This article has been amended to add more information.
There may be some unhappy acres in the District of North Vancouver.
In a 4-3 vote Monday, council moved a step closer to limiting new homes to 5,813 square feet in the municipality’s single-family residential one-acre zone – the only neighbourhood not currently bound by a cap on house size.
Mayor Mike Little unsuccessfully attempted to send the issue back to district staff for reconsideration, suggesting the proposed limit isn’t fair to homeowners in the RS1 zone.
“I don’t think we’ve hit the number,” Little said.
“If it’s not this number, what number is it?” Coun. Lisa Muri responded. The days of sprawling orchards sharing lots with modest homes is gone, Muri said, noting even small homes in the district sell for more than $1 million.
While Little acknowledged that district mansions are valued at “mind boggling” levels, he said reducing those prices will shift a greater tax burden to other homeowners.
Muri differed. “I don’t believe that the valuation of these lots, going forward, are really going to take the hit that we all seem so concerned about,” she said, defending the 5,813 square foot limit. “It’s not perfect, but no number is.”
There are 51 lots, largely clustered in lower-density neighbourhoods along the northern boundaries of the district, on which homeowners could currently exceed that square footage limit. Staff estimate there are seven large homes that would become legally non-conforming if council adopts the bylaw.
Coun. Mathew Bond suggested he was uninterested in devoting council time to an issue affecting only a small number of homeowners.
“I’m not convinced that there is a great public benefit from making this change,” he said, explaining that steep grades and proximity to creeks would preclude massive homes from being built on many of the properties.
Both Couns. Jim Hanson and Megan Curren differed with Bond, emphasizing the environmental harm of clearing large lots for huge, energy inefficient homes. Curren also noted that in 1975 the average home in Canada was 1,050 square feet.
“As far as global equity, we have a responsibility to use less,” she said.
“I think this council would be open to subdivision of many of these lots,” Hanson agreed. Subdivisions would boost the district’s tax base, he added.
Little argued that many of the properties were poor candidates for subdivision.
Giant homes are “improvident land use” and not reflective of “the values, tradition and heritage” of the community, Hanson said.
In supporting the limit, Coun. Betty Forbes noted homeowners could request a variance to go beyond the municipal envelope.
Coun. Jordan Back voted against “messing with people’s property values.”
“We really didn’t hear any support for this,” he said.
The motion raised the ire of several homeowners who wrote to council charging that the proposed limit was arbitrary and encroached on property rights while not valuing years of property taxes which were based on building potential.
“The market value a one-acre lot is almost totally about the size of the house that one can build on it,” one anonymous homeowner wrote to council. “This whole proposal seems like it is designed to punish those that made good investment decisions who are already being taxed unfairly.”
Basements and garages would be exempt from the limit. However, due to proximity to streams, many of those properties would be unsuitable for basements, Little noted.
Other maximum sizes in the district range from 2,045 square feet in RS5 to 5,940 square feet in Queensdale. Council is slated to vote on final adoption of the bylaw in the next couple of months.