PT is getting great comments on a post – City Council: Duplexing and Messaging – put up on November 14. 

Let’s bring it forward, and begin again with the latest post from one of our great commenters, Ron van der Eerden.  (For those who were part of the comments stream, feel free to repost, but try to add something more to the discussion.)

I doubt duplexes will be very attractive to developers, that being “big bad developers”. A few very small developers may take advantage. But for a small developer it’s a big risk and big money for what would still be an expensive product. I’m certain the outgoing council knew this would be a fairly inconsequential move with  few repercussions and unworthy of the massive consultation some would have preferred. It’s more symbolic. A baby first step.

Basement suites in old houses were always an afterthought with abysmal floor plans and wasted space. Often with low ceilings, even lower under ducts and beams, freezing cold floor slabs, terrible leaky windows, drafty,  dark and subject to the landlord needing entry for mechanical system maintenance and repair. In new duplexes they would be planned from the beginning and avoid all of those shortcomings. You’d fit more usable space in a smaller footprint. Where once you had two units you can have four. It wouldn’t go from three to two because you can’t have a laneway house if you want a duplex.


I’m sure that’s coming. So ultimately you’ll be able to have five units where once there might have only been one. This strategy is all in service to those many people who just can’t let go of the idea of a neighbourhood of houses. The feel of the street would be largely unchanged. It’s not the answer. It’s an answer, one that might play out here and there across the city maybe gaining some momentum once laneways are allowed.

To get the density we should be aiming for around transit hubs and stations we need to call in the big bad developers.


  1. Theoretically you can have secondary suites in duplexes, but at FSR .7 being the allowable density, the suites are small but doable. Small suites are the new norm in Vancouver. There were duplex zones created in the Norquay Village plan from a few years back. I wonder how that’s going. Is a duplex unit pretty much the same cost as a regular house?

  2. What about servicing costs for water and sewer? Servicing a neighbourhood full of towers allows servicing costs to be affordable per person because upgrades are done over a relatively small area with much larger pipes. Wouldn’t doubling, tripling, or quadrupling the population across all single family neighbourhoods create the need to upgrade water and sewer services throughout the city making the cost horrendously expensive?

    1. * Suburban homes c.1950 had about double the number of people per household vs today.

      * New development pays more than its fair share of infrastructure improvements through Development Cost Levys and Community Amenity Contributions

      1. DCLs and CACs are only the mechanism the city uses to extract ever more money from home buyers. These ever-growing costs increase housing costs for everyone, including renters, and they discourage the building of housing.

        The water, sewer, transit, power, gas upgrades required for city-wide up-zoning to duplex+ are not trivial, and they could potentially be massive. You seem to be advocating for the city-wide duplex zoning. Do you know of any research into the costs that would be required for the service upgrades?

  3. I agree with Ron. Van Der Eeerden. We need options at all scales.

    Improving rapid transit and permitting more land/building/energy-efficient multi-family housing on our existing urban land base is one way forward – it’s a triple bottom line: social, economic, environmental.

    Face it – the “Status Quo” to date in RS-1 Suburbs has been total demolition and replacement with the largest home possible. There is little value in the improvements; It’s all land value. New money, materials and energy has been guided by 100-year-old plans to reinforce a pattern of living for the next 100 years – this simply does not make sense. 60% of our land has been zoned with housing options affordable to less than 5% of households. It’s just not sustainable.

    Opening up lower-density land for gentle forms of multi-family redevelopment and infill is sensible. It will enable incremental change. Plenty of existing homeowners could benefit enormously from the more flexible use of their lots. My friend Richard Bell is a practical example:

    And as Ron notes in his comment above – we need new investment at all scales. In addition to advocating for more compact multi-family housing options at the small scale, I am also creating Transit-Oriented communities at higher levels of intensity (with commensurate amenity): homes for purchase, homes for rent at market and below market rates – along with child care centres, cycling and walking infrastructure, local shops and services, and local amenities. Target Profit margin for most “big-bad-developers”? c.15% – earned over 4 to 5 year permitting and development cycles with exposure to significant environmental, planning, political, marketing and construction risks.

    1. Michael, did you mean that you are creating T-O commmunities…, or that you are FOR creating them. If you are creating them, good for you. Can you point us to some examples?

      1. Plenty – worked on International Village years ago – housing, shops, an elementary school, a childcare, and parks. Now in planning for 1300+ homes at Clarke and Comi in Coquitlam – market condo; market rental; below market rental; daycare; shops and services all steps away from SkyTrain.

