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Way paved for tiny home industry to begin with laneway housing bylaw approval

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
June 24th, 2018

The path has been cleared for laneway housing in Nelson.

City council approved the bylaw to allow construction of more housing — tiny homes — on properties with existing homes in order to increase the rental housing stock in the city.

The Laneway Housing Bylaw and Zoning amendments will afford Nelson homeowners more flexibility to construct a laneway house of a size that makes it more financially viable, Pam Mierau, director of city Development Services Meirau, said in her report to council.

She called laneway housing a ‘missing middle’ housing choice, with the expectation of increasing housing diversity in the city and a solution for those who are over-housed, under-housed, or seeking housing within city limits.

In order to make a difference in the rental housing market, Mierau said a laneway house built since the adoption this amendment “shall not be used as a short-term rental.”

The amendments mean more densification of property in the city, said Coun. Michael Dailly.

“Nelson is pretty limited in what we have,” he said. “Now a property owner can have a home with a suite, as well as a tiny home or a laneway house that … someone could live in.

“It can’t be used as a short term rental but it could be a rental, and that’s the kind of smaller residence that is going to provide a space for someone starting out or for someone working in the service industry, which is part of our housing needs in this community.”

Laneway housing could also provide market-rental housing, housing for homeowners’ family members, or it can be an aging-in-place solution, Mierau explained.

The amendments allow for more flexibility based on lot size: exceptionally large lots could have a larger laneway house, and in some cases homeowners would benefit if they do not have a lot that can accommodate three or four parking spaces as well as a laneway house.

The changes to density would allow owners of larger lots that already have a secondary suite to add a laneway house. The experience of other cities is that when three units per property are permitted, most homeowners prefer to have only one dwelling unit on-site, with those who already have a secondary suite more likely to consider a laneway house.

Density amendments also allow a duplex to have one suite, so that a density of three units can be achieved under the principle of “hidden density.”

“The lot coverage relaxation option ‘incentive-ises’ single-storey laneway houses that would have minimal neighbour impact,” Mierau said.

In exchange for the relaxations, laneway houses built under the new regulations would not be permitted to be used as short-term rentals. The amendments also provide more clarity on emergency access requirements.

Parking requirement for laneway houses and secondary suites will remain one parking space. If a property contains a house, a secondary suite and a laneway house, a total of three parking spaces will be required, said for the city.

However, the parking requirement for a laneway house or a secondary suite (one space) may be relaxed, upon approval by the city when:

  • (a) two parking spaces are provided on the property; and
  • (b) legal, useable street parking for at least two vehicles, as per the dimensions described in the bylaw, abuts the property; and
  • (c) legal, useable street parking is available on both sides of at least one of the streets immediately adjacent to the property.

Building on an older foundation

Late last year the city signed on for a new project undertaken by Small Housing B.C. (SHBC) to provide more affordable, entry-level and alternative small housing infill forms in the city through an expansion and revision of its detached, secondary dwelling unit program, and the development of pre-approved designs.

The expectation was to increase rental and homeownership options in the city, Mierau, explained, by simplifying the application and approval process in order to encourage more laneway house development.

“Making the construction of laneway housing a more attractive choice for homeowners, while reducing staff’s per-application workload, is an efficient method of achieving (the) objective of increasing housing supply and diversity,” she said.

“A successful laneway housing program that simplifies the development process for homeowners to build a laneway house and choose amongst pre-approved designs could generate housing and rental income for hundreds of Nelsonites in the coming years.”

Over five years ago the city approved a laneway home pilot project — and amendments to the city’s Zoning Bylaw — that allowed for the building of detached secondary dwelling units on the back of residential single family lots.

The city’s Zoning Bylaw allowed for a detached secondary dwelling unit as-of-right in the R1, R2, R3, R6 and CD6 zones. However, uptake has been limited, with approximately 15 units existing or applied for, Mierau noted.

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