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Affordable-housing plan would allow row houses, town homes

A proposed city policy could see row houses and stacked townhouses built in Vancouver neighbourhoods that have been enclaves of single-family housing until now.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Montreal-style row-house and stacked-townhouse projects could be kicking off within weeks in Vancouver neighbourhoods that have been enclaves of single-family housing until now.

But the proposed city policy that will open the doors to those new forms will also require applicants to prove how their project can provide affordable housing, the deputy city manager says.

David McLellan, whose report proposing several new initiatives on affordable housing is going to council for approval next Tuesday, said he expects that most of the pilot developments will be rentals.

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"And for all of them, we are devising some ways to ensure that it's affordable," Mr. McLellan said.

His report, which grew out of the mayor's task force on affordable housing, recommends an interim rezoning policy to kick-start the new projects. It will let 20 developers, in an initial phase, apply to build stacked townhouses or row houses up to 31/2 storeys on any residential street that is next to an arterial.

The report is also recommending the city allow six-storey projects on arterials if there is a neighbourhood centre or shopping area nearby.

That means the two new policies could produce areas with a kind of stepped density, where there are higher apartment buildings on the main street, stacked townhouses or row houses on the two streets on either side, and single-family homes beyond that.

It's similar to what Portland, a city with vast swathes of historic single-family housing, allows in its zoning.

If the Vancouver efforts are successful, the experiment will be extended, Mr. McLellan said.

He said several groups with an interest in building affordable housing approached the city earlier this year during the task-force consultations. Some are already doing preliminary consultations in neighbourhoods, and he expects their applications to come in shortly after the policy is voted on next Tuesday.

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Mr. McLellan said the city isn't limiting developers to one project per neighbourhood, but will leave it up to applicants to figure out where a development might be feasible.

"We are expecting two in the Dunbar area," he said.

The concept is sure to generate debate there, where a townhouse project that extended from Dunbar Street onto a side street at 39th Avenue set off a major storm five years ago.

"I don't see it being much favoured there," Dunbar real estate agent Ryan Taylor said. "One of the reasons people live here is it's not like Kits."

But a group from Dunbar that has worked with the city on planning issues sent a letter to Vancouver's housing task force, saying the neighbourhood would be willing to consider transitional forms of housing between higher buildings around commercial centres and single-family houses.

The concept is being applauded by urban planners, who say the new types of housing will provide something more affordable in the neighbourhoods where they're built.

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"On the west side, it will be affordable relative to what's available on the west side," planning consultant Lance Berelowitz said. "It's going to address the lower-middle-class part of the spectrum."

Frank Ducote, who has been working with suburban municipalities like North Vancouver that are trying to create new nodes of urban-style density, said it is a "livable, practical solution" that gets away from the towers and big tracts of land that have dominated development around the region in recent years.

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