Thursday, June 18, 2009

Secondary Suites and Laneway Housing: it's getting confusing for some!

Vancouver to consider small secondary suite

Vancouver council will consider a staff report Tuesday that recommends allowing secondary suites and laneway houses as small as 19 square metres (about 200 square feet).

As evidenced by Neal Hall's story below, one journalist was a bit confused by Council's decisions on June 16 to forward both Secondary Suites and Laneway Housing to a Public Hearing on July 21...

The small secondary suites would be only allowed in apartment blocks and mixed-use buildings in commercial areas along arterial routes, in downtown Vancouver and the Southeast False Creek area.

The laneway housing would be allowed in 94 per cent of the city’s residential areas.

The secondary suites would have a separate entrance, full bathroom and kitchen, all within a 20-foot by 20-foot space.

Current zoning regulations allow secondary suites with a minimum floor area of 29.7 to 37 square metres (319 to 398.3 square feet). But city council has made affordable housing a key priority and is trying to find ways to increase rental housing stock.

“Our concept is to try to create more affordable housing,” Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie said Monday.

The small secondary suites would be generally new construction because it would not be very cost-effective to retrofit into an existing building, he said, but conceded it could be done.

“This is part and parcel of a four-part program of council to create low-range and mid-range housing,” Louie said.

The report suggests no increase in parking space be required for small secondary suites because they will likely appeal to students, low-income renters and seniors who will use bicycles, transit or walk.

The staff report recommends council refer the proposed zoning amendments to a public hearing.

Louie said the proposal is expected to go to public hearings and return for a council decision before the end of July. There is some urgency because Vancouver has a .3-per-cent vacancy rate, he said.

The report on laneway housing suggests the units could be as small as 19 square metres (205 sq.ft.) and as big as 46.5 square metres (500 sq.ft.) for studio and one-bedroom units on 10-metre-wide (33 feet) lots, and up to 70 square metres (750 sq.ft.) for two-bedroom unit on wider lots.

Height would be limited to 1.5 storeys. and the footprint would be the size of a two-car garage.

Adding secondary suites to apartments is not a new concept.

UniversCity, a condo development at Simon Fraser University, built 25 units five years ago with “lock-off” secondary suites of about 250 square feet that rent for $500 to $600 a month — roughly $2 a square foot.

“It was the first of its kind in Canada,” said Gordon Harris, president of SFU Community Trust, which oversees development of SFU land for market housing. He credited Burnaby council for supporting the innovative idea.

He said the units were the first to sell because they offered flexibility — owners could initially rent the suites, live in the main suite and then expand into the secondary suite if they had children.

Council will also consider a report that recommends relaxing parking regulations and waiving some development levy costs to provide new rental housing near local shopping areas and transit stations.

The program is limited to 2.5 years and estimates building 1,000 units would provide 1,600 full-time jobs, thereby stimulating the local economy.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Although Neil confused the details of the two propositions, (the laneway cottages are expected to fit into a 20' x 20' space), I am pleased that both are going forward to Public Hearing on July 21. As expected, the proposition to allow suites as small as 205 sq.ft. did attract a fair amount of criticism, as evidenced by some of other news story headlines...

Vancouver considers 205 square foot mini-suites Is it affordable housing or eco-density gone too far? Vancouver city council...
City of Vancouver looking at ‘mini’ suites Teeny tiny suites could be coming to Vancouver. City council is looking...

While I do not necessarily believe there will be a big take up of this idea at first, I think the secondary suites are a good idea and should be allowed. However, my advice to city staff and council will be to change the proposed size requirements...280 sq.ft.minimum with discretion by the Director of Planning to relax this requirement down to 205 sq.ft. Instead, I would recommend a minimum suite size of 250 sq.ft. rather with no DofP discretion to reduce this size. This could increase the likelihood of success.


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