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City proposal on saving character houses stirs debate on density, design, property rights

December 15th, 2016 · 3 Comments

After hearing for several years from residents on the west side about the havoc that was being wreaked as older houses there were demolished, city planners came out with proposed policies last month aimed at saving them.

They are not modest or incremental. The policies, if passed, will actually give owners who retain older houses the right to almost twice as many square feet of building on a lot as those who insist on demolishing and building new. Big carrot, big stick.

That in itself is generating some debate among homeowners and city-watchers, which I reported on in a feature story for the Globe Saturday.

But what I didn’t have room to include were some of the other strands of the debate, like whether the city should be focusing only on preserving character homes or whether it should be looking at a remake of the single-family neighbourhoods altogether.

Bryn Davidson, a laneway-house builder and older-home renovator, was unfortunately trimmed out of my story, but he made good points during our interview about how the city is unfortunately downzoning (i.e. allowing even less buildable space) for single-family homes, which perversely removes density for those who decide that all the carrots in the world aren’t going to make them try to fix up an old house.

A Dunbar resident and retired planner I spoke to, Bill Rapanos, also worried that the proposed new rules would encourage even more problems on the west side, turning single-family housing there into a luxury item only for the extremely wealthy. He would have preferred to see the city start to encourage other kinds of housing, from duplex to rowhouses, to bring life back to the west side.

Those two aren’t the only ones worrying that the city is taking the wrong tack by focusing on how to preserve certain areas for “character,” while not addressing some of the other problems. Designer Ian Robertson posted these thoughts on the subject.

I’ll be waiting to see how the world turns on this one. City consultation continues to Jan. 15.

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