Will the height bylaw conserve or degrade the Garden City?

This 39-year-old house is 2.5 storeys but only about 25 feet high. It enhances its neighbourhood and the Garden City.

This 39-year-old house (seen from the back garden) is 2.5 storeys but only about 25 feet high. It enhances its neighbourhood and the Garden City.

Since this article is now outdated, it is more useful to read the current article on the same topic. Just scroll up to “New-house bylaw leads to waste and loss.”

Trophy houses that ruin neighbourhoods are killing the Garden City (Richmond, B.C.), and height is a common culprit. At Richmond council’s planning committee meeting last Tuesday, it got both better and worse.

(Note: The matter will come up for ratification by the whole council at Richmond city hall at 7 pm on Monday, July 27, 2015. Details at the end of this article.)

How things got better:

For house height limits in Richmond, “height” may once again mean the distance from the ground to the top, as in the rest of the world. This has been needed since residents called for relief about eight years ago. In response, the powers-that-be slipped in a redefined “height,” sending a subtle message (“Shut up and pay taxes”).

In unique Richmond, height became the distance from the ground to halfway up the roof. Of course, developers like to build to the limit, so new trophy houses became five feet taller.

Seven years later, sanity is peeking out. Thank you, realtor Lynda ter Borg for your courage and determined work to let it happen. And thank you, everyone who has given support and respect to the effort.

How things got worse:

It’s not as simple as a Lynda and Goliath story. In the same would-be bylaw that seems ready to slay the 2008 definition of “height,” it pops up again, now applied just to new two-and-a-half-storey houses.

In concept, the “half storey” was like a classy attic, with a bit of third-floor living space tucked under the roofline of a two-storey house. Regurgitating a definition that would raise the roof five feet defeats the intent.

Even recently at city hall, developers have publicly prided themselves on using loopholes. Until a recent crackdown, they even managed to turn “two-and-a-half-storey” houses into three full storeys. The new bylaw is designed to give them another loophole. (By including a little “half store” in a new house, a developer can build a trophy house that is five feet higher than usual.)

As I explained at council’s planning meeting last Tuesday, the new loophole would lead to more neighbourhoods dying a lingering death. My wonderful neighbourhood of Rideau Park would be one of the first victims. The loss would diminish the community of Richmond, just as good new developments enhance the whole community of Richmond.

To be clear, two-and-a-half-storey homes can be great. With eight-foot ceilings, which many people still like, it is no problem to have a comfortable “half storey” on the third floor even with the restored height limit of about 29.5 feet (officially nine metres). That can reduce the footprint, leaving more of the lot for nature and gardens.

It’s a proven approach, as the photo at top shows. That 39-year-old home in my neighbourhood is two and a half storeys. The large upper window, along with a skylight, enables natural light for an artist’s studio. Far from being five feet higher than the restored standard (the restored maximum height for two-storey homes), it’s almost five feet lower.


How you can act:

This matter will come up again at the council meeting at 7 pm next Monday, July 27. You can attend or watch on Shaw 4 or via this page on Richmond.ca. Or go to the public hearing at 7 pm on September 8. Judging from the planning meeting, Councillors Carol Day, Harold Steves and Chak Au will have something useful to say, and it will be great if other council members focus on saving neighbourhoods and the Garden City. In any case, the problem is simple to fix.


Details about participating in the July 27 council meeting:

As mentioned, it starts at 7 pm, and it’s best to be there early.

Anyone can speak as a “delegation,” usually in the “committee of the whole” segment early in the meeting. Sometimes there’s a speaker’s list, so check for that on the way into the council chambers if you wish to speak. Otherwise, the mayor will simply ask if anyone wishes to speak on items in the agenda. It is agenda item 23.

For the bylaw details, you can go to the agenda package and scroll down to Item 23 on page CNCL-10, but you’ll probably find it more convenient can open/download just that item by clicking here.

Each delegation can speak for up to five minutes in total. (The five minutes applies even if you and someone else go up together and even if you are speaking on several agenda items.)

Important tip: It is a good idea to use speaking notes. A lot of people think they won’t need them but then find they should have brought them after all. If you have speaking notes with you, you can always decide at the time whether to follow them or not. Also, one of the main values of speaking notes is that you can ensure ahead of time that you can make your points within the five minutes allowed. That helps you to focus on your message.


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