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Victoria overhauls missing-middle housing rules to kickstart building

Several requirements are eliminated
VICTORIA, B.C.: MAY 5,2023-The doors to Victoria City Hall are now unlocked again in Victoria, B.C. May 5, 2023. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST). For City story by Stand Alone.

In an effort to bring more housing to the marketplace and fix a housing policy that has fizzled in its first six months, Victoria city council has tinkered with its missing-middle housing initiative to make it easier for developers to get projects moving.

The changes, which passed with a vote of 7-2 Thursday, will eliminate a number of requirements and further streamline a process that was designed to speed up approvals for housing options such as townhouses, small apartment buildings and houseplexes.

“These are bold amendments and that’s exactly what we need to do in the middle of a housing crisis,” said Coun. Matt Dell. “I believe that the best thing we need to do in a housing crisis to achieve affordability is build more housing.”

Dell said the city needs thousands of new units, and while missing middle isn’t going to do that on its own, it is one piece of the puzzle.

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna said something had to be done to a policy that led to nothing being built and only three applications being submitted to the city over the six months the policy was in place.

“I think it is justified to make some pretty drastic changes to this policy,” he said, noting the existing policy looked good on paper, but clearly didn’t work for developers.

The changes were brought to council because the missing-middle program has so far done little to bring any new housing to the city. A six-month review of the program undertaken by city staff found there were only three development permit applications submitted.

The staff report noted the lack of applications “underscores a theme of feedback received through pre-application conversations — the regulations are too prescriptive and onerous in their aim to address many objectives.”

The changes are expected to simplify regulations for developers by eliminating the requirement for both an adaptable dwelling unit and rental unit within missing-middle projects, increasing the maximum height of houseplexes and corner townhouses to 11 metres for flat roofs and 12 metres for other roof forms and allowing bedrooms in a suite to contribute toward the main unit’s total bedroom count.

The changes remove all bonus density requirements, and amend the setback and site coverage regulations. That means the minimum setback for corner townhouses from the street will be two metres instead of four and the setback for corner townhouses from an internal property line to a building will be five metres instead of six.

While most of the changes had been suggested by staff, after receiving feedback from local builders, council added tweaks that went a little further.

They included increasing the maximum site coverage for townhouses to 50 per cent from 40 per cent, delegating the authority to approve parking variances to staff and reducing the front setback for a houseplex to four metres from 6.1 metres.

Joseph Calenda, a planning consultant working on one of the few missing-middle projects to come to the city over the last six months said he liked what he saw in the revisions. He hopes to build a seven-unit townhouse at 1734 Hollywood Cres.

Calenda said while the changes will not help his project, which will still require variances and have to come to council, the revisions to what he felt were stringent and restrictive regulations should help other projects come down off the shelf.

Coun. Dave Thompson said revisions approved Thursday remove what some have called poison pills — provisions that sound good but actually make it hard to get missing middle projects built — that were put in place by the previous council.

“I’m glad that we’ve removed those and I look forward to these changes being adopted and seeing a lot more of these applications,” he said. He noted missing middle is no silver bullet to fix the housing shortage but is one piece of a larger puzzle to address all housing needs.

“Saying this isn’t the affordable stuff is not really a serious objection,” he said, adding if council was to vote against missing middle for that reason it ought to do the same for single-family homes which sell for three or four times the price of a townhouse or condo.

“Affordable housing is not the goal being served or pursued by this project,” he said, noting the goal of missing middle is to provide options between condos in towers and very expensive single-family homes in residential neighbourhoods.

Coun. Susan Kim said she can live with the policy, despite concerns she has about the lack of affordability built into the new housing forms and the fact it caters to a certain demographic.

She said she hopes that while missing middle is targeted for working families with solid incomes, the city will now turn its head to what she called an “amazing affordable housing initiative.”

Voting against the revisions were councillors Marg Gardiner and Stephen Hammond.

Hammond, as he had previously, bemoaned the fact missing middle does nothing for affordability, while Gardiner said she didn’t believe houseplexes with small yards and a lack of common space were the answer to family housing, and felt the changes were significant enough to warrant another