From left, councillors Rik Logtenberg, Keith Page, and Cal Renwick vote on a proposed design competition for laneway houses. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson council approves laneway housing design competition

Winning designs will be already compliant with Nelson’s zoning and building code

Nelson council decided Monday night to hold a Canada-wide competition for the design of three laneway housing plans that would be pre-approved by the city’s planning department for Nelson homeowners.

The winning designs will be intentionally already compliant with Nelson’s zoning and the B.C. building code, and flexible enough to adapt to the city’s topography.

“We want to promote award-winning designs at an affordable price for Nelson that also incorporate green building techniques,” city planner Alex Thumm said.

Laneway houses are typically built in the backyard of an already existing house, opening onto the back lane. They use the main house’s water and sewer hookups.

Thumm said people who want to add a laneway home are not usually builders or developers and tend to get intimidated by the process.

“So this makes it streamlined, with plans that have already gone through our zoning and our building inspectors for code compliance,” he said.

Once the winning designs are chosen they will be sold to homeowners for $1,000, which will go to the designer as a royalty.

Thumm said this may be more expensive than generic plans available online, but those probably would not be suited to Nelson’s topography or zoning and would not be as architecturally interesting. And it would be cheaper than having an architect produce a custom design, which could cost up to $8,000.

Thumm developed the design competition following council’s approval at a meeting last June, at which it relaxed some of the bylaw requirements for laneway houses.

A video of the laneway house discussion and a copy of all written materials considered by council can be found in the online version of this story at

The laneway housing discussion starts at 20:50 in this video:

The prizes and the panel

First, second and third prizes for the winning designers will be $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000. The three winners will also compete for three non-monetary prizes for people’s choice, affordable choice, and eco-choice.

The winners will also benefit from professional exposure and the prize title, Thumm said.

In addition to the cash awards the city will also give four $500 honoraria to those members of the design review panel who don’t work for the city, and spend $5,000 on communications for a total budget of $17,000, which Thumm said is already covered by the city’s planning budget.

The design review panel will consist of Studio North, a Calgary-based interdisciplinary design-build architectural firm; Ross Chapin, an architect and community planner based on Whidbey Island, Wash., an author and designer of innovative neighbourhoods; Jake Fry, who heads Smallworks in Vancouver and is a strong advocate for the introduction of laneway housing there; Ed Olthof of Nelson’s Pacific West Builders, chair of the City of Nelson’s advisory planning commission; and Pam Mierau, the director of the city’s planning department.

The competition will have two rounds: a call for prototypes, and then an invitation to some of those entrants to produce more detailed designs. The two-step process will be launched in June and completed by January.

Detailed materials considered by council, including competition rules and evaluation criteria, are attached below.

Cost recovery?

Several councillors proposed that the $1,000 cost for a design should be higher so the city could recover some of its $17,000 costs.

“I know the $17,000 is in the budget,” said councillor Brittny Anderson, “but should we not be considering cost recovery because only a small portion of the community will benefit from this?”

Thumm said the entire city benefits from laneway housing because it provides more rental housing.

Council decided to re-visit the cost recovery issue at a later date, agreeing that it is in effect an administration fee that could be changed each year depending on uptake.

They approved the overall concept and process of the design competition.

Cookie cutter houses?

Thumm’s background materials state that some responses to a public survey last year worried that having only three designs would result in “cookie cutter” laneway houses behind heritage homes.

“Pre-reviewed designs do not necessarily mean that all builds would be identical,” Thumm wrote. “Individual homeowners are likely to opt for different siding, colour, and site orientation. Staff also anticipate that many purchasers would hire a professional to modify the plans anyway, to adapt either to their own wants or needs, or to site-specific conditions.”

Energy efficiency incentive

Council also approved refunding the $450 laneway house development permit fee to applicants whose laneway house achieves Step 3 or higher of the B.C. Step Code.

The Step Code is a provincial initiative that aims to have all new buildings at net-zero energy by 2032, meaning the buildings produce as much energy as they use. Step 3 means 20 per cent more efficient than status quo building code requirements.


• Nelson holds open house on laneway housing

• Nelson plans public meeting to explore laneway housing

• Nelson workshop will update builders on energy efficiency techniques

Nelson Laneway House Design… by on Scribd

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