Neighbours living around a “decrepit house with a black water swimming pool” in the backyard are supportive of infill housing – but they say a duplex is taking it too far.
On Monday, city council considered a heritage revitalization agreement application for 102 Seventh Ave., where the applicants are proposing to retain the 1941 heritage house that includes a rental secondary suite and build a new stratified infill duplex that faces First Street. To facilitate the project, the 6,017-square-foot corner-lot property would be subdivided into two lots, with one building on each lot, and four parking spaces built in the rear lane.
Twenty-two residents addressed council at Monday night’s public hearing, which lasted for more than three hours. Fourteen people opposed the project, including all of the speakers living in the neighbourhood, while eight speakers – including the applicant, the architect, and local housing advocates – urged council to support the application.
Following the public hearing, council supported the application.
Supporters said the proposal supports the city’s goal of creating infill housing as a way of increasing housing options. They said it would result in the restoration and protection of a heritage house, retain the existing two-bedroom rental secondary suite in the heritage house and create two family units in the duplex.
“The type of city that I do want New West to continue to be and to become is one where there is a lot more density that’s spread out throughout the city and there’s a variety of housing types within neighbourhoods, and there is housing that is very close to parks and schools, like this proposals is,” said Brow of the Hill resident Rick Vugteveen. “The other types of city that I’d like New Westminster to continue to be is one where we respect our built heritage. There is many amazing character homes throughout the city, and this is a fine example of that.”
Eshleen Panatch, whose family owns the property, said the home’s recent tenants did not treat the home with care, so the owners had to consider some new options for the property. Richmond resident Kush Panatch said he told his daughter the “simplest thing” would be to demolish the current house and put up a new home, but he encouraged her to look for some creative solutions.
“I am one of those people that doesn’t really believe that everyone wants to live in a shoebox in the sky up on the 30th floor,” he told council.
The existing 232-square-metre (2,500 square-feet) heritage house would be on a 308.4-square-metre (3,320-square-feet) lot. Once subdivided, the 190.5-square-metre (2.050-square-feet) duplex would be built on a 246.1-square-metre (2,648.6 square feet) lot.
Like many of the residents who spoke against the proposal, Allan Flemons said the new lot is far too small to accommodate a duplex.
“I’m not a NIMBY, and I don’t think my neighbours are. We have supported the laneway housing in our neighbourhood,” he said. “I … support secondary suites in the houses that are there. Really, I think you have to respect the people that have lived there for a long time and look at what this project is going to do with a two-storey side-by-side duplex on that lot.”
A nearby resident on Seventh Avenue said he also supports some type of development on the property, such as the construction of a laneway house rather than a duplex.
“I don’t think many of us are completely against development as we look at a decrepit house with a black water swimming pool currently,” he said. “We need something to happen there.”
Most of the neighbours voiced concerns about traffic safety impacts associated with the placement of four parking spots – and more traffic in the lane and on a busy corner. They cited concerns about safety of children going to and from the nearby Herbert Spencer elementary.
“It will be a nightmare,” said resident Anna Camporese.
Other concerns raised by neighbours included the number of zoning relaxations needed to facilitate the project, the lack of greenspace on the site for families moving in to the duplex units, lack of space in the ally to accommodate garbage bins in pickup day because of the way the project is situated on the site. Some expressed concerns about fire hazards created by building a duplex so close to the existing home on the site.
Larry Church, a Queen’s Park resident who has family living near the property, said existing and new building are so close together that the windows in the heritage house have to be removed to comply with the building code.
“To me that is not restoration. Those are character windows in that house,” he said. “To take them out of there, it is not restoration, it is demolition.
According to a staff report, the duplex would be sited 1.2 metres (four feet) form the heritage house, which is closer than what the city’s zoning bylaw would allow. While the proposed siting is consistent with the minimum building separation distance that’s required by the BC Building Code, the report states that a number of “fire resistance measures” are required because of the shortened distances – with those details to be determined during the building permit stage
Council approves plan
Following the public hearing, council unanimously supported the project, saying it provides much-needed housing.
“It’s not the kind of housing that maybe everyone is used to or it doesn’t maybe come with a back yard or with a play space for kids, but it is housing,” said Coun. Mary Trentadue. “And it is a different form of housing, and I am a strong advocate of all forms of housing. Everyone should have a choice whether want to live in a tower, or a smaller condo, or a single-family home or a laneway, or a duplex or a triplex, and so on. So, I have to support housing. I will probably always support housing.”
Coun. Chinu Das said it was a “very, very difficult decision” to make because residents made a lot of valid points, but she would support it as it creates housing.
“I do think we need to monitor the traffic safety in that area,” she said. “I do think there are some genuine concerns, and we do need to keep looking at that.”
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said part of his evaluation of proposals is to consider different proposals would be allowed on the site.
“I heard comments along the lines of we could have a laneway house there. I am honestly having trouble seeing a big difference between a duplex and a laneway house, whether it is overlooking a yard or a parked car,” he said. “It seems very modest to me, that difference.”
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said the proposal doesn’t have anything to do with housing affordability, but it does provide housing choice in a city that lacks housing choices. She responded to comments that the project isn’t family friendly because the property won’t have a lot of outdoor greenspace.
“I just want us to careful about the way we talk about different families in this community. Not everyone has access to green space outside their back door, including a lot of the kids who live in my neighbourhood in the Brow of the Hill,” she said. “While that’s the ideal, it’s certainly not the reality for many, many families. And I just think sometimes in our quest to make a point, we make a lot of people invisible or maybe feel bad about their living conditions.”