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Saanich endorses new zone for small apartments on single-family lots

Mayor Dean Murdock said the new zone could create more housing options for people from students to working professionals.
Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock in front of a small apartment building that contains 11 micro-units on Doncaster Drive. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The District of Saanich is ­preparing to create a new small-apartment zone that will allow developers to build three-storey apartments on single-family lots.

Council unanimously endorsed the new zone this week, permitting the infill projects as long as they conform to a number of guidelines in terms of lot size, setbacks, height and open-space requirements.

Lots will need to be at least 650 square metres (around 7,000 square feet), be on major transportation and transit routes and be within the district’s centres, villages and corridors.

Mayor Dean Murdock said the new zone could create more housing options for people from students to working professionals. It’s a segment of the market that has “largely not been well served” in Saanich.

Murdock said it’s a model that “probably wouldn’t work in most locations” and is intended for very specific areas close to shopping, commercial activity, parks and schools.

“It’s really going to fall in between a neighbourhood zone and a corridor where we would expect to have a higher level of density and more people.”

The expectation is that such small apartments can be built less expensively than larger ones, as they don’t require mechanical devices such as elevators and complex heating-ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

A Saanich staff report noted the apartment buildings tend to be purpose-built rentals, and units are typically small studios.

In voting for the new zone, Coun. Colin Plant noted any such proposal would need to come to council for approval.

“This is about providing options. And to be absolutely clear, this is allowing the public to bring it forward and then council will determine if it’s a good fit in a good location,” he said.

Coun. Zac de Vries added it’s just one small part of a multi-faceted approach to providing a broader range of housing options.

At this point the proposed zone cannot be added to the district’s zoning bylaw until a project comes forward.

“Zoning bylaws can only contain zones that actually exist where there is a zone that’s in use in the community,” said Murdock.

The draft zone can be applied if a project developer comes to the municipality saying they are interested in building one of these small apartment buildings on a single-family lot.

“Until that takes place and they successfully get a rezoning, we can’t actually adopt it into the zoning bylaw,” said the mayor, who is optimistic applications will come forward.

“We have heard that there’s an interest in building these in Saanich,” he said. “We’ve got a very large university and college campuses in Saanich and there’s a desire to build housing types like this that would serve that student population.”

Saanich’s most recent Housing Needs Report identifies studio and one-bedroom units — often used by students, single professionals and short-term-residency workers — as one of the most needed housing types in the district. That report suggests Saanich requires 1,231 units to be built by 2025.

A staff report suggested there are at least 1,200 potential single-family lots in the district that meet the minimum-size threshold.

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