Coach houses cause West Van council strife

Laneway living - A recently built coach house in the City of North Vancouver.  - File photo
Laneway living - A recently built coach house in the City of North Vancouver.
— image credit: File photo

West Vancouver is known for its spacious singe-family homes with large yards in charming neighbourhoods.

But, as it turns out, not everyone can afford to stay put as they age. And, certainly, many people can’t afford to buy even the smallest house.

This lack of housing diversity is where the idea of building coach houses comes in.

Also called carriage houses, granny flats and garden suites, these mini-houses are usually built in the backyard behind the main residence.

The topic was brought up before West Van district council on Dec. 10 in a report called The Potential for Coach Houses in West Vancouver: A Discussion Paper, drawing both praise and criticism from council members.

“The tradition of West Vancouver has been a bedroom community with no industry and a single-family neighbourhood that has built character for years,” said Coun. Bill Soprovich.

“The impact (of coach houses) will be there and some are not going to like it,” he continued, adding “an abundance” of apartments and condos have been built in West Vancouver over the last few years.

The decision to allow coach houses in the district, he said, affects all West Van residents so it should be brought to a referendum instead of voted on by council after the public has been consulted.

Most other councillors, however, were more positive about the addition of coach houses to West Van.

“There is a reason why all the apartment buildings that we have are chock-full of residents. [It’s] because they meet a need,” said Coun. Craig Cameron, citing numbers from the council report showing the majority of seniors and young people leaving West Van moved into apartments, duplexes or condos.

“There is a clear need and a desire by our own residents for more diversity.”

In a 2008 survey, 61 per cent of West Van residents supported the construction of infill units, such as coach houses on single-family lots.

Still, most people in West Van live in single-family homes. In 2011, 65 per cent of the housing mix was single-family, 29 per cent was apartments and 13 per cent was duplexes, townhouses and single-family homes with basement suites.

The City of North Vancouver already allows coach houses, with around 25 already constructed. The District of North Vancouver is looking into the idea, but on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis.

In West Van, staff will be looking for residents’ opinions on coach houses early next year. In mid-2013, they will report back to council with the results.

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