Is laneway housing on the way?

New Westminster Coun. Bill Harper -
New Westminster Coun. Bill Harper
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Laneway housing could be on the way in New Westminster by the end of the year.

Council has approved looking into the interest and feasibility of introducing laneway and coach houses similar to those allowed by the City of Vancouver.

Although two councillors said laneway housing is something that should be discussed as part of the official community plan process, Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said that would take two years or more and the city is in need of affordable housing.

“We’ve got people out there ready to do it, and we’re putting them off,” said McEvoy at Monday’s council meeting. “People care [about affordable housing] but they don’t really appreciate the crisis in affordable housing we’re having.”

However, Couns. Bill Harper and Chuck Puchmayr said laneway housing isn’t something that should be dealt with separately from the overall planning of the city.

“This is a very significant change in the direction of the city, and this requires a healthy notice and a healthy, lengthy debate,” said Puchmayr. “As much as I think we need affordable housing in the city, I don’t think laneway housing provides affordable housing in the city, and at the same time it puts stress on single-family neighbourhoods.”

He added laneway housing opens up an avenue to developers looking to increase their profits and creates “huge sustainability issues.”

“I’m very concerned what is dying in North America, and that is single-family neighbourhoods,” he said. Their motion to refer the discussion to the OCP process was defeated.

Coun. Jonathan Coté said there’s no need to delay discussing the topic.

Coté recalled going door-to-door during the 2011 civic election and encountering a young couple asking when the city would introduce laneway housing. At the next house the resident told him “don’t you dare put in laneway housing.”

Coun. Betty McIntosh said laneway houses could be a good way for some seniors to stay in their neighbourhoods when they’re no longer able to maintain their big home, or allow them to be close to their families while remaining independent. Waiting for the OCP process “is way too long to wait. We have waited time and time again for these issues to come out.”

A report to council said the work plan would emphasize learning from other communities but the city would develop a “made in New Westminster” approach. It noted a lot of information has already been collected in a masters thesis by one of its planning division staff members.

The city’s plan calls for an open house before the end of February and then further engagement with the community in the spring. The hope is to have a bylaw developed by May and a public hearing before the summer with the intention of implementing the project after that.

However, the report said the Queen’s Park and Queensborough neighbourhoods would have separate initiatives and would not be included in the program.

Queen’s Park is in the process of developing a working group to promote protecting the neighbourhood’s character, and laneway housing might be an option considered as a tool to preserve the existing heritage stock. The report suggests if there’s interest in Queen’s Park to be included in the laneway process it could be accommodated.

Since Queensborough is on a floodplain and doesn’t have many lanes, laneway housing would be difficult, said the report.

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