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The Vancouver “Laneway” House – The Babuk Report

The Vancouver “Laneway” House

Within the last year, the City of Vancouver (British Columbia) recently amended the City’s zoning ordinance to permit coach, or “laneway” houses to be built along back alleys (rear lanes) in certain areas.  In a  nutshell; in specific single family zoned areas, on lots 33’ (about 10.8 metres) or wider that have a back alley or corner frontages, in the rear of the lot; with specific distance separation, lot size and on site parking requirements.  The lot where the laneway house is to be built cannot be strata-titled.

Laneway Houses by Lanefab Development Company, Vancouver, BC  www.lanefab.com
Laneway Houses, image courtesy of Lanefab Development Company, Vancouver, BC www.lanefab.com

At least of couple different design / build companies have emerged catering specifically to this market.  The “laneway housing” concept is an easy way to increase density in a neighbourhood without altering its visual character.  It can bring a human presence to an area previously a “no-man’s land” and create safety within a neighbourhood.  Laneway housing can increase add to the local tax base while providing a method of providing affordable housing, and more than likely catering to a different age and social group than currently resides in a community – an important feature allowing people to “age in place”.

An entire lane developed with "laneway houses", image courtesy of Laneway Development Corporation, Vancouver, BC   www.lanefab.com
An entire lane developed with "laneway houses", image courtesy of Lanefab Development Corporation, Vancouver, BC www.lanefab.com

It also supports my notion that our housing stock has come to be much too large, and that an easy to bring about sustainability in design is to simply build on a smaller scale.

As with other tiny house concepts, laneway housing may appear to have a higher construction cost per square foot than a conventional house.  A unit-cost-per-square foot includes not just the foundation, floor and roof, but also walls and all systems contained inside those walls.  A building with smaller rooms will contain more walls per square foot, so that makes sense.  In order to conserve space, many features that would otherwise be store bought furniture are built-in.  Frank Lloyd Wright used built-in features generously in his Usonian House concept – even the catalog bought “Sears House” of the US Midwest used built in features to increase living space.  Paying for these features as part of a base building or as furniture from a store, well… It’ll all get paid for somehow.

Other municipalities in the Vancouver area are considering zoning amendments allowing laneway housing.  Most municipalities in the Chicago area – including the City of Chicago itself – disallow new habitable “coach house” construction.  Oh, how I wish that could change…