Vancouver City Council approves up to eight homes on single-family lots

Sep 15 2023, 5:48 am

Gentle densification through the expanded development of multiplex residential structures will now be permitted across much of Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods city-wide.

During Thursday’s public hearing, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved City of Vancouver staff’s multiplex framework of “Adding Missing Middle Housing and Simplifying Regulations” — a policy direction that originated from a member motion from the previous makeup of City Council.

This will enable homeowners and builders to construct a strata ownership multiplex of up to four units on a standard single-family lot, up to five units on a mid-size single-family lot, and up to six units on a larger single-family lot. The general idea is that these homes will be relatively more affordable than single-family detached houses.

For larger strata multiplexes with a floor area ratio (FAR) density in excess of a floor area that is 0.7 times larger than the size of the lot, the project would be subject to paying the municipal government a fixed-rate density bonus contribution fee or allocating one unit for below-market ownership at a 50% discount of market price for middle-income households.

Up to eight units would be permitted on a single-family lot if all units are used for secured purpose-built market rental housing.

In all scenarios, the maximum density is 1.0 FAR for the assortment of configurations, which can reach no more than 37.7 ft in height with three storeys.

The policy will also shrink the maximum building floor area size of a single-family detached house on a lot by 14% in relation to the lot size, with the density transferred to the laneway house by increasing the maximum building floor area by as much as 56%. There were some concerns over the potential impacts this could have on multigenerational households who prefer to live in the same primary residence.

For example, in real terms, for a standard single-family lot size of 33 ft wide (street frontage) and 122 ft long (deep), the house structure’s maximum floor area would drop from the current limitation of 2,800 sq ft to 2,400 sq ft.

In addition to the densification, the policy overhauls Vancouver’s single-family zoning districts by consolidating nine different zoning districts into just one.

As well, during the deliberations, City Council passed two amendments relating to exploring floor area exceptions for elevators and other accessible spaces, and considerations for heritage/character retention policies to incentive character retention and maximizing density allowances.

vancouver single family zoning changes multiplex map f

Changes for allowing multiplexes on RS-zoned lots across Vancouver, with standard lots (yellow) and large lots (turqoise) shown. (City of Vancouver)

This is the most significant general change to single-family neighbourhoods since Vancouver first introduced laneway houses as a typology in 2009. It also aligns with the gentle densification directions of the City’s Vancouver Plan.

“A zoning update of this magnitude, I would concur the most significant in many, many years in Vancouver, is a tremendously complex undertaking,” said City manager Paul Mochrie following tonight’s vote.

“The team has been balancing a huge range of considerations, including housing supply, economic viability, infrastructure capacity, land value escalation, neighbourhood capability, and administrative simplicity. It’s mind boggling.”

ABC mayor Ken Sim said the policy will enable scenarios for seniors to downsize, and enable young people to remain in their community.

“Perfect is the enemy of good. While every plan has its detractors, I think this plan hits a lot of good points. It’s a great step towards addressing the missing middle,” said the Mayor.

ABC councillor Lisa Dominato said this provides an alternative to condominiums, as part of offering a “spectrum of housing types and tenures” to provide people with different options.

ABC councillor Peter Meiszner suggested this was a right move in the smart use of Vancouver’s limited land supply, before describing the typology’s “several wins” including “the move to above-ground, lower-level suites, as opposed to basement suites,.”

“It would contribute to making our neighbourhoods more dynamic and inclusive, and allow people to live in neighbourhoods that may have previously been out of reach for them. This is a big step forward to ensure we have homes for our first responders, for teachers, and for our families who want to stay in Vancouver, but can’t find a place that is appropriate due to limited supply and high prices,” continued Meiszner.

While there was unanimous support for the policy’s approval, not everyone was convinced it will generate a major meaningful impact.

The policy is expected to only catalyze roughly 200 multiplexes annually.

Greater densities were not put forward by City staff for City Council’s consideration primarily due to their concerns that it would overwhelm small-scale utilities in such low-density neighbourhoods, particularly the sewers, as significant reinvestments would otherwise be needed. Some public speakers who voiced their opposition also raised concerns over the increased demand for curbside street parking.

As well, with a maximum density of 1.0 FAR, which is an incremental increase from current limits, the framework has attracted some criticism from builders that many projects will not be financially feasible to construct.

“I’ve heard this referred to as the biggest land use change in Vancouver in decades, but I just think that is both important and significant, but also that points to the problem, which is we should’ve made this bigger land use change at least a decade ago, and now we’re so far behind. I’m glad to see it happen, but we need to do so much more than this right away,” said OneCity councillor Christine Boyle.

“We need to build a lot more rental and social housing in every neighbourhood. We really need to be looking at how we do all the things we need to do including upgrading utilities and sewers so we’re able to four to six storey rental apartment buildings like Paris. More affordable, walkable, and dense options.”

Green councillor Pete Fry also echoed the need to do much more in generating new affordable housing supply.

“If we want to deliver housing for people faster and more efficiently, especially for renters and folks earning average incomes in this city, this isn’t going to cut it, and we need to do a lot more,” said Fry.

“For some of them, this isn’t missing middle but ‘missing middling.’ This isn’t that, but it’s a great step nonetheless.”

This fall, the provincial government is expected to provide more details on its policy enabling up to four units on single-family lots across the province, overriding municipal governments. Earlier this year, the City of Victoria also approved its own Missing Middle multiplex policy.

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