December 23, 2015

The Vancouver Special-I'll take two!

Yes it is the second take on this housing form-rather plain bread to look at, but with lots of space and quite adaptable in the interior. The Vancouver Special was the “big box” of its time, providing the maximum allowable square footage of housing space on a lot.
Bob Ransford in the Vancouver Sun picked up the story previously published in November in Price Tags. The synopsis-Michael Mortensen suggests melding two  or three 33 by 120  foot lots together to create four 1500 square foot units on three levels in the front structure, and a two story dwelling in the back, that could house a 1,000 square foot unit and two 500 square foot studios.
Of course under current zoning restrictions, this cannot be done. But what Michael suggests in his original proposal was the advocacy of a pilot program and the release of design licences with pre-approved development permits for a number of  two or three lot configurations in any single family housing  zone.  As a  pilot project  these developments could connect to  existing water, sewer and electrical lines. The form and its success could then be monitored and evaluated.
Michael notes that 1000 of these developments could yield 6,000 to 7,000 units. While the City is doing some good work on stacked form, its always refreshing to get an outsider’s perspective.
And I am reminded how in the late 1980’s it was almost impossible to have a legal basement suite in a single family house . A decade ago a legal laneway house behind a single family house would be out of the question. The City is densifying and we need to find smart ways to house a growing population.
Perhaps this idea is not too far off. Would this work as a demonstration project? Can this fit into single family areas? Do we still need to think of parking spaces for every unit in a single family zone?

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  1. The first Vancouver Specials replaced character and heritage houses that generally already had unauthorized suites. The Specials were ugly and did not produce more units. Although they should never have been built in the first place, they are being renovated now and adapted for current needs. But because they sprawl with such a huge footprint they will not have laneway houses.
    The big pink monster houses in the 1980’s also maxed out the envelope. The current monster houses also are maxed out enormous. Nothing new about maxing out the envelope. Every decade someone makes a stab at creating a new “Vancouver Special”.
    This recent proposal doesn’t actually produce much more units in RS zones (currently zoning already allows 3 units per lot x 2 = 6 units vs. 7 units proposed) yet would do tremendous damage as it would ensure the loss of the last of the character/heritage stock, loss of trees, and loss of rentals if it is strata as proposed.
    Currently the city is doing a RS zoning review under the Heritage Action Plan. The idea is to provide incentives to retain existing character and heritage houses. If they allowed another secondary suite as an incentive for retention, this would create more options for home owners and more rentals and more units (4 units x 2 lots = 8 units) than this new “Special”, without loss of character stock. However, if this proposed “Special” was allowed as outright for new development, it would undermine the efforts to increase rentals and to incentivise the retention of existing character houses.

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