Saturday, November 26, 2016

Vancouver's Character House Zoning Review Open House Today November 26 10-4 City Hall

Earlier this week I attended Vancouver's first Character House Zoning Review Open House at the Hellenic Community Centre. Another Open House is being held today. Details of the program can be found here: http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/character-home-zoning-review.aspx

This is a very important initiative and I therefore decided to write this week's Vancouver Courier column on the topic. Unfortunately, to meet my deadline, I had to write the column before attending the Open House, but was pleased that some of the ideas I have been promoting are included in the proposals under discussion.

These include:
  • allowing an infill coach house for sale in return for retention of a character house;
  • allowing a character house to be subdivided into multiple suites for sale;
  • allowing increased density to those wanting to build additions to a character house along with a laneway house.
However, one of the ideas I would like to see considered was not included; namely allowing owners of character houses on larger, corner lots to subdivide their properties in return for retention of the character house. 

In addition to offering density bonuses to those keeping and conserving a character house, the city is looking at further restrictions on the size of new houses built in established neighbourhoods.

This raises a critical issue that is missing from the discussion so far.

What APPEAL PROCESS will be put in place for those who are told their ant-invested rotting house is a character house and as a result, if they want to redevelop their property, the size of any new house will be restricted.

While I need to study the city's proposals in more depth, I am concerned that many of the important details that will determine whether future zoning changes will be effective have not yet been considered and are not part of this discussion. For instance:
  • how much renovation will be required to a character house in return for the density bonus?
  • what legal agreements will be required? does the house have to be retained for a specific period of time? forever?
  • what happens if the heritage house is destroyed by fire or the ravages of time?
  • will the city allow character houses to be moved, and if so, will reduced front yard or other yard setbacks be permitted?
  • does a character house have to be on a lot with a lane in order to qualify for a coach house?
When I asked staff these questions I was advised this level of detail has not been considered. They responded that the purpose of the current round of Open Houses is to determine if there is a public attitude for retention of character houses. However, I question this since as noted in the display the city carried out a similar survey in February 2015 and it confirmed public support for heritage.
I was also disappointed to learn that there did not appear to be any significant input by architects, builders or developers into the latest one-year study process. Had there been, city staff would have learned that it is the answers to the questions and details outlined above, and other related design and technical details that will determine whether new zoning changes will be acceptable or not

Another of my other concerns is that this review is being carried out in isolation of another much needed investigation, namely the future of all single family zoned neighbourhoods.

While it is one thing to encourage retention of character houses, Vancouver's 65%+ land zoned single family offers significant potential to increase housing stock and housing choice.

I worry that at a time when we should be promoting increased densities on many RS zoned lands, with duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and small low-rise apartments, we could be unduly focusing on character houses.

Hopefully a study on how to make better use of single family zoned land can proceed concurrently Otherwise this  Character Home Zoning Review may end up being a step backward, rather than forward.

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