  4. Just drove by 2 new monster houses on west 1 st avenue in kits. Considering the terrible situation in Vancouver
    lets go beyond duplex . How about a 3,4,5,6,8 plex. This was done way back in Vancouver and it created a closer
    human situation. Vancouver is some times said to be unfriendly lets just get closer together,

    1. 100% Agree. A duplex is better than a megahome but we have plenty of good examples of sensitive multifamily strata infill in our leafy, highly prized and valued streetcar suburbs – places that evolved and adapted before Harland Bartholomew’s 1929 City Plan froze RS-1 zones in aspic. Places like Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, Fairview, Strathcona – all highly desireable with plenty of character.

      Some interesting stats:

      Downtown 5% of our land 17% of our population
      Streetcar Suburbs: 15% of our land and 19% of our population
      …. Everything else (mostly RS-1): 80% of our land and only 63% of our population

  5. You might want to take a trip outside of downtown and the west side and see RS-1 neighbourhoods actually look. Pretty much every house has at least one basement suite. (No thanks to the city or the planners – you all seem to have forgotten how the city fought tooth and nail for years against people putting suites in their houses, and how those people just went ahead and densified their neighbourhoods in a way that suited them). Most new builds have 3 units – the main house and 2 basement suites. Since the duplex bylaw doesn’t allow an increased FSR, the old ~2400 sq ft houses will get replaced with 2 ~1200 sq ft duplexes. These will be strata, and sold, so you will lose one or two rentals (which are generally cheaper than any condo you can find) for each new duplex.

    Meantime, families that want to add an extra bedroom, or some other living space, on their main floor as their kids grow are actively prevented by the city, because it might go over the FSR limit. So the likely result is the basement tenant gets kicked out to make space. Way to go for density and affordability.

    There are no SFH neighbourhoods in Vancouver. Ok, maybe in Shaughnessy and points west. A far better policy would be to allow residents in neighbourhoods zoned RS-1 to build housing that suits them. But I doubt the control freaks in urban planning would ever allow that.

    1. I rent a place in Dunbar so I know! So let’s just drop the RS-1 charade and allow more decent purpose-built multi family housing for sale and rent.

    2. Very good points, Bar Foo. I would like to say, as an urban planner working in government, that you cannot blame this entirely on planners. They take their orders and direction from city council. They can influence direction and ad analysis and background, but they cannot REVERSE a direction of council.

  6. And to be fair it was not planners obstructing legal secondary suites … RS-1 residents came out in numbers to oppose legal basement suites in the 90’s when they were first proposed; a decade later, in the face of increasing housing prices, most of the public was on side when council and planners re-introduced the idea.

    1. An tragedy. There are thousands of houses built under zoning regulations of that time designed to prevent basement suites – where most of the basement space had to be filled in to make it an uninhabitable crawl space.

      Opening up those spaces to become basements (where it’s even possible) is an expensive, disruptive and messy job. Lots of wasted concrete and other materials too. For those worried about the environmental impact of replacing buildings, this is just downright waste with nothing positive to show for it.

  7. What about traffic congestion?

    City-wide duplex zoning will undoubtedly add to neighbourhood traffic congestion. Doubling the number of housing units in single family areas will at least double the number of cars flooding onto the major thoroughfares during rush hours.

    Compare that to new high-rise developments, like the ones at Oakridge where people have all of their shopping needs at ground level plus fast efficient transit to the downtown, Richmond, UBC and Burnaby. At Oakridge, just like in Yaletown, there will be less need for a car, and many will go for days at a time without using theirs, if they even have.

    Strategically targeted high-density housing along major transit routes is a useful solution. Shotgun approaches, like duplexing the entire city, would only compound many of our worst problems.

    City-wide duplex zoning is not the answer. It’s not even part of the answer.

      1. Is it reasonable to simply assume that city-wide up-zoning to duplex won’t have adverse affects on city-wide traffic congestion? Before heading down that path, I’d prefer to see some solid planning research that points to reasonable solutions for handling all of that additional traffic. Are you aware of any?

        1. Peter, there has been PLENTY of planning and research, from the CityPlan through the neighbourhood planning studies such as Marpole and GW.

          I am sure that the upcoming city=wide planning process being pushed by Councillors Colleen Hardwick, Melissa De Genova and Adriane Carr, and to be considered by council, probably this year, will not only make this obvious, but also help educate the general public and build support for densification.

  8. The duplex zoning was just a veil Vision draped across their fin de siecle to hide the fact they hadn’t done much for affordability. It was just for show, these duplexes wouldn’t be remotely affordable but it took any pressure off to add meaningful density to neighbourhoods close to the downtown core. Why anger the residents of Strathcona or Grandview-Woodlands with towers when you can give the illusion of sticking it to the West Side with duplexes?

  9. Developers want the RS-1 zones changed to duplex zones so that they can have unrestrained access to properties in these zones for redevelopment purposes, properties that they think of as the ‘existing land base’. The owner occupants of these properties are called the ‘Public’ by the developers. In Vancouver the ‘Public’ really has no voice because the ‘Public’ is not a ‘person’ in a fair debate. It’s a one-sided discussion wherein the planner sets the agenda and the schedule, chairs the meetings and summarizes what the property owner thinks. There is nothing democratic about the public consultation process.

