owned; in others they would be a condominium.

I am also exploring opportunities to redevelop larger single family lots into three or four detached or semi-detached houses, each with its own private outdoor space. The homes would be designed with the features many ‘empty nesters’ are seeking including two ‘master bedrooms’, and large open kitchens and living areas. In desired, the original homeowner could move back into a smaller home on the same property. This happened at both Oak Gardens and The Lanesborough.

In order to have more housing choices, I think it will be necessary for more of us to speak out. Too often, much needed innovative developments do not proceed because the opponents have a louder voice than the supporters.

I am often reminded of a couple who came to see me when I was planning a high rise building in Point Grey. “Do you have something available with a view?” the lady asked. “Unfortunately, they are all sold.” I had to reply. As they were ready to walk away, the husband turned to me and said “You know, it’s funny. For years my wife and I opposed the development of high rise apartments in this area, but now that we are ready to move into one, we can’t find anything suitable.”


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