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The laneway housing issues: strata or rental only, parking, citywide or not?

October 1st, 2008 · 1 Comment

I didn’t have a chance to go to the laneway-housing public open houses last week (and from the sound of it, a lot of people on council didn’t either because they were recovering from Vision meetings or up at the UBCM in Penticton or whatever). But I got a report on the two meetings that sounds as though they were pretty well attended, 110 one night, 160 the next.

While most people seem to be pretty much in favour, it sounds as though there will have to be some decisions made about how they actually get put in place.

A few people said they liked the idea of being able to strata-title them (i.e. physically sell off part of their existing lot with the laneway house) but many more were worried that would lead to developers buying up lots and subdividing. There’s the perpetual issue of parking. And then there’s the question of whether you say that laneway houses go in citywide, only in the neighbourhoods that vote in favour of them, only for the first few people who put them in on a block, and other variations of restriction. One point that was noted — one I hadn’t heard before — is that there’s a concern that if they are allowed in some neighbourhoods and not others, that has property-tax implications.

As those of you who’ve been around Vancouver for a while know, assessments (and therefore share of the property-tax load) are driven not by what is actually on the property but what legally could be on the property. That’s why businesses in two-storey buildings in some areas get hit with huge tax bills, because they’re taxed on the basis that someday the building will be torn down and a mixed-use 10-storey condo will go up. The same thing can happen residentially. If some neighbourhoods are legally allowed to build laneway houses and others aren’t, every house in the can-build neighbourhoods will start to see assessments rise because the market will eventually price real estate higher there because of the potential.

It’s that law of unintended consequences at work again.

One other unintended consequence. If laneway houses are okayed for the city as a whole, that can proceed relatively quickly. If there has to be a vote neighbourhood by neighbourhood, that will slow the whole process down a lot. That would mean it might be a year before the first, tangible product of the mayor’s EcoDensity initiative ever sees the light of day.

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  • MB

    In one way we’re all in one big neighbourhood with oine commonality — we’ve run out of undeveloped land. In that respect, land values will trend upwards over time in step with population pressure.

    Many of us would prefer a fee simple (i.e. non strata, outright ownership) row house, lane house or ground-accessed town house alternative to strata condos or, as we age, to a higher maintenance detached house. If that means subdividing the ubiquitous 33′ x 120′ Vancouver lot into two separate lots (one facing the lane), then get on with it.

    This is not much different from the individual small lot subdivisions in Grandview Woodlands, Mount Pleasant and Riley Park that predate the zoning bylaws by four decades, and that are therefore a proven example of how to densify a city while also maintaining neighbourhood character. It is very strange that these gems were never included in either the City Plan visioning process or the more recent EcoDensity debates as a workable solution.

    Eliminating a big chunk of expensive land from the purchase price is also a way to bring the square footage housing costs down and would make the West Side a little more affordable to families who need ground-accessed housing, albeit with less outdoor space.