City of Vancouver
Meeting with Staff – January 28 2011 – Rev. 2
We have asked to meet with city staff to submit a series of recommendations based on our experience to date with the implementation of the Laneway Housing (LWH) program. The first seven recommendations are aligned with the recommendations made to council outlined in the Vancouver Heritage Commission Report dated October 20, 2008. Recommendations 8 through 11 are based on our observation and research. We trust that the following recommendations will be given serious consideration with respect to the scoped review currently been undertaken by city staff.
Specifically we recommend that LWH:
1 – Should only be permitted for existing single-family houses
Our experience, as anticipated in the Vancouver Heritage Commission’s report, is that older housing stock is being replaced by larger single family houses that increase the ecological footprint without housing more people. We believe that the driving force in the surge of LWH is economical driven without respecting the conservation values inherent in retention of existing buildings.
Our observation is that when an existing family house is demolished and replaced by a much larger single family dwelling the character of the neighbourhood is significantly altered. Retention of neighbourhood character is an important community value.
2 – Should be tested through pilot projects and implemented in controlled phases…
Our understanding of current city policy is that there is no means of restricting the number of LWH built on a given block. Our observation is that this lack of necessary control has resulted in clustering of LWH with no consideration for the capacity of an individual neighbourhood to absorb an increase in density.
3 – Should count against the maximum FSR allowed for the property if the existing house is later demolished, or the new house should be restricted to the size of the existing house whichever is lower FSR.
Our observations to date are that old housing stock is been demolished and replaced with much larger homes in addition to large LWH. These large dwellings are significantly altering the character of neighbourhoods
4 – Should be only non-strata family or rental
These desirable criteria are already in place and add to needed housing stock. Unfortunately based on the current rental rates (approximately $2500/month) LWH is providing choice of housing only to those currently enjoying a high standard of living and is not a source of more affordable housing.
5 – Should be restricted to the footprint available to a garage and be near in scale to what is currently allowed for accessory buildings. Allow an outright submission for one story and an established consultation process requiring neighbours’ support for any additional allowable height to a maximum of one and one half stories and capped at a maximum unit size to avoid undermining heritage incentives.
It is our observation that most LWH with an upper story will have a negative impact on the two adjacent properties and, in many cases, the property across the lane. Allowing an upper story is likely the most contentious issue and, if not changed, has the greatest probability of eventually creating such a significant public backlash that the LWH program will no longer be viable.
In most cases, the upper story has the potential to impact on the privacy of the two adjacent neighbours as well as the neighbour across the lane.
In addition shadowing can impact on the direct sunlight received in the neighbours’ gardens. This works against the idea that residents should grow their own produce.
Although an outright submission could be allowed for one story structures notification to adjacent property owners should be required prior to construction. This would allow adjacent property owners to ensure adequate measures are taken to protect fences and tree roots. If this process was in place the loss of an 80 year old Douglas fir when the roots were damaged during construction may have been averted.
6 – Should not require upgrading the existing single-family house or create undue hardship on existing homeowners.
We have no objection to relaxing the city requirements to some homeowners. For example where a LWH is built and the main house retained we agree with allowing the LWH to be tied into the existing sewer service. This is not only more cost effective but also less disruptive to the neighbours.
7 – Should develop LWH prototypes for existing heritage house based on the National Standards and Guidelines for Conservation of Historic places in Canada
We support this recommendation from the Vancouver Heritage Commission
8 – Should only be permitted where the owner occupies either the principal dwelling or the LWH as his principal residence
This recommendation is in line with the regulations in Seattle for LWH. The purpose of this recommendation is to limit absentee landlords from building LWH so they can rent out both the main residence and the LWH in order to maximize revenue. It is our observation that this is taking place. Having multiple rental dwellings on a single property greatly increases the chances of conflict with neighbours due to noise, parking and other issues. Resolving these issues is much more difficult for neighbours in situations where the landlord is not present. This situation is certainly is not conducive to neighbourliness.
9 – Should widen required parking spaces for Laneway housing
Parking spaces provided with LWH are generally too narrow to realistically allow for everyday parking. The minimum width requirement of 2.7m assumes a smaller car then most people are driving. A typical car (RAV 4) requires 3m to open the doors to the first stop. Therefore even though a car could park in this space – it would be next to impossible to exit the car.
Most often a LWH replaces a garage. Therefore the primary homeowner’s cars, typically 2 vehicles, will of necessity be parked on the front street.
Given the impracticality of using a LWH garage, the LWH vehicle will also inevitably be parked on the front street. Therefore, there are likely to be 3 or even 4 or more vehicles parked on the street. Cars that are parallel parked each require approximately 6m. Three cars would require 18m, creating significant parking problems when LWH are built on 10m lots! In many areas where parking is already problematic the additional vehicles on the street associated with LWH simply exacerbates the problem for current residents.
Also, considering the small living space allotted for LWH, it will also become desirable for the occupant, after obtaining city approval, to convert these “parking spaces” into living space in contravention of city regulations. It is obvious that this is intended in many units currently under construction.
10 – Should ensure access for emergency services
The proliferation of LWH has raised the level of concern regarding access for emergency vehicles. Our observation is that narrow laneways are often obstructed by parked, service, and construction vehicles limiting access. In particular we note that a LWH is currently being constructed on the 4500 block Belmont near the end of a dead end lane. It would appear that emergency access to this LWH would be difficult.
Residents would like to be assured that prior to approval of LWH that due consideration be given to emergency service access.
11 – Should monitor LWH following construction
Given the problems that we can anticipate with the ongoing construction of LWH, particularly relating to parking and conversion of designated garage space, we recommend that there be regularly scheduled inspections and that there be strict enforcement.
It is the absence of stringent regulation as well as the absence of neighbourhood input that have the potential to impair the success of the LWH program. The City of Toronto embarked on a similar course that resulted in cessation of the program except in certain circumstances. The following is a relevant quote from the Toronto Staff Report, June 20, 2006 by the Executive Director of Technical Services:
“Construction of houses on lanes can be considered only in special circumstances where there are no privacy, overlook, shadowing, and engineering servicing implications.”
In our research on this subject in other cities, such as Seattle, we have found strict regulation such as the following requirement of the owner:
“An owner with at least 50% interest in the property must occupy either the principal dwelling unit or the accessory dwelling unit for 6 or more months of each calendar year as the owner’s permanent residence.”
Under the violation clause the regulation reads:
“If an owner is unable or unwilling to fulfill the requirements (above) the owner shall remove those features of the accessory dwelling unit that make it a dwelling unit.”