Why aren’t we seeing cottage homes here? | www.rebgv.org

By 2041 our population is forecast to grow by 1.2 million residents to 3.4 million, which will require more than 574,000 new housing units to be built, according to Metro Vancouver data. In single family neighbourhoods, cottage housing is a creative way to gently densify and create a more diverse housing stock.

Making new homes more affordable: cottage homes (story 1 of 2)

Why aren’t developers building cottage neighbourhoods?

Artist's rendering of Hollyburn Mews

"Land is not suitably zoned to allow it to happen,” says Michael Geller, an architect, planner and SFU adjunct professor.

Geller has spent the last five years getting approval to build Hollyburn Mews, a new development of nine cottage-style homes on three lots on Esquimalt Avenue at the westerly edge of Ambleside in West Vancouver. The project required a rezoning of the three lots and an amendment to West Vancouver’s Official Community Plan.

“For young couples buying their first home and for downsizing baby boomers and seniors, small homes like those proposed in Hollyburn Mews can be very appropriate,” explains Geller, noting that this type of development allows residents to live in higher density communities while still owning a detached home.

“While townhouse or apartment living can be attractive for many residents, I think many home buyers still like the amenities of a detached home without shared walls and with the additional privacy. This form of housing will always be popular.”

What can developers do to promote cottage homes?

To encourage local governments to rezone property for cottage developments, Geller recommends these actions:
1. Pictures tell the story: show councillors, city staff and residents pictures of what cottage developments look like. These projects are typically very attractive.

2. Build a demonstration project: if a variety of demonstration projects could be built in different parts of Metro Vancouver, in both urban and suburban locations, local residents could see them and better understand the benefits.

3. Review development cost charges (DCCs) and fees: builders of smaller homes are penalized because DCCs are usually fixed regardless of the size of the home. Depending on the municipality, a builder of a 1,000 square foot home on a smaller lot may pay the same DCCs as a builder of a more traditional home on a larger lot. Developers should encour-   age municipalities to set DCCs to encourage smaller homes in a higher density setting, not discourage them.

4. Provide a model zoning bylaw: currently cottage developments don’t easily fit into traditional zoning categories. Cottage developments are a hybrid between single family detached and multi-family homes. If developers provide model zoning bylaws, local governments will find this helpful.

A model zoning bylaw for cottage homes

The City of Langley, Washington adopted the Cottage Housing Development (CHD) code provision in 1995, the first of its kind to be implemented in the Pacific Northwest. The code permits 4 to 12 small, detached cottages on a site which would typically be developed with 2 to 6 large homes. Half the cottages can be no more than 800 square feet, and the other half 700 square feet on the first floor and no more than 975 square feet in total, including a second floor. Cottages must be adjacent to a common area and parking must be screened.

What can local governments do?

“There are two ways that municipalities can make it easier for denser developments,” explains Geller.
1. Municipalities can reduce the complex, costly and time consuming process it takes to rezone land to permit higher density, whether for small single family detached homes or multi-family housing.

2. Municipalities can reduce the cumulative costs of the various DCCs, and community amenity contributions and fees, which significantly add to the cost of housing.