West Vancouver will limit the construction of “monster houses”

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New bylaw limits maximum house size, but allows more housing estates and sheds to be built

After a two-year public process, the West Vancouver District Council took action to limit the construction of “monster houses” in the municipality.

Council voted on July 27 to approve bylaws aimed at preserving the neighborhood’s character while allowing for “soft intensification” in the neighborhood.

New Maximum House Sizes

The bylaws set limits on the maximum size of homes, which vary by lot size and the size of neighboring lots. But it also allows for greater subdivision of larger lots and incentivizes owners to build sheds and include secondary suites on their properties.

The idea is to encourage smaller homes and limit the visual impact of homes that don’t fit into the existing neighborhood, while preserving landlord equity, staff say.

The council’s unanimous vote – which will see the changes take effect in January – comes after a lengthy citizen consultation process that began in 2018. A report from this group was presented to the council in November. This process followed failed attempts by previous councils to limit the demolition of existing homes to build massive new homes in the neighborhood.

Com. Nora Gambioli applauded the change, calling it “the beginning of the end for new monster homes” in West Vancouver.

“It’s a really positive change in our single-family neighborhoods,” Gambioli said. “In 10 or 20 years, this is going to make a very big difference.”

The biggest changes involve reducing the maximum floor area ratio (essentially the house size to lot size ratio) from 0.35 to 0.30.

On a larger lot of 22,000 square feet, for example, the current maximum house size is 7,700 square feet. Under the new regulations, the maximum size of a house on the same lot would be reduced to 6,300 square feet.

No more subdivisions, discounts allowed

But the settlement would also allow the property to be subdivided and two 3,300 square foot houses to be built, which is currently not permitted.

The settlement also provides “density bonuses” for building sheds for homeowners who keep smaller, older homes on their properties. The retirement home approval process needs to be streamlined.

The bylaw also attempts to limit the visual impact of homes on neighbors by changing how enclosed patio areas are included in floor space ratios and how roof heights are calculated.

Only a handful of people tuned in to speak at a public hearing immediately preceding the vote. Most supported the changes.

Nancy Smeal, vice-chair of the citizens’ task force that spearheaded the changes, said it promotes the diversity of housing needed in West Vancouver while trying to downsize homes that are out of scale with neighboring homes.

“The character of the neighborhood is important,” she said.

Among those who called or wrote to the council, the potential loss of trees to make way for the construction of a shed was one of the biggest concerns.

A resident expressed concern that the changes are quite complicated and difficult for many people to understand.

He also expressed doubts that the incentives will be enough to entice owners to build hostels, citing the prohibitive cost of building a house.

The changes may not go far enough

Com. Craig Cameron agreed, saying he wasn’t sure the regulations went far enough to encourage greater densification.

“We’ve had virtually no carport construction in the 10 years I’ve been on the council,” he said. “I would like to see more bounties for relay stations. I wish it was easier and cheaper.

Cameron said that while the changes to rebates and subdivision rules are welcome, “it won’t bring any measure of housing affordability.”

Com. Bill Soprovich asked if it was right for someone with a large piece of land to be limited on what they can do with their property.

“Unless you live in Texas…you’ve always had limits,” Mayor Mary-Ann Booth said. “It just changes what you can build.”

Booth added that she thinks the community is ready for the changes.

“We saw what happened with a number of very large, very empty and unaffordable houses,” she said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time.”

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