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Storybook style heritage home and infill project approved in Queen’s Park

Some neighbours concerned about size, siting of infill house
323 Regina St.
Gary Holisko waves as he enters his 1928 house in New West, part of a project that would include construction of an infill rental house on the property and retention of the existing home.

A project involving a storybook style heritage home in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood will have a happy ending for its owners. 

The owners of 323 Regina St. applied to the city for a heritage revitalization agreement and a heritage designation bylaw as part of a plan to retain and protect the existing 1928 house and to build a 132-square-metre (1,420-square-foot) infill house on the property.

Although the infill house would be larger than what’s permitted in the laneway program, staff concluded the overall lot density including both buildings is consistent with the density allowed by the zoning bylaw and is lower than what’s allowed in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area’s incentive program. 

Kathleen Stevens, the city’s heritage planning analyst, said the application would result in the retention of the 1928 Edgar House, which isn’t currently a protected home in the heritage conservation area. She said the house has esthetic, historical and cultural significance as it’s an example of a storybook style of dwelling and first resident, Elmer Edgar, is representative of middle-class individuals who worked in New Westminster, as he was the manager of the local Tip Top Tailors store. 

Mixed reaction 

Rosanne Hood, who owns the house with husband Gary Holisko, said the couple loved the house from the first time they saw it. She said her son Jonathan and his fiancée Maxine will live in the new laneway house, which complies with heritage design guidelines for new construction in Queen’s Park. 

“It will face Fourth Street and be parallel to the lane called Sydney Street,” she said. “The new house will be 1,420 square feet in size, which exceeds the allowed size of 958 square feet by an additional 462 square feet.” 

Hood said 365 square feet of that additional space will be in the basement. She said her her son, a professional musician, will use the basement for rehearsing and practising. 

“We are proud of our house. We think it is a good example of storybook style and worth preserving,” she said. “We also think that our request for a larger laneway infill home … is reasonable. The extra square footage requested is mostly in the basement so it will not increase the mass and will reduce sound to the neighbourhood.” 

Several Queen’s Park residents attended the Jan. 31 public hearing and others wrote to council expressing opposition to the proposal. Concerns included the size and design of the infill house, as well as its impact on the streetscape because of where it will be situated on the site. 

Gail North, president of Queen’s Park Residents’ Association, said the application received 20% support and 80% opposition when considered by the residents’ association. 

“Although the city has created guidelines for the size of laneway carriage houses, no one seems to want to adhere to them,” she said. “Our city likes to emulate Vancouver in so many ways but, sadly, in this area it isn’t one of them. Typically, laneways in Vancouver are 550 to 940 square feet, so we don’t understand why the 958-square-feet guideline in New Westminster is considered so insufficient. And the bigger the infill, the smaller the greenspace.” 

North said the infill house’s design may comply with the city’s design guidelines, but it doesn’t reflect any of the character of the neighbourhood.  

“A more modest home with a design more in keeping with the rest of the neighbourhood, facing the lane – as was the intention of adding homes to rear yards – would be considered more appropriate,” she said.

Cathy McFarland said the city’s policy states that laneway houses would have minimal impacts on existing streetscapes because they’re located in rear yards. 

“The current HRA involves and infill rental home of 1,420 square feet. So it’s not only 48% larger than allowed, but it is located facing a main thoroughfare rather than the lane. Both of these features combined will have a negative impact on the streetscape, creating a conspicuous crowded look that alters the storybook style esthetic,” she said. “It seems the applicant’s rental needs can be achieved by staying within the rules and building a 958-square-foot home, preferably facing the lane. This is something we can support.” 

Queen’s Park resident David Brett, who considers himself “a staunch advocate” of heritage preservation, supported the project. 

“The way I look at this is every incremental step we can take to safeguard houses in the neighbourhood as they exist is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I see this additional density as very reasonable. It shouldn’t be as showstopper. We know there is densification pressure throughout the city and the entire region. I think when you have additional density – for young families – and an upgrading of the heritage protection, it is a win-win for the city, the residents and the neighbourhood.” 

Brett said he grew up in Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood, where the storybook design was quite prevalent but is rapidly being lost to redevelopment. 

“There is somewhat of a, you could call it a war on single-family neighbourhoods occurring not only in B.C., but it seems around the world,” he said. “So I see that this heritage-retention-plus-density as a way of protecting single-family neighbourhoods from the pressures of seeing them go the way of the dodo bird.” 

Sometimes called Hansel and Gretel homes, storybook style homes are known for their whimsical designs.

Jonathan Holisko and Maxine Llelwellyn, who will be living in the infill house, urged council to support the project.  

“There is no affordable housing for people our age. It is looking very grim,” Holisko said. “We support any initiative taken to add this kind of gentle densification. It fits the neighbourhood.” 

Llelwellyn said this proposal strikes a good balance between creating more housing and preserving the neighbourhood’s heritage character. 

Council approves 

Following Monday’s public hearing, council supported third reading of heritage designation and heritage revitalization agreement bylaws related to the project. 

Coun. Patrick Johnstone said the applicants made significant changes to their proposal in response to community feedback. He said the additional square footage proposed in the infill house is largely in the basement, so it doesn’t affect its massing in relation to neighbouring properties.  

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said he’d take basements out of floor space ratios if he had his way, saying what’s underground isn’t impacting others. He visited the site and is confident it won’t negatively impact neighbours. 

“This laneway house will be visible, but that’s mainly because it’s on a corner lot,” he said. “Were it not on a corner lot, it would be tucked into the back like all the other laneway houses are. It just happens to be that it’s on a spot at the end of the laneway.” 

Several council members said the application allows the city to provide “gentle densification” in the form of laneway houses, something that was envisioned when the city created the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area. 

Mayor Jonathan Cote feels the project provides the “right type of density” for the Queen’s Park neighbourhood or many single-family neighbourhoods to allow different housing options.  

“In this particular scenario we have an Intergenerational family being able to be accommodated, but this one day might be a small rental home in the community, which is another piece of the housing spectrum that is not always well served,” he said. “So, from my perspective, I think this application is well supportable.” 

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said more density and more housing choice is needed in all New West neighbourhoods because of the housing crisis. She said she supported laneway housing as a way of providing opportunities for intergenerational housing in a really tough housing market. 

“I am going to contemplate more this concept that was raised about ‘this is the rules and we need to stick with them’ because I guess I take the position that flexibility is also important in policy making,” she said. “Often, policy is almost outdated as soon as we make it.” 

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr was the lone council member to vote against the application. He said there was a time when infill housing wasn’t acceptable to many residents in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood, but it’s not like that anymore.

“We have a heritage community that is understanding that there is a need for housing. They are flexible enough to allow that,” he said. “But there has to be a line drawn.”  

While he respects what the owners are proposing, Puchmayr opposed the application because of concerns it would set a precedent for speculators buying properties and proposing projects that exceed the city’s current requirements. 

“When we say ‘it won’t exceed certain FSR, square footage’ and then we start to extend that, what that does is it immediately draws the attention of speculators, as people will see that and say ‘wow, this person did it. I am going to start looking for one of those homes in Queen’s Park.’ People are doing that now,” he said. “Queen’s Park is such a desirable area to live. The fact that most of it is protected in perpetuity, there are people looking for developing angles to get in there. If we start to extend this, we set a precedent.”

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