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Stratified coach houses, more duplexes proposed for Vancouver

City planners are proposing several changes to help densify single family lots in both the Westside and East Vancouver

Vancouver chief planner Gill Kelley, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Jake Fry, owner of Smallworks, stand in front of a laneways house Fry's company built.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Vancouver chief planner Gill Kelley, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Jake Fry, owner of Smallworks, stand in front of a laneways house Fry's company built.

The City of Vancouver is proposing to allow owners of single family homes in several Vancouver neighbourhoods to add smaller houses to their lots which can be stratified and sold — but only if they retain the original character home.

“The part these play in the evolving housing affordability strategy is that they’re really providing a set of enhanced options for more units on lots in the low-density zones,” said Gil Kelley, Vancouver’s chief planner.

“These would be the option of individual owners coming forward, so it’s very much single lot owner driven infill development — it’s not developer sponsored.”

The move marks a big change from the current zoning in place for single family homes, where current zoning only allows the addition of a laneway house which can be rented, but not sold. The Westside single family neighbourhoods of Arbutus Ridge, Dunbar and Kerrisdale have seen especially rapid home price increases over the past three years, pushing home prices into the $4-$6 million range, and have seen a corresponding drop in population.

The trend in those neighbourhoods has been to tear down the older, smaller homes and replace them with much larger homes. The proposed zoning would apply to all RS-zoned areas of the city with character homes, or 12,000 lots. If event one to two per cent of those homeowners build new coach or laneway houses, that could represent thousands of new homes for rent or ownership, Kelley said.

Changes are also coming to Eastside neighbourhoods currently zoned under a slightly denser zoning regime known as RT. In Mount Pleasant and Grandview-Woodlands, the number of homes allowed on one 33’ lot will increase from two to three. The city also wants to allow “a new detached form for duplexes that allows for two separate houses on a lot, with a larger house at the front and a smaller house at the lane:” essentially, a coach house behind a main house. Four-plexes would also be allowed on larger lots. Kelley said the changes could affect around 4,800 lots.

The proposed changes come to council next week, and are part of a suite of efforts the city is making to expand housing supply and increase affordable housing options in Canada’s most expensive city.

While many homeowners will be making a tidy profit on building a laneway that they can then stratify, Kelley said making the new development lot-by-lot, spurred by individual homeowners and not requiring assembly of adjacent lots should keep a lid on property value increases.

People who have already built laneway houses, or lots where the original house is not a character home, will not be able to stratify the laneway house, Kelley said, although whether homeowners who have done the permitting for a laneway but not yet started work would be eligible is still to be determined.

Bryn Davidson, a laneway house builder, previously told Metro a stratified laneway home would likely be worth about $1 million. Under current regulations, laneway houses can range from 700 to 1,000 square feet, depending on the size of the lots.

Home builders in Vancouver have long called for more flexibility in what is allowed to be built on single family home lots. The proposed changes are welcome news for Davidson, but he called for the city to go further.

“It was a real travesty when the city cracked down on the small lot infill projects that were happening next to our office in Mount Pleasant, so it's good to see the policy coming full circle,” Davidson wrote to Metro in an email.

“This is a great first step, but we can't stop here. We should be bringing these changes to all of the RT zones across the city, not just Grandview Woodlands and Mount Pleasant.”

Davidson also called for basement suites to be allowed to open into the front yard, and allow duplexes and duplexes with lock-off rental suites in all RS zones.

The proposed changes go to council next week, but would not come into effect until after a public hearing, which is scheduled for late September.

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