A number of people have expressed surprise at my enthusiasm in pursuing a rezoning in West Vancouver for what is a relatively small and modest undertaking, especially when compared to SFU's UniverCity or Bayshore in Coal Harbour. In response, I like to point out that in its own way, this could be an equally significant planning accomplishment. It is, after all, the first project of its kind in West Vancouver, and to the best of my knowledge, the first project of its kind anywhere in Metro...that's right.
By way of background, I have been interested in alternative forms of 'Compact Housing' dating back to the mid-seventies when I was an architect/planner in the CMHC Vancouver Office. At the time, the GVRD (as it was then called) and CMHC undertook a study exploring a variety of ways of gently increasing density in established neighbourhoods. My interest in the subject subsequently led to my participation in a national CMHC study called "Sensitive Infill", undertaken by Peter Barnard & Associates of Toronto. One of the ideas it explored was laneway housing, which only recently has been approved in Vancouver and other Metro municipalities.
In the ensuing years, there have been examples of larger lots being redeveloped with three or four townhouses. There have also been examples of laneway units or coach houses being added to properties containing existing houses that have been converted into two units. We have witnessed larger houses being converted into three smaller units, and new triplexes being built on larger lots.
However, to the best of my knowledge, no one has successfully rezoned a single family lot in an established neighbourhod and replace the older house with three units comprising a duplex and a coach house. This is the essence of Hollyburn Mews, which will result in nine such units on three contiguous lots.
What is also significant is that at 0.61, the resulting FSR or density is comparable to that of single family zoning in many Metro municipalities. In other words, this could be a model for new 'infill development' in many single family neighbourhoods with back lanes, or on corner lots, with little if any increase in density.
This past Tuesday night a neighbourhood Public Information Meeting was held to review the latest plans for Hollyburn Mews. While I had no idea how many people might turn up, I was delighted to meet approximately 35 West Vancouver residents, many of whom were viewing the proposals for the first time. Of those in attendance, I can say that 33 were generally in full support. However, one resident was concerned about parking impacts on the neighbourhood, and another was concerned that West Vancouver's proposal to amend the Official Community Plan for the entire block within which the three lots are located might be 'the thin edge of the wedge'.
More specifically, she was concerned that this could lead to the blanket rezoning of the surrounding area. She is not alone in this concern. Over the many years during which the redevelopment of these properties has been discussed, many Ambleside and Dundarave residents have expressed similar concerns. ADRA, a local residents' association has been particularly vocal about the inappropriateness of the introduction of new housing forms such as duplexes and coach houses which might significantly alter the character of their neighbourhoods.
While one resident quibbed that he hoped this was the 'thin edge of the wedge' since many West Vancouver residents are looking for smaller homes in the area, District planners have been careful to point out that if these applications are approved, they intend to monitor new developments very carefully to ensure that they are in keeping with the neighbourhood character, while providing much needed housing choices.
My personal view is that the times are changing. And so is the demographic makeup of the area. In fact, I was pleased to discover that many of those in attendance, including a few architects, were there not only to see what might be built, but to explore whether this might be the type of housing they would choose to move into one day. And why not. The architectural plans by Formwerks and Jane Durante's lush informal garden designs should result in a most appealing and liveable development.
If you are interested in learning more about the Hollyburn Mews proposals, you will find a link to the West Vancouver website here. http://www.westvancouver.ca/