Sixty years ago if you wanted to build a detached house in Vancouver you were limited by square footage on the main floor of the dwelling. A designer named Larry Cudney surmised that by sinking the first floor a foot and a half below grade, he could make the supposed first floor the “basement” and then max out on the second floor. With its low pitched roof that just squeaked by on the height requirements, the Vancouver Special was born.
It caused quite a stir in its time, and while the Vancouver Special was cheap to build, it was eventually outlawed: although 10,000 were built between 1965 and 1985.
Fast forward to 2022 and the same ingenuity is being expressed in Richmond Hill Ontario where a homeowner is building to the maximum allowable height and width, and there appears to be no design guidelines to morph the shape into the older surrounding neighbourhood. This new house has a height just under 11 meters, and covers 39.7 percent of the lot when the allowable coverage is 40 percent.
Here’s how it looks, with a height that is just about double of neighbouring properties.
It appears that the house was within the current zoning and did not require any neighbourhood notification. It also appears that Richmond Hill is reviewing their guidelines for infill in residential areas and will be reporting back on that study at the end of 2022.
Is the Richmond Hill house the Vancouver Special of the 21st century? As one neighbour articulated “It does not really bother me, but then again I don’t have to live beside it”.
You can see more of the neighbourhood reaction in the video below posted by CTV News.