Infill Housing – a Viable Option for New Westminster?

New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society - Laneway HousingA fixture in Toronto, infill housing began in Vancouver in 2009. The question of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) appeared on New Westminster’s radar in 2012. The issue continues to draw strong opinion for and against – even between neighbours.

An infill house is a smaller, detached home located in place of or atop a garage on a single-family lot that opens onto the back lane.

Proponents favour a ‘made for New Westminster’ laneway housing policy:

  •  It’s a mortgage-helper option for seniors who want to stay in their neighbourhoods but are unable to maintain a larger home. It allows them to remain close to family and remain independent.
  •  An affordable option for younger family members and students who otherwise can’t afford to live in the neighbourhood.
  • It’s contributes to the store of affordable rental housing available in the city, providing additional choice to families who want to live in the community in which they work.
  • If built to community-supported guidelines, infill housing makes the city’s urban lanes more green, livable and safe.

Opponents view infill housing as a threat to single-family neighbourhood quality of life:

  • Infill housing places undue stress on single-family neighbourhoods, increasing the density and impacting travel corridors.
  •  It’s selective – under the current framework, laneway housing is restricted to family members so it doesn’t alleviate the issue of affordable housing for all low to mid-income families.
  • Depending on the site, there can be a privacy impact on privacy for surrounding neighbours.
  • Affordable is a relative term. With current infill housing construction firms, the typical price to construct a 750-1,000sq. ft. infill house starts at about $270K.

Early 2014, City of New Westminster staff presented an Accessory Dwelling Unit work plan  to council determine the feasibility and interest in amending current zoning bylaws to allow for the construction of coach houses and laneway homes in residential areas.

Summary of report prepared by New Westminster staff for Council

“Detached accessory dwelling units add to the supply and variety of housing in single-family areas while maintaining their character and promoting more efficient use of the land…This housing option has been well-received in other cities, including the City of Vancouver and North Vancouver. This report outlines a work plan to develop a ‘made in New Westminster’ approach to examine the interest in, and feasibility of detached accessory housing units in single detached neighbourhoods.”

The study will include feedback from other municipalities who permit linfill housing and a community consultation process (with draft zoning bylaw requirements and guidelines as a basis of discussion for eligible neighbourhoods).  That would be followed by a zoning bylaw amendment process, implementation and monitoring.

The neighbourhoods of Queen’s Park and Queensborough are excluded from the study because the Queen’s Park area is undertaking a neighbourhood planning process with the city and Queensborough is located in a flood plain with few locations for laneway housing.