by Michael McCarthy
At one point, West Vancouver resembled more of a forest – a tiny slice of country life, far away from busy urban life. There were beachfront cottages with lovely gardens and porches that boasted scenic ocean views.
And, if well-known local designer Michael Geller begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting gets his wish, the return of the Craftsman Cottage will soon be upon us, harkening back to the those early, seemingly simpler times.
“What I have in mind is a ‘downsizing but not downscaling’ demonstration project in the block bounded by Esquimalt, 20th Street, Fulton and 21st Street,” says Geller, over a cup of tea. “It’s really infill housing, but making maximum use of the available space in a fashion that fits into the character of the neighbourhood or ‘gentle densification’ that would allow two or three homes to be built on one appropriately located lot.”
Geller’s proposal has been going through the planning and approval process in West Vancouver for some time.
Known as Bowling Green, the properties sit adjacent to the West Van lawn bowling club, next to the seniors’ and community centres just off Marine Drive.
Geller describes this location as a “most suitable” place for this type of housing. His proposal is to redevelop three single-family properties with three smaller duplexes and three coach houses.
West Vancouver city planner Stephen Mikicich explains that the cottages – which are really just duplexes and coach houses – will average about 1,400-square-feet, with one larger unit at 1,700-square-feet. But after several public meetings, he says the community seems split on the proposal.
“There has been some concern expressed about changes to the character of the neighbourhood and about parking,” he says. “Also, will it set a precedent for other projects? But there has also been a lot of interest in new housing like this and a lot of people have told us they like it.”
City staff will report to council in December or January about changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment effecting this particular block. Any rezoning will not set a precedent for other sites in the city.
In order for this type of housing to be built, Geller says, the proposal will need some help. Required first are both an amendment and a rezoning. Rather than “spot-zone” just these three properties, the District of West Vancouver, with the support of the adjacent property owners, is proposing to amend the OCP) for the full block.
This will allow council to consider re-zoning for the remaining properties, which could be redeveloped over time with similar forms of housing providing they respect the surrounding neighbourhood’s single-family character.
“I am hopeful that this project will be approved in order to help people understand what ‘gentle densification’ could look like in West Vancouver,” says Geller.
On May 18, West Van hosted a public forum on housing titled: “Housing that Fits Us and Fits In,” focussing on the topic of infill housing which said infills could include a detached modest-sized dwelling (1,500-sq.-ft.) added to a property with an existing single-family property.
It could also be two smaller houses sharing one lot. Or, a smaller house on a smaller subdivided plot. A modest-scale attached dwelling units in a duplex (two units) or triplex (three units) would also fit the bill. As discussed in the forum, infill housing is seen as “bridging the gap” in housing choices between the two most prominent options in West Vancouver, a single-family house or an apartment in a multi-family residential building.
“The demand is huge, and there are two main target markets for this sort of development,” Geller explains. “First are the owners of large lots and large houses where the family has left. These ‘empty nesters’ may wish to move to a smaller unit, but they don’t want to move to an apartment or townhouse. Then there are those owners of small houses on small lots. Either way, there is a demand for a new type of housing in West Vancouver. I use the word ‘infill’ because that’s what it really describes.”
Nowhere in the discussions about densification and retaining neighbourhood character is there any mention of another, more serious, subject of aging.
West Vancouver is one of the oldest communities in Canada, and there remains a huge need for appropriate accommodations for those people who have outgrown the homes in which they have always lived.
Geller says he has given this topic much thought, and incorporated his thinking into the overall design of the cottages.
Not only will there be front porches to put up one’s feet and space to raise one’s rose bushes, but each of the two-bedroom duplexes will have its own ensuite bathroom. Not for unwanted offspring to hang around beyond their past due date, but just in case one’s spouse happens to snore or you might need a caregiver nearby. When it comes to building quality infill developments in choice locations, it helps to think of everything.