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Laneway Housing

Although typically classified under names such as coach houses, infill housing, and granny flats, Laneway House (LWH) is a great densification initiative that can provide many benefits for both the land owner and tenant.

Made official in late 2009, the Council adopted regulations that would allow for Laneway Houses to be built on RS (Single-family) zoned lots. These houses have been built on RS-1 and RS-5 zoned lots, and will expand to RS-1A, RS-1B, RS-3/3A, RS-4, RS-6 and RS-7.

Laneway Housing

Of course, in order to preserve the utility with existing structures, the LWH can only be built if the potential meets certain eligibility requirements, and must go through the City’s approval process.

A brief summary of requirements you would need to meet are as follows:

Lot size:

  • Must have a minimum width of 32.15ft.
  • The Director of Planning may approve narrower lots if the site width is at least 24ft.

Lane access:

  • Access to open lane.
  • Corner served by open or dedicated lane.
  • Double fronting site served by street on front and rear.

Fire access:

  • A path must be provided along one of the sideyards at least 3ft in width.

Building separation:

  • Deep enough lot to allow for both the Main House and LWH extending up to 32ft inward.
  • A minimum separation of 16ft between the Main House and the LWH.
Laneway Housing

Once eligibility requirements have been approved, there are steps to be taken in order to determine costs and feasibility, and on obtaining necessary permits:

1) Site servicing research: costs/requirements for sewer and water connections, electrical service, gas installation.

2) Pre-application review: survey and plans for engineering, design, landscaping pre-application reviews.

3) Application process: submit permit application and meet related requirements.

You can find additional regulations on the City’s website here, and a how-to guide here.

The average LWH living space is 550ft², with 1 or 1½ stories, 1 or 2 bedrooms, and you might be looking at costs to build upwards of $200,000. While the main initiative of the LWH is for the increase in affordable housing supply, the $1,000 to $3,000 rental rate imposed is bound to cause some controversy. Taking alternative, similarly priced options and their respective livability characteristics around the city into account, there is a level of appeal that these property types possess, that can satisfy the most fastidious tastes.

Early in 2013, I attended a talk given by former Mayor Sam Sullivan, who had previously launched what is called the EcoDensity initiative in 2006, that would include plans for higher densities and smaller ecological footprints necessary to sustain a growing population. His theories on how densification alters the very fabric of our communities was thought provoking, and was centred around the notion that lower density developments typically have inhabitants of similar nature and backgrounds, while higher density inhabitants are somewhat more diverse and segregated. Downsizers, small families, or young couples may therefore find the Lane Way Housing lifestyle very suitable, and arguably, affordable.

By Adam Naamani

Real estate specialist, software engineer, and writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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