Laneway housing pilot proceeds despite opposition
By josh dehaas
The next mayor of Vancouver will oversee a pilot project to allow at least 100 homeowners to knock down their garage and replace it with a revenue-generating miniature house.
But some residents of Dunbar, including at least one former city councilor, are fighting the plan.
Both the Vision and NPA parties say that laneway houses, similar to a coach house or granny flat, will increase affordable housing options in the city while reducing pollution and providing revenue for the homeowner.
With the increase in property values, they’re likely to provide money for the city as well.
Jonathan Baker, a member of the Dunbar Residents’ Association, is opposed to the pilot project. Baker was a two-term city councilor in the 1980s, and worked in the city’s Social Planning Department in the 1970s.
He is concerned that laneway houses will cast shadows on backyards and exacerbate parking shortages as people knock down their garages and put their cars on the street, right behind their new tenant’s car.
The city council voted unanimously in October to begin modifying zoning bylaws to allow up to 100 laneway houses to be built.
While both municipal parties have said that certain neighbourhoods might still get their chance to opt-out, it won’t be until after 100 laneway houses are built.
The laneway housing issue is reminiscent of the “bad old days of 1968” when “top-down” planning from City Hall was the norm, said Baker, referring to the city council’s attempt to build a freeway through Strathcona. The council had planners set up drawings of potential new freeways in the public libraries and then asked citizens to choose.
“You’d have one with a freeway too big, one with a freeway too small and one with a freeway just right. But there was no option of not having a freeway. You had to have that.”
Instead of asking what kind of laneway housing citizens want, the council should be asking neighbourhoods whether or not they want it at all, said Baker.
The planning department blocked a survey by the Dunbar Community Vision Implementation Committee last month, saying that funds for the committee may not be spent on research. The survey was intended to gauge opposition to the plan.
Parking ‘not an issue’
With the municipal election on Saturday, both parties are downplaying concerns over parking issues and shadows that the new buildings could cast on neighbouring backyards.
According to NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner, “parking really isn’t an issue.” People will naturally ditch their cars as gas prices increase and better transit and cycling infrastructure are built, he said. While he would consider implementing resident-only parking in busy Kitsilano, Ladner said neighbourhoods like Dunbar have “lots of parking”.
“This is a proposal to take existing footprints of buildings and add people instead of putting cars in them,” Ladner told a crowd at the Hellenic Community Centre on October 24th. “They would be in neighbourhoods where the population is declining, so there will not be growth in the number of people in the neighbourhood.” Ladner also pointed out that increasing population density is one of the main goals of laneway housing.
Ladner said that a laneway house would only cost $150,000 to build and that it would provide a steady revenue source for the owner. Smallworks, a builder that plans to cash in on laneway housing, suggests that $150,000 is needed to build a 600-square-foot laneway house. It is unclear how much rent tenants would be charged.
Councilor Raymond Louie of Vision agrees, saying that neighbourhood groups will still have the opportunity to oppose the plan.
The laneway housing project is a key part of the City’s EcoDensity Charter, which aims to reduce carbon footprints by increasing transit service use and discouraging automobiles. EcoDensity also aims to increase affordable housing in the city as it continues to grow.
Vancouver will welcome about 56,000 new residents by 2021, according to the most recent BC Stats figures.
City planners suggest there are 70,000 single-family homes in the City of Vancouver that could support a laneway house.
They will start springing up in back gardens across the city as early as next fall.