Vancouver’s laneway housing experiment off to quick start

Vancouver’s experiment with laneway housing appears to be going well, according to a report going to city council Thursday.

More than 170 applications for the micro-housing have been received since council adopted in July, 2009 a plan to permit homeowners to build small one- and two-bedroom rental units on the back ends of their properties.

The outcome is exactly what the city expected, planning director Brent Toderian said Wednesday. All of the new housing has been spread across all residential neighbourhoods and isn’t concentrated in one place, he said.

Moreover, the project has shown universal support among homeowners looking for more ways to accommodate infill housing for rental purposes or extended family members, he said. Of the 173 applications, about 60 have so far been approved.

When council approved laneway housing last year, it instructed staff to report back either within three years or after the first 100 applications. But the take-up of the idea was so strong that within less than a year the city had received its 100th application. It has been receiving an average of 11 applications a month.

“We’re pleased with the approach that has been taken. We’re getting strategic densification and this is providing a viable rental choice. We’re getting good distribution across the city,” Toderian said.

But not everyone has been enamoured with the experiment. There have been at least 15 complaints from neighbours who feel the converted garages or new buildings are either too large, invade neighbours’ privacy or are inappropriate to the neighbourhood.

The Vancouver Sun received one complaint from Judy Rother, who said five laneway houses have been approved in her neighbourhood block of 4600 W. 11th.

Toderian said that block is an anomaly in the program and staff are watching how the developments there unfold. But if the applications all meet the criteria for laneway houses set down by city council, he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the number.

“There are definitely concerns and complaints from people, mirroring the kinds of concerns we received when we were first discussing the concept,” he said. “But we continue to hear from people who are strong supporters of the program.”

Toderian said the city is considering two changes to the rules, one to encourage single-storey laneway houses on 33-foot lots, and one to possibly reduce the outright square footage on large lots. Currently the maximum size of laneway house allowed is 750 square feet, but Toderian said that may be too large for some properties.

Toderian has also suggested the city review the program again after 150 laneway houses receive final inspection.

Source: The Vancouver Sun

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