House construction

West Vancouver to limit ‘monster house’ construction

The new regulation restricts the maximum size of the house but allows more construction of subdivisions and car sheds

After a two-year public process, West Vancouver District Council took action to limit the construction of “monster houses” in the town.

Council voted on July 27 to approve bylaws aimed at preserving the character of the neighborhood while allowing “soft densification” in the neighborhood.

New maximum house dimensions

The regulations set limits on the maximum house size, which vary depending on the lot size and the size of neighboring lots. But it also allows for further subdivision of larger lots and prompts homeowners to build sheds and include secondary suites on their properties.

The idea is to encourage smaller homes and limit the visual impact of homes that don’t fit into the existing neighborhood, while maintaining homeowner equity, according to staff.

The council’s unanimous vote – which will see the changes take effect in January – comes after a lengthy citizen-led consultation process that began in 2018. A report of this group was presented to the board in November. This process follows unsuccessful attempts by previous councils to cut down on the demolition of existing homes to build massive new homes in the neighborhood.

Com. Nora Gambioli applauded the change, calling it “the beginning of the end for new monster houses” in West Vancouver.

“It’s a really positive change in our single family neighborhoods,” Gambioli said. “In 10 or 20 years, it will make a very big difference. “

The most important changes are to reduce the maximum floor area ratio (basically the ratio of house size to lot size) from 0.35 to 0.30.

On a lot larger than 22,000 square feet, for example, the current maximum house size is 7,700 square feet. Under the new by-law, the maximum square footage of a house on the same lot would be reduced to 6,300 square feet.

No more subdivisions, authorized discounts

But the settlement would also allow the property to be subdivided and two 3,300 square foot homes built, which is currently not permitted.

The regulation also provides for “density bonuses” for building car sheds to homeowners who keep smaller, older homes on their properties. The rebate approval process needs to be streamlined.

The bylaw also attempts to limit the visual impact of homes on neighbors by changing the way enclosed terraces are included in floor area ratios and the way roof heights are calculated.

Only a handful of people have logged in to speak at a public hearing immediately preceding the vote. Most supported the changes.

Nancy Smeal, vice chair of the Citizen’s Task Force that spearheaded the changes, said he is promoting the housing diversity needed in West Vancouver while trying to reduce out-of-scale homes compared to neighboring homes.

“The character of the neighborhood is important,” she said.

Among those who called or wrote to council, the potential loss of trees to make room for building a shed was one of the biggest concerns.

A resident expressed concern that the changes are quite complicated and will be difficult for many people to understand.

He also expressed doubt that the incentives will be enough to entice homeowners to build sheds, citing the prohibitive cost of building one.

Changes may not go far enough

Com. Craig Cameron agreed, saying he wasn’t sure the statutes went far enough to encourage further densification.

“We have had virtually no refurbishment in my 10 years on the board,” he said. “I would like to see more bonuses for discounts. I would like it to be simpler and cheaper.

Cameron said that while the changes to discounts and subdivision rules are welcome, “It will not bring any measure of housing affordability.”

Com. Bill Soprovich asked if it was fair that a person with a large piece of land should be limited in what they can do with their property.

“Unless you lived in Texas, you’ve always had limits,” said Mayor Mary-Ann Booth. “It only changes what you can build. “

Booth added that she believes the community is ready for the changes.

“We saw what happened with a number of very large, very empty and unaffordable houses,” she said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time.