Changing city zoning to allow for carriage houses may not alleviate any of the immediate pressure of Powell River’s tough rental market, but it is one piece of a longer-term solution, according to City of Powell River director of planning services Thomas Knight.
Burnaby-based land-use planning consultant Odete Pinho led two workshops on Wednesday, December 7, providing information on carriage houses for city councillors and local developers.
Pinho has been contracted by the city on a number of long-range planning issues, including developing regulations for carriage houses, marijuana dispensaries and a community amenity bylaw that would ask developers to make community contributions in addition to whatever they are building.
“This is only one plan of attack that council has on addressing housing affordability,” said Knight. “It’s not the main one; it just increases housing stock.”
Knight added he will be writing a report to committee of the whole recommending council begin the process of zoning amendments to allow carriage houses.
City councillor and architectural designer CaroleAnn Leishman said other avenues to consider that might make a more immediate impact on the affordability issue include rezoning to allow for co-op and other housing developments.
“We should also be looking at putting out some educational materials to homeowners on making their secondary suites legal,” said Leishman.
Carriage houses go by a number of names and configurations, including coach or laneway houses and granny suites, Pinho told councillors at the morning workshop session. Carriage houses can be above a garage or at ground level next to a garden in the backyard, she said.
“They are intended to add affordable housing stock and hidden density,” said Pinho, “while increasing the diversity of housing without altering the character of a neighbourhood.”
Pinho identified Wildwood and Cranberry as two neighbourhoods where the combination of large, irregular-shaped lots and the challenges to subdivide them provide clear opportunities for carriage houses. By comparison, Townsite lots are too small and in parts of Westview adding another storey to a garage would affect the rest of the neighbourhood’s ocean views.
Despite the fact that secondary homes do not work with the Garden City concept of Townsite’s heritage district, any new development in the neighbourhood should be considered, said Leishman.
“We should be looking at creating zoning for carriage homes in any new residential development within newly developed areas of the Townsite neighbourhood in the future,” she added.
Carriage houses are characterized by being an accessory to the principle residence on the property, usually in the back of the lot and under 1,000 square feet of floor space. They are becoming increasingly common in neighbouring communities on the Lower Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, said Leishman.
Knight said the majority of residents who contact him about the idea of developing carriage houses on their properties are wanting to do so out of a desire to keep their parents living on their property, but in a smaller house, or to provide semi-private accommodations for other family members who wish to live at home.
In 2009, City of Nanaimo introduced changes to allow for carriage houses and since then 50 have been built. Knight said he does not expect a large surge in building the secondary structures if they are allowed in Powell River.
“I don’t think you’re going to have 50 built in the first year,” said Knight. “We’d be lucky to have two or three. It’s not a cheap thing. It’s not taking a garage and putting an extra layer of drywall on it and a bathroom and calling it a carriage house.”
According to Pinho, the average cost to build a 700-square-foot unit would be just under $90,000 and about $120,000 for 960 square feet, similar to the cost per square foot for larger, principle homes. Some Vancouver laneway houses cost upwards of $2 million.
Knight said with provincial building codes being what they are, homeowners thinking they can renovate a detached, 80-year-old backyard garage into a carriage house will find costs even higher.
“It’s much cheaper to build new than taking something and trying to bring it up to all the current code requirements,” he said.
With the cost of assisted-living facilities for seniors in the range of several thousands of dollars per month, the option to borrow money to build something new may make financial sense, he added.
Knight said that as part of the larger look at housing affordability, the city may, once carriage home amendments are made, look at provisions that would allow micro-houses or tiny houses on city lots.
Leishman said that while allowing carriage houses is not going to be a great fit for everyone, it will create a wider range of housing options for renters in the future.
Both Leishman and Knight commented that local developers are in favour of allowing the buildings.
“Infill doesn’t just have to happen in the downtown core,” said Knight. “Sometimes it can happen in the more rural areas by just being more efficient with the land you have.”