Photo: Smallworks

Nelson plans public meeting to explore laneway housing

Small homes seen as one solution to the housing crunch

The City of Nelson wants more laneway housing and it’s planning a public open house later this month, and has created an online survey, to find out what residents think.

Laneway houses are typically built in the back yard of an already existing house, opening onto the back lane.

Nelson has been chosen as one of three communities in B.C. by the non-profit organization Small Housing B.C. to take part in a laneway housing project that could include creating several pre-approved designs for the city.

There are currently 11 laneway houses in Nelson and city planner Pam Mierau says there have been only two applications in the past two years despite increasing popularity in other cities.

This is because Nelson’s zoning bylaw is quite restrictive in terms of height, area, and parking for laneway housing, she said.

Nelson developers seem to agree. Mierau says she held a meeting of 15 local developers, architects and realtors recently to talk about the current regulations (written in 2013) and gauge their interest in laneway housing. She has also distributed a survey to developers.

“They said yes, the height is too short and we need a bit more space but not much,” Mierau told the Star. “Some said, yes the parking is an issue.”

Nelson’s zoning bylaw restricts the height of laneway houses to five metres (as opposed to 10 metres for a house) and the footprint to 55 square meters and 65 square meters overall, essentially allowing for a storey and half.

“To put one of these above a garage,” Mierau said, “five meters does not give you enough height. You can put one in, or do a garage.”

Compared to what other cities are doing this is very restrictive, according to Mierau. Some other places, including Vancouver, are not requiring offstreet parking, as Nelson does.

An additional rule that limits laneway housing in Nelson is a requirement that a homeowner can put in a secondary suite or a laneway house, but not both.

Why this restriction and why were the allowed sizes so small? Mierau says the writers of the existing rules were being cautious.

“You start to get a lot of density on a lot. If you put that in a low density city neighbourhood, you need to be careful how you do it. You don’t want these tall units overlooking on someone’s backyard and interrupting someone’s privacy.”

But perhaps times have changed, and the city will find out at its public meeting on Jan. 23 at Wildflower School from 4 to 7 p.m. The city will present what it’s learned so far from the developers and from Small Housing B.C., and ask for the public’s opinion.

The planning department will then combine the feedback from developers and the public to create new recommended guidelines for laneway housing and present them to council in March.

Questions for the public, on the survey or at the open house, include:

  • What size should laneway houses be?
  • Should homeowners be able to have both a secondary suite and a laneway house?
  • What can the city do to encourage more laneway housing to grow the housing stock?
  • Would pre-approved designs and building plans help homeowners to build a laneway house in less time and at less cost?

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