More laneway houses like this one in Vancouver could be coming to Nelson. Photo submitted

Nelson considers laneway housing

Staff are working with Small Housing B.C. on guidelines for pre-approved designs

Pam Mierau hopes thinking small could help solve Nelson’s big affordable housing problem.

Mierau, the city’s planning manager, has partnered with Small Housing B.C. to work on guidelines for pre-approved laneway house designs in Nelson.

Laneway houses are small units built on pre-existing lots, generally in backyards facing out toward a lane, and are popular in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.

Mierau, who first spoke publicly about the plan last week at an affordable housing panel, likes that laneway housing offers an alternative to single-family homes.

“I like the fact they are smaller, it’s a way more efficient use of land as opposed to just sticking a single-family house on a property,” she said.

“Now you’ve got other options and I think the use of the land is more efficient, I think you provide a different form of housing that is attractive to people in different stages of their life.”

Related: Affordable housing panel brings new perspectives

The possibility of opening Nelson up to laneway housing was first mentioned in the city’s Affordable Housing Strategy in 2010.

Right now there are about 14 laneway houses in Nelson, according to Mierau. But there could be a lot more.

Current low-residential zoning regulations in Nelson stipulate a property can have either a secondary suite or a laneway house, but not both. A dwelling unit can’t be smaller than 323 square feet, while the overall footprint can’t exceed 700 square feet.

Mierau said the laneway housing project may require staff to recommend city council change the current regulations.

Small Housing B.C. reached out to the city three months ago to see if there was interest in working on alternative housing projects. Mierau said the plan for pre-approved designs would cut down on development time.

“It just makes it easier if people want to build one of these things,” she said.

“They don’t have to go get a designer. All of the issues with the planning department have all been resolved, so you just get through so much faster.”

Mierau isn’t sure yet how many designs will be offered. She’s hoping for two or three to come out of a planned design competition set for next spring once the guidelines have been finished.

“It really does make sense,” she said. “If we can push this, I think we open up a whole new form of housing for people, which would be great.”

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