March 25, 2021

The End of the Single-Family House is Underway (Updated)

The city-wide Vancouver plan discussion seems to be coming down to one thing: the end of RS-1 (or single-family zoning – the white part on the map*):

Critiques of zoning in the City of Vancouver typically begin with this:

Single-family zoning is why it’s illegal to build multi-family buildings, like apartments or social housing, on over 70 per cent of the land in Vancouver.

That was Adrian Crook in 2019. “Put an end to single-family zoning to end housing crisis.

As PT readers will be quick to point out, RS-1 is no longer about a single family.  That kind of zoning technically doesn’t exist, given that secondary suites, lane cottages, duplexes, etc. are pretty much buildable anywhere.  But the land-use consequences are the same: the buildings must be stand-alone, and the sites cannot be used for ‘missing middle’ alternatives.  The maintenance of single-family scale is still the determinant.**

But while zoning to maintain single-family scale may not be coming to an end anytime soon, actual stand-alone homes are diminishing, especially in contrast to the growth of apartments.  ‘Changing Vancouver’ writer Andy Coupland provides some data:

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Worth bring forward: Ralph Segal’s comment on “Special Density – A Vision“:
I’ll look forward to seeing (Vision Vancouver candidate) Diego Cardona’s six-home proposal on a single family (RS-1) lot. And whether it has any similarity to the four-unit idea for a 33-foot-wide lot I showed Neal Lamontagne last year which he then posted on Price Tags in April, 2016.

Be sure to peruse the 23 comments from some savvy folks such as Michael Mortensen, Frank Ducote, Thomas Beyer, jolson which are just as relevant today as they were last year.  (Click here and scroll down.)
Of course, the number of units in that modest idea can easily be increased to Diego’s six homes by adding one more on top of each of the two structures shown, with just a few more feet of height added to today’s RS-1 height limit.
The key to any number of variations on this theme is to avoid getting hung up on density (FSR) as a number, increased from present 0.6 FSR to 1.5, 1.75 … take your pick … and then test it to arrive at an optimum but liberal maximum, recognizing the over-arching objective of delivering more housing supply.
And recognize that parking provision on site can and should reduced – no more than two spaces on a 33-foot lot (possibly three with a bit of a squeeze). Finally, anticipate and facilitate within the new zoning schedule the ability to strata title.

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