‘Hid­den’ den­sity seen as good idea

In­fills pro­vide more home space

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - RICHARD

Though “den­sity” can be a dirty word for many, I was in­trigued when I re­ceived an e-mail with the sub­ject line “hid­den den­sity” from Brent Tode­rian, a for­mer plan­ner with the City of Cal­gary who is now di­rec­tor of plan­ning for Van­cou­ver.

The e-mail went on to ex­plain that hid­den den­sity was a nick­name for Van­cou­ver’s EcoDen­sity Ini­tia­tive (2006 to 2008) to en­cour­age laneway hous­ing. It re­lates to the fact that laneway devel­op­ment doesn’t sig­nif icantly change the way de­tached sin­gle­fam­ily hous­ing looks from the street be­cause it is us­ing the garage space for mod­est res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment.

Tode­rian didn’t stop there; he also threw out terms like “gen­tle den­sity” — which refers to lower-scaled, ground-ori­ented den­sity forms like row houses — and “in­vis­i­ble den­sity” such as sec­ondary suites.

He pro­vided some pho­tos of the more than 100 laneway units built so far in Van­cou­ver.

I have to ad­mit I was im­pressed. Imag­ine in­ner-city laneways full of funky lit­tle cot­tages in­stead of be­ing a sea of blank garage doors and blue and black garbage bins.

Could this work in Cal­gary? Is it al­ready hap­pen­ing?

I iden­tif ied two quick bar­ri­ers for Cal­gary:

Snow — What would we do from Novem­ber to April, when our back lanes are full of snow? This is not a prob­lem in Van­cou­ver.

Dirt — All laneways would have to be paved be­cause the homes are built right at the edge of the laneway. I can’t imag­ine Cal­gar­i­ans be­ing keen to live on a dirt laneway.

I con­tacted Lau­rie Kim­ber of the City of Cal­gary to f ind out how its new land use by­law deals with hid­den den­sity op­por­tu­ni­ties.

I was sur­prised to learn that the City of Van­cou­ver plan­ning depart­ment may have learned some­thing from Cal­gary’s laneway hous­ing rules ap­proved in 2007.

Cal­gary’s by­law al­lows for “sec­ondary suite– de­tached garage” and “sec­ondary suite– de­tached gar­den,” which are more com­monly re­ferred to as a garage suite and a gar­den suite, re­spec­tively.

In es­tab­lished ar­eas of Cal­gary, landown­ers have the choice to re­tain their ex­ist­ing older house and build a laneway house — ei­ther a gar­den suite or a garage suite — or build a pair of semi-de­tached dwellings.

There are about 30,000 parcels of land in the de­vel­oped area of Cal­gary that meet the min­i­mum par­cel area re­quire­ments of 400 square me­tres to build ei­ther a garage suite or a gar­den suite.

It is likely the ma­jor­ity of these would also meet the min­i­mum par­cel width re­quire­ment of 13 me­tres.

This means that there are many ex­ist­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for landown­ers to choose their own method to in­crease den­sity on their par­cel: ei­ther re­move the ex­ist­ing house and build a pair of inf ills, or re­tain the ex­ist­ing house and build a gar­den suite or garage suite.

The de­ci­sion on which way to go of­ten de­pends on the age, size and con­di­tion of the orig­i­nal house, as well as fac­tors such as ease of in­stalling new ser­vic­ing.

Kim­ber also in­formed me “there are other ar­eas of Cal­gary where we have laneway hous­ing: Gar­ri­son Woods, Gar­ri­son Green and McKenzie Town to name a few.

“In Cranston, Sad­dleridge and Kin­cora, coun­cil has ap­proved 119 hectares of land which po­ten­tially could al­low thou­sands of gar­den and garage suites to oc­cur, depend­ing on the even­tual par­cel size cho­sen by the de­vel­oper.”

In Cal­gary, gar­den suites and garage suites are al­lowed in al­most all new low den­sity res­i­den­tial dis­tricts, as well as sec­ondary suites, as long as the par­cel width is at least nine me­tres.

This led to a dis­cus­sion of Cal­gary’s long-stand­ing (since the 1970s) in­ner-city inf ill hous­ing devel­op­ment.

This is the prac­tice of re­mov­ing one small bun­ga­low and cre­at­ing two new two-storey houses. It may not ex­actly be hid­den den­sity, but it doesn’t sig­nif icantly change the streetscap­e.

“Since 2002, Cal­gary has av­er­aged over 600 inf ill homes per year.” says Kim­ber.

He went on to say that “inf ill houses are usu­ally much larger than the smaller bun­ga­lows they re­place — and so, in ad­di­tion to the dou­bling of the num­ber of dwelling units, the larger floor space of an inf ill house can ac­com­mo­date larger house­holds as well.”

I can cer­tainly vouch for this.

I have lived in an inf ill com­mu­nity since the early ’90s and I have wit­nessed many young fam­i­lies mov­ing into my neigh­bour­hood.

Hid­den, gen­tle and in­vis­i­ble den­sity does not re­place high­rise and midrise den­sity, but it is part of the spec­trum of hous­ing needed to cre­ate a di­verse, vi­able and sus­tain­able ur­ban city.

It will ap­peal to a se­lect group of home­own­ers and non-tra­di­tional de­vel­op­ers.

It of­fers the op­por­tu­nity for fam­i­lies to age-in-place — in other words, pro­vide an in­de­pen­dent home for young adults, ag­ing par­ents and /or care­givers.

Inf illing den­sity also al­lows the over­all char­ac­ter of the neigh­bour­hood, as viewed from the street, to be more or less pre­served.

In ad­di­tion, it per­mits in­ner city schools, com­mu­nity cen­ters, churches, re­tail busi­nesses and parks to re­main healthy and vi­able.

While Van­cou­ver is of­ten viewed as be­ing an early adopter of new ur­ban devel­op­ment poli­cies and plan­ning, I think a case could be made that Cal­gary — given its dif­fer­ent geog­ra­phy, econ­omy and de­mo­graph­ics — is just as strate­gic in de­vel­op­ing poli­cies and plans that re­flect our unique sense of place.

Van­cou­ver di­rec­tor of plan­ning Brent Tode­rian is a for­mer plan­ner with the City of Cal­gary.

Cal­gary has av­er­aged more than 600 in­fill homes per year since 2002, says Lau­rie Kim­ber of the City of Cal­gary.

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