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Missing Middle Housing—Manufactured Consent Part 3—The Online Session
City Conversation #105: Online is easy to control when participants can only see who and what you want them to.
All this uncertainty for a smattering of unaffordable homes?
An illustration from the city’s online session about Missing Middle Housing
The city’s Missing Middle initiative had three public consultation options during February:
Open Houses—Seven of these have taken place in the month of February, I guess more than enough for the city’s 23 neighbourhoods. I’ve attended two (enough!) so felt qualified to comment in a previous post.
An Online Session was held on February 27th. Coming at the end of the seven open houses, it could have been a moment for city staff to share what they’ve heard. Instead we got what I describe below.
“Were you actually able to log in to the online sessions?” The question came from an experienced blogger friend who eventually got connected after several attempts—he still doesn’t know why all worked on the sixth effort. I had a similar experience, am aware of several others who had difficulties or were unable to join. But we’ll never know, because all we participants were able to see were: the staff 15-minute slide show; the staff’s eight hosts (although half never showed their faces); and whatever questions we individually posed and they chose to answer.
Let’s be clear. I could only see my own eight questions, which were answered. I could only hear what other questions were asked when/if staff addressed them—I have no idea which questions went unanswered. I could not identify who or how many citizen participants made it through the sign-on maze—there might have been hundreds, or dozens, or just a very few. It’s like voting, except instead of a privacy cardboard cutout on a folding table which you can see over and around, citizens were completely shielded from view. At least in a democracy you can get a sense of how busy the voting place is and that it’s being managed democratically.
The illustration above is a good summary of what’s on the table for the city’s RS districts—too bad it was only revealed online, rather than at the open houses and in the online survey. It makes clear what I wrote about in my post Open House piece:
New Single family homes will be downsized by one seventh, from FSR 0.7 to 0.6, or 2800 down to 2400 square feet on a 33’ lot. Probably a good thing.
But laneway rental homes attached to the now smaller 0.6 FSR single family homes will absorb the 0.1 FSR lost to the main building, so no actual loss of space, especially where, as accidentally disclosed by a nearby home developer, the laneway will actually become a “summer house” for the main home occupants. Now that’s something easily addressed/prohibited without much fussing with existing regulations.
Duplexes will retain their existing 0.7 FSR but it will be divided between two ownership homes and two very small basement rentals—no laneways for you!
Character homes such as the one I accidentally inhabit (I had no idea when I bought it 35 years ago!) will get the same FSR as other homes (0.85 FSR, or 3400 square feet (sf) on a 33’ lot), except I can subdivide my home into as many as six strata units. I ran that by my wife, who simply laughed at how to fit a half dozen strata homes on our 33’ lot—four is easy, five is a stretch, six is impossible without destroying what little character our home ever had.
Multiplexes is where city staff want us all to go to—up to 6 strata homes—same as character homes but marginally bigger with an FSR of 1.0 versus 0.85 for most other options (0.7 for duplexes). Setting aside the design challenges of building six homes on a 33’ lot, let’s not forget the hidden costs of multiplexing:
A rainwater detention tank buried in much of the front or rear yard, with estimated costs around $25,000;
A BC Hydro pad mounted transformer (PMT) with a price tag as much as $100,000 and a 12’ x 12’ footprint on a 33’ wide lot;
The associated permit fees and development cost levies, both charged on an area basis, so 17.6% (0.15/0.85) more than for smaller developments on RS lots;
An undetermined density bonus paid to the city for the privilege of all-but-one on-street parking, destruction of most mature trees on a site and at the end, much increased shadowing and overlook of the surrounding neighbours.
I may well have forgotten other costs but the picture is clear. Multiplexing will be neither cheaper not more equitable than other options. It will demovict renters in existing secondary suites in favour of ownership, while making duplexes with secondary rentals less attractive than all-ownership models. It will offload all the neighbourhood harms (parking, tree canopy, shading, overlook) to the neighbours while enriching city and BC Hydro coffers.
I made a few simple suggestions at the end of my past post about how to make existing and future RS redevelopment more equitable, easier and cheaper. What are your thoughts?
I encourage readers and their friends to take the online survey, which closes March 5th.
I read and respond to all comments, also capturing them to relevant neighbourhood files for more detailed future conversations.
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Brian Palmquist is a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired for the moment, still teaching, writing and consulting a bit, but not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 45+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” and working on a book about how we can accommodate a growing population in the Vancouver we love.