District of North Van looks to curb maximum house size

One-storey coach house program also re-examined

It just got easier to build coach houses and more challenging to build a big house in some parts of North Vancouver.

District of North Vancouver council is sending a bylaw to public hearing which, if passed, would cap the allowable maximum house size at 5,813 square feet for properties within the single-family residential zone RS1.

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Unlike other single-family zones in the district, which have their house sizes calculated based on a maximum permitted floor space ratio that varies with lot size, the municipality had not previously established a maximum principal building size for the RS1 zone.

Arguing that very large homes were inconsistent with “our community’s plan,” Coun. Jim Hanson said that the new limitations were reasonable. “It will cause the zoning requirements, density requirements in the RS1 zone to match the RS2 zone, which will create a consistency across the district,” said Hanson.

The municipality recently sent letters to the owners of the 167  RS1-zoned properties across the district, noting the proposed change. The letter noted that existing houses within the zone that were already larger than the proposed maximum house size of 5,813 sq. ft. would become “legally non-conforming,” should the bylaw proceed.

Of the 167 privately owned properties in the one-acre zone, existing density regulations would only allow 51 of those lots to exceed 5,813 sq. ft. in the first place, according to a staff report. The report also notes that the average size of existing houses in the RS1 zone is currently estimated at approximately 3,160 sq. ft.

While house size is determined by adding the area of all floors in a house, Mayor Mike Little noted certain areas were exempt from this, such as parking garages, small sheds and basements.

“When we go into the public hearing we need to be very clear that the basement exemption is the largest and most common of the exemptions,” said Little.

The district also recently gave first reading to a bylaw amendment updating its coach house program. If the amendment clears the necessary hurdles, more than 3,000 properties across the district would meet the requirements to head straight to the building permit stage if owners wanted to build a one-storey coach house.

Prior to this, the district regulated coach house development by issuing development variance permits and all final approvals rested with council, which took the opportunity to review all coach houses applications. The purpose of the amendment is to allow property owners to head straight to the building permit stage, effectively simplifying the process for those wanting to build a one-story coach house.

Specifically, under the new bylaw amendment, properties on lots that are least 49.2 feet wide with open lanes, or corner lots on local streets, would be able to proceed to the building permit stage.

“I think the approach of this council has been beneficial to the community of proceeding in an incrementalist way. It has become clear that if the lot size is appropriate, if it’s single storey, if it has a lane or it’s on a corner lot there hasn’t been any resistance,” said Hanson.

The district has approved an average of four coach houses per year since the program began in 2014, according to a staff report. While the bylaw amendment would update the program for those looking to build a one-storey coach house, those looking to build two-story coach houses, or a coach house not on a property with open lanes or a corner lot, would continue to require council’s approval through the development variance permit process, according to the report.

“We have had a couple of two storeys which were successful, but I think the two storey still needs to continue with those baby steps to deal with some impacts in our challenging geographical community,” said Muri.

A public hearing on the proposed bylaw amendment is set to be scheduled.

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