Controversial laneway houses are popping up all over Vancouver these days
On October 1, Heritage Vancouver organized another Laneway Housing Tour to allow participants to see a new flock of laneway housing around Vancouver. Six houses were on display, however two 'beautifully crafted lane and coach houses' by Lanecraft were not finished. While this allowed visitors to examine how these little houses are built, they could not fully appreciate how the new houses will relate to the existing older house on the lot, or other houses and garages along the street.
That being said, the other houses were most interesting and allowed visitors to appreciate what works, and what doesn't work when it comes to the city's laneway housing program.
As a general comment, I believe that laneway houses can be designed to fit into a neighbourhood, provided the narrower (33') lots have a minimum 120 foot depth. There is no doubt that it is easier to create a successful laneway unit on a corner lot, or lots that are 50 feet or wider.
However, what the tour did not offer was a chance to see single level 'cottage-style' laneway houses, which is what I believe many potential homeowners want to build, and what many neighbours would be happier to have in their neighbourhood.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that this is the type of housing I would like to build, especially using pre-fabricated modular housing. Unfortunately, such units are likely to protrude further into the rear yard of 33' lots; however they could be built on lots 130' in depth or more.
The following are some images of what I saw travelling around the city. In many instances, the exterior design of the new houses relates well to the existing homes. However, in many instances, the houses do seem to 'feel' too large, especially when the garage is integrated into the new house.
This is generally done because the zoning regulations require that the second floor cannot be more than 60% of the ground floor including garage.
This is what makes the units 'one and a half' rather than 'two storey' in height. However, from looking at these photos, I would say that most people would describe many of these houses as two storeys.
As I noted when I last wrote about laneway housing, it is obvious to me that many homes are being designed so that the garages can become living space in the future. Well this might seem clever, I fear that it could compromise the success of the program as residents are required to park on the street, rather than in a garage. (As many readers may recall, while I urged Vancouver City Council to require a second parking space for lots with laneway houses, this idea was rejected. As a result, some lots could have three units...a main house, a basement suite, and a laneway house, with no 'off-street parking'.
Secondly, I found that some of the interior plans are much more successful than others. As I discovered on the first tour, some of these 500 square foot units have gigantic refrigerators and stoves when smaller, more compact appliances are available and might be more appropriate. To my mind, the more successful units offer one large living/dining/kitchen areas, rather than two smaller areas.
Some of the houses on the tour had the living area at grade and the bedroom(s) above; others havebedroom(s) at grade, and the living areas on the upper floor with an outdoor space over the garage. Both seem to work for the younger renter; however, neither is really suitable for an 85 year old granny who might want to live in this type of unit on a property owned by a family member.
I hope this is helpful to those of you who are interested in building a laneway house. I am pleased to announce that Laneway Cottages Inc., which I created two years ago to build laneway housing in Vancouver will soon start designing and building houses in the city, working with an established modular housing company, and Trasolini Chetner, an established westside builder, who is also building my Hollyburn Mews project in West Vancouver.
One advantage of modular building is that it can be completed in weeks, rather than months.... Contact me for more details at email@example.com.
Editor's Note: Here are few other posts we've written in the past on laneway housing & related issues:
- A laneway home opens in East Vancouver
- A path to laneway living
- Kirsten Dirksen II: A look at laneway housing
- Pavilion profile: West House
- Vancouver's big house conundrum
- Post by Michael Geller. Michael is a Vancouver architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer. From 1972 to 1981 he was an official with CMHC during which time he oversaw the development of thousands of affordable housing units and the preparation of numerous housing policy and strategy documents. You can visit his blog by clicking here.