A growing and viable housing option

Maple Ridge was one of the first communities in B.C. to allow garden suites – just five years ago.

A bylaw allowing garden suites in Maple Ridge was passed in 2008.

A bylaw allowing garden suites in Maple Ridge was passed in 2008.

Vancouver planners are stirring things up these days by touting the controversial ‘thin-streets’ idea as a way to tackle housing density and affordability.

There’s been mixed reviews for this scheme to narrow streets and make way for more homes, so maybe it’s time to take another look at an innovative housing option already in place in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, designed to deal with the same dilemmas.

Maple Ridge was one of the first communities in B.C. to allow garden suites – just five years ago. The units allow homeowners to build or renovate small buildings on their property to create self-contained spaces.

The compact living arrangements are either rented out or used by extended family members to allow aging-in-place living for homeowners or to help slay that high mortgage.

“It’s a great option,” said planner Rasika Archarya, who developed the bylaw in 2008. “Especially if you aren’t comfortable with sharing your home with renters or you have senior parents you want to be closer to.”

This housing option was first identified as far back as the 2006 OCP, and after input from residents, council upped the size of the units to 90 sq. metres, or 10 per cent of the lot size to be allowed in a variety of single family housing zones.

Most units are placed in the back yard of existing homes and are not usually seen by neighbours, she added.

Pitt Meadows added its own garden suite bylaw a year ago.

“It’s a great infill option,” said Pitt Meadows planner Dana Parr.

But she admits that while the municipality has received one application to put a garden suite on ALR land, there hasn’t been much interest in more suburban areas.

It’s the same story in Maple Ridge.

While Archarya says she’s had hundreds of inquires, there have been just over a dozen applications to build or adapt garden suites since the bylaw was created.

There have been hundreds of laneway houses built in Vancouver, which adopted its bylaw just after Maple Ridge. But there aren’t many easy access laneways in Maple Ridge which makes design a bit tricky, Archarya added.

“It’s very size specific,” she said. “It’s not one size fits all.”

Garden suites aren’t allowed on lots smaller than 557 sq. metres or in flood plain areas.

And while you can build one of these units on rural or ALR land, there are extensive hoops to jump through for those options as well. And you won’t be able to put one up anywhere where another type of accessory building is allowed.

There are strict restrictions for the building itself, including tight controls on height, site location and parking. And while you can offset costs with potential rental income or by combining extended family income – garden suites are not cheap to build.

“The lack of applications may be related to affordability,” said Archarya.

But there are still plenty of good reasons to consider this option, according to some who hand out those mortgages. Vancity is offering a Laneway Homebuyers’ Bundle and offers perks for those who choose to build laneway or garden suites.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has information on different types of garden suite designs and offers financial assistance for low income seniors or adults with disabilities to assist in building a garden suites (http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/prfinas/prfinas_002.cfm)

Local architect Wayne Bissky, who has built a garden suite on 228th Street in Maple Ridge, understands the reluctance of homeowners to embrace this relatively new option. He thinks the allowable unit size may not be large enough or economically viable for suburban lots at this point. But he sees a growing need for garden suites and believes they will play an increased role as families look for innovative ways to live together.

“More people on less land,” he said. “That’s where we are headed.”

Bissky points to new developments in neighbouring communities such as Langley, which have incorporated laneway and garden suites into their initial design.

And with the increased density in Maple Ridge’s downtown core, he can also envision nearby established neighbourhoods as ideal locations for garden suites.

“I think this is going to be a growing and viable option in the future,” he said.


• For more information on Maple Ridge local garden suite regulations check out:  http://www.mapleridge.ca/assets/Default/Planning/pdfs/garden_suites_adopted_regulations.pdf

• For Pitt Meadows information go to: http://www.pittmeadows.bc.ca

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