November 16, 2021

The Myth About Vancouver’s Single Family Areas: They Are Already “Several Family” Zoned

Last week Gordon wrote a post based on a discussion with Darren Davis about the end of Single Family Zoning in New Zealand. It all sounds good, but look at the details: the intent of this new zoning allows for 50 percent coverage (floor space ratio) of a single family lot to build up to three units with a height of three storeys.

Previously houses in these New Zealand city single family areas could only house one unit and be limited to two storeys.You can read more of that here.

But…we kind of already do this in Vancouver on what is called “single family zones”, and even allow for a higher  site coverage of 70 percent or .7 instead of 50 percent, and up to five units  instead of three on those lots. In Vancouver we  allow two storey not three storey houses outright as in the New Zealand proposal.

You can build up to five units on an RS zoned site. As one well known planning commentator quipped, Vancouver has not kept up its coloured zoning maps so that people can see it is no longer “Single-Family” but “Several-Family” housing areas in all those areas in beige.


Retired City Planner Michael Gordon explains it this way in a comment to Viewpoint Vancouver:

“Vancouver’s RS Districts are definitely not ‘single-family’ areas – ie one house with one household. Maybe it’s time to rename them to clarify that they are not ‘single-family’ districts.

Depending on the size of the lot, in the City of Vancouver you can have up to five (maybe more?) dwellings on a RS zoned site. So Vancouver has been way ahead of many other cities on permitting more dwellings on RS sites.

It’s notable that the City of Vancouver begin eliminating ‘single-family’ zoning in the 1980’s and completed the job in about 2003 when a house with a rental (not just Family) suite was permitted in all RS zones. Later that decade a third dwelling was permitted with the addition of laneway houses. More recently with the last Vision Council, RS got amended again to permit even more dwellings on a RS zoned site.

Now you can have a two-family dwelling on RS-1 lots with plus also the option to have a lane way house or a lock off suite in the house or each of the two-family dwellings can have a secondary suite.

The NZ permitted height house areas is about a metre higher than what is permitted in Vancouver and both jurisdictions limit site coverage to 50%.

RS zoned areas are really ‘house’ districts as the preeminent form of building. Now the built form question is whether to permit townhouses (3 or more), including stacked townhouses or apartment buildings rather a ‘house like’ form of development in RS Districts.”


There is a good example of how Floor Space Ratio works in this introductory video prepared by the City of Vancouver around 2:00 .

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