Homebuilders walked away from a four-hour planning committee meeting Tuesday evening appearing content with amendments made to proposed residential zoning bylaws, by the committee, against the recommendation of city planners.
Following an extended round of public consultation, the committee had been presented with various options from city staff to solve alleged problems of building “massing,” or volume, in mega homes.
Raman Kooner of Sutton Group told the committee that the proposed new setbacks for small, subdivided lots would hamper builders’ ability to construct marketable homes.
As such the committee of Mayor Malcolm Brodie, and councillors Chak Au, Carol Day, Linda McPhail, Bill McNulty, and Harold Steves voted to change the parameters of new setbacks and building envelopes from 12.5-metre wide lots to 15-metre wide lots.
The report to council states staff “are of the opinion that changes to the building envelope are warranted for lots wider than 12.5 m.”
Essentially, with the committee’s amendment, builders can construct homes closer (1.5 metres) to property lines on lots up to 15 metres wide.
Kooner said that the amendment was critical as many large lots he and other builders subdivide fall between the aforementioned parameters.
James Cooper, a licensed architect and the city’s lead planner in the review process, previously stated that under the staff recommendations no home would lose square footage. Kooner said his concern was having enough ceiling space on the second floor.
Builders at the meeting also appeared pleased with the committee’s decision to maintain 5-metre ceilings that would not count twice against their homes' total floor area.
Councillors Steves and Day opposed that compromise, in a 4-2 vote, stating they preferred staff’s recommendation of 3.7-metre ceilings.
Even still, Joe Erceg, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer, stated the proposals would result in smaller structures.
Notably, two-storey homes will be reduced by 1.5 metres in height, although two-and-a-half storey homes will remain at the same height of 10.5 metres.
At issue is how larger, new homes are projecting outwards on other properties with older homes. As well, the public has called into question the character and style of homes, namely the lack of green space and driveway gates.
At the meeting builder Ivan Krpan told the committee the problem wasn’t in the existing bylaws but rather the home inspection process.
In its package to the committee the city is proposing new enforcement measures as it stated “there is a perception that many new homes are being altered after building permit inspections.”
Some of the concerns involve builders installing false ceilings and filling in houses with illegal floor space.
The meeting was marred by several interruptions from builders cheering for those who supported not changing the original bylaw.
Many people, once again, raised the issue of ethnicity and culture, with some builders — from a Southeast Asian background — noting there are cultural preferences for large homes in their community as well as the Chinese community.
The packed meeting saw at least three people of Chinese ethnicity — claiming to be prospective homebuyers — state their opinion that large homes should not be reduced in size.
One speaker, using Au as a translator, cited his right to freedom and love for Canada.
Furthermore, Steves and Brodie dismissed the notion that the complaints over mega homes originate only from Caucasians or long-time residents.
Several builders accused the city of being favourably biased toward a small group of upset people, with some naming the Westwind Ratepayers’ Association.
However, city staff has stated the complaints are wide spread and Erceg noted the issue has been ongoing for “decades.”
The full report and committee recommendations will go to a council meeting on Monday where councillors Alexa Loo, Ken Johnston, Derek Dang will weigh in.
Following that the zoning proposals will head to an official public hearing this September.
Correction: In last week’s edition the Richmond News erroneously stated Coun. Alexa Loo did not attend both public workshop meetings, when in fact she stated via Twitter she had done so (On Tuesday McNulty accused Loo and Au of breaking council policy by attending those workshops).