City of Vancouver will allow to convert garages to living quarters

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Rebecca Tebrake

Almost two dozen Vancouver homeowners lined up Wednesday to inquire about replacing their garages with small second homes, a day after city council approved laneway housing.

The plan, approved unanimously by council on Tuesday, makes nearly 70,000 single-family lots potentially eligible to add a rental home to help out with the mortgage or house grandparents, grown children or caregivers.

By Wednesday, 23 homeowners had inquired whether they were eligible, kicking off the application process, which includes am $899 permit fee.

The homes are being touted by council and staff as an answer to Vancouver‘s lack of available and affordable housing.

“Our vacancy rate in our rental stock, in terms of our overall rental at 0.3 per cent, is very, very low and unacceptable,” said Coun. Raymond Louie. “People that work in our city are having a very tough time living in our city. We are hoping that these spaces will become more affordable and available for these people.”

“This is a very artful way to add density to the single-family neighbourhoods,” said Brent Toderian, the city’s director of planning.

Not everyone loves the idea. Toderian said he heard concerns about privacy, parking and congestion at meetings on the issue. The city only requires one parking space for the entire lot, which could have a main house, laneway house and a basement apartment.

Critics doubt the plan will actually increase affordability. “How much will they be paying to rent these laneway cottages and will that be affordable? In my view, the only affordable housing is subsidized housing and we need lots of it and we are not getting it,” said Alicia Barsallo, a member of the Coalition for a Liveable Vancouver.

The city will monitor shadows, traffic patterns, privacy and noise levels once laneways houses are built, with an official staff report coming after the 100th house is up, Louie said.

Properties eligible for laneway housing must have a minimum width of 33 feet. Properties of that size can have a 500-square-foot home, while larger properties can have a maximum 750-square-foot laneway house.

Homeowners must retain one parking space on their lot, and a 16-foot buffer between the front of the laneway home and the back of the main house. Toderian estimates 65,000 homes would meet these requirements.

Vancouver resident Robbie Stewart has been itching to build a laneway house for months.

Stewart and his partner want to downsize after their 16-year-old daughter moves out. Laneway housing wasn’t an option at first.

“We initially thought it was living in a garage,” said Stewart, who hasn’t applied with the city yet. “We had considered moving to a condo, but the problem is we don’t like condos. We love the area we live in.”

When the couple saw a model laneway home built by Smallworks at the home show this spring, they knew it was the perfect solution. The couple is making plans to convert their dilapidated 1945 garage into a beautiful.

Twenty-four other homeowners are lined up to work with Smallworks, a design/build company specializing in laneway houses. Smallworks co-owner Aaron Rosensweet said homes generally cost from $125,000 to $175,000.

“You are talking about these small cottages in the backyard rather than a garage,” Rosensweet said. “To me it’s a real opportunity to beautify those lanes and make those lanes more like our public spaces.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Comments are closed.