While this might be possible, I think there would be a greater likelihood if the zoning by-law had been written differently. Instead of the current approach, I would not have granted 'free density' for the laneway units. Instead, I would have set an upper limit on the permitted density for each lot, and offered the owner the choice of building a larger new home with a small laneway unit, or keeping a smaller 'heritage' home, and building a larger laneway unit.
I was fortunate to tour the homes with Geri Boyle and Steve Mikicich from the West Vancouver Planning department. Steve has had a longstanding interest in heritage buildings and both were interested in learning more about the Vancouver Laneway Housing Experience as they consider possible zoning changes one day in West Vancouver. Both had some very good observations, and hopefully they will share them....perhaps here on this blog.
I want to share three observations:
- When I first learned that the city might approve laneway housing, I formed a new company Laneway Cottages Inc. to undertake their development. My concept was to use prefabricated modules to build predominantly single level 'cottage style' units. For me, the ideal was an affordable 12' by 36' unit that would fit on a 33' by 120' lot and still allow two parking spaces. Unfortunately, this approach did not fit the zoning by-law since it would have intruded too far into the rear yard. However, having seen what has been built, I am convinced this approach would have been much less intrusive, and much more successful than many of the larger two storey (oh, I'm sorry....one and a half storey) units that have been built.
- While I am generally supportive of reduced parking requirments, in the case of the laneway housing 'experiment', I thought it would be prudent to require another parking space on any lot with a laneway unit, since there could be three units on the lot when considering the basement suite. However, Council disagreed. The result? Most of the new developments have only one garage for the three units....HOWEVER, the garage often has large windows, a patio door, and in-floor radiant heating! Hello? Do you think this is going to be used as a garage? While one homeowner on the tour tried to tell me that her garage would be used for a car, and the radiant heating was there since she cares about her car, I think we all know better. So the result may be NO ON-SITE PARKING for three units. Why do I care? Because I don't want this experiment to fail, and I fear that parking problems may ultimately kill the program in some neighbourhoods.
- I was surprised by many of the interior layouts. In particular, although the units were small, the kitchens were very large, often with full sized appliances. However, the resulting living/dining areas were much too small to be useful. I believe a smaller, compact kitchen with a proper eating and living area would be a better solution. Of course, some residents may be planning to use the garage as their dining or living areas!
Also a few laneway houses that were not on the tour...