    Indulge me, ‘Joe Public’ for a moment.

    I, Joe Public, would like planners and developers to bring forward a zero emissions development strategy for Vancouver. Failing that we should stick to renovations, transformations and additions to existing housing stock along with in-fill projects. The rationale for this position lies in the latest climate change reporting: we are failing to curb CO2 emissions, the causes driving extreme weather, rising seas, ecological collapse, etc.

    So planners and developers send forth your most courageous heroes who will save us from the mountain of destruction we have created. Duplex zoning is simply more destruction.

    If for example, my neighbour Sam who lives in a very nice 1940’s house came over and told me that he was going to redevelop his lot, “make room for others” he says and then proposes to move his home to the back of the lot and build a ten floor skinny tower where the house once stood. Well then, what else is to be said, it’s a defensible action as we currently think about things, no waste and super efficiency. So, I say it’s a deal, and good for you, now, how about transportation support for each unit for the life of the building? So he says we will work something out. Now that is a project that I can support and so can my neighbours because it represents hope in the future.

    1. New development today must meet much higher standards than anything before. If anything, we could look at taking incentives, carrots and sticks to the existing housing stock where the marginal gains would be more significant.

      Cars … same principle … let’s price ALL cars not just the new neighbours’. Like parking on the street and using your garage for other things? Pay an annual fee – everyone.

      This new NIMBY tactic is to demand LEED Platinum Plus Plus (LEED Buckminsterfullereze?) for new infill … witness District of North Vancouver’s recent refusal of an affordable housing apartment because it was ‘not net zero carbon’. Civic Cognative Disaonance.

    2. And to the first point “Developers” don’t typically want to work at the scale of a single lot, or even two or three. A small project is as much brain damage as a large one with a fraction of the return. This type of infill lies within the capacity and scope of individual homeowners and small builders.

    3. Jolson, first of all, I completely agree with you on the environmental front, recycling built product/space as opposed to demolishing, greenhouse gas em\missions, global warming, etc.

      However, I want to take issue with your comments that lump planners and developers together, such as:

      “the planner sets the agenda and the schedule, chairs the meetings and summarizes what the property owner thinks. There is nothing democratic about the public consultation process.”

      First, I am a planner and I note that that is the planners role and job.

      Second, I concur with Michael Mortensen that the big developers are not interested in small projects in Vancouver such as duplexes or one=lot redevelopments. Big developers have full time professional staff who could plow through the bureaucratic planning approval, design and construction process, but they are not interested in such projects. Too much risk, not enough reward, and not enough prestige.

      That leaves the small developers, the mom-and-pop developers, and the homeowner-developers.

      These people do NOT have full time professional staffs, they are being pulled many ways and they have limited time and experience. They NEED hand=holding and guidance from municipal planners.

      This is what I do every day professionally.

      From your perspective, this may be some kind of corruption, collusion, professional misconduct, anti-democratic action, etc.

      But give planners some credit for being professional.

  10. I looked up duplex for sale in the Noquay area where they allow duplexes (obviously), and I found a presale duplex for sale at 2688 Norquay Street. Presale price $999 900 at 1169 sq ft. The price per sq foot is less than new condo units in the same area, plus you don’t pay maintenance fees that are close to $400 a month in most buildings. Plus all the other advantages of having a semi detached home vs condo (depending on your point of view). The duplex also has a basement suite. Would be curious to see the lay out of the basement suite.

    Although the density (FSR) is the same, there’s an oppotunity for a family to live in a semi-detached home in the CoV for much less than what you would pay for a detached home. I would still like to see more density offered and also see laneways houses allowed.

  11. Gordon, you write: “Basement suites in old houses were always an afterthought with abysmal floor plans and wasted space. Often with low ceilings, even lower under ducts and beams, freezing cold floor slabs, terrible leaky windows, drafty, dark and subject to the landlord needing entry for mechanical system maintenance and repair.”

    I note that comment Bar Foo adds: “you all seem to have forgotten how the city fought tooth and nail for years against people putting suites in their houses, and how those people just went ahead and densified their neighbourhoods in a way that suited them). ”

    I want to add that the reason for all these inadequate and substandard basement suites is because they were illegal when they were established, building into unfinished basements that were already there. Even after the city’s legalization program, mostly all suites that were “legalized” were upgrades to existing illegal, substandard suites.

    All of this is not a great justification for the city council’s last minute switch from a comprehensive character home study, policy and bylaws to a duplex bylaw. It is perfectly possible to accommodate high quality, high standard suites into modified and expanded character homes, and not just new duplex construction.

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