New Westminster explores issue of laneway housing

The city’s plan to explore laneway housing sparked a spirited debated in council chambers on Monday.

Council considered a report in which staff outlined a proposed workplan for an accessory dwelling unit program. Staff would review the interest in and feasibility of potential amendments to the zoning bylaw that would allow residents to build coach houses and laneway homes in residential areas.

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The work plan proposed by staff would begin with compiling information about other municipalities’ experiences with this type of housing, consulting with the community and preparing draft zoning bylaw requirements and guidelines that would be available during consultation with neighbourhoods. That would be followed by a zoning bylaw amendment process, implementation and monitoring.

The Queen’s Park and Queensborough neighbourhoods aren’t proposed to be included in the program and would be dealt with separately because the Queen’s Park area is undertaking a neighbourhood planning process with the city and Queensborough is located in a flood plain and has few lanes allowing this type of housing to be built.

Coun. Bill Harper believes all areas of the city should be dealt with at the same time.

“We have to treat the entire city the same,” he said. “That is my view.”

Harper would prefer that the issue of laneway housing be dealt with as part of the update of the city’s official community plan, which is getting underway.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said this is a “very, very significant change in direction for the city” and also believes it’s best addressed through the official community plan process. As much as the city needs affordable housing, he doesn’t believe that’s provided by laneway housing, which can have monthly rents of $1,500 to $2,000 in Vancouver.

Puchmayr expressed concern about the stress that laneway housing could have on single-family neighbourhoods.

“I am very concerned about something that is disappearing in North America – that is single family neighbourhoods,” he said.

Coun. Jonathan Cote stressed that the city needs to deal with the issue of laneway housing now – not in two years. While it’s going to be a “somewhat controversial” topic, he said it’s a discussion the city needs to have.
“This issue is not going to disappear,” he said.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy views laneway housing as part of the city’s affordable housing strategy. He’s not sure that a “one-size-fits-all” policy is necessary, as it could be a neighbourhood planning issue.

“The only regret I have is we haven’t been able to do it sooner,” he said.

McEvoy noted there are community members who are “ready to go” if a policy is approved.

Council defeated a motion to consider laneway housing as part of the official community plan update, with a majority of council preferring to deal with the issue sooner. Instead, council directed staff to report back on how laneway housing is handled in other cities and options for addressing the issue in New Westminster.

“Detached accessory dwelling units add to the supply and variety of housing in single-family areas while maintaining their character and promoting more efficient use of the land,” stated a staff report. “This housing option has been well-received in other cities, including the City of Vancouver and North Vancouver. This report outlines a work plan to develop a ‘made in New Westminster’ approach to examine the interest in, and feasibility of detached accessory housing units in single detached neighbourhoods.”

Bev Grieve, the city’s director of development services, said staff would be working on an update to the official community plan over the next two years.

Coun. Lorrie Williams said she’d also like to hear what the community thinks of laneway housing.

Harper suggested laneway housing is potentially a topic for a referendum in New Westminster.

Coun. Betty McIntosh feels that waiting for the official community plan is “too long to wait” for dealing with laneway housing. She’s been approached by a family in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood who wanted to know when the city would consider laneway housing.

“They want to build a little laneway house for granny,” she said. “A new little granny house would be easier for her to maintain.”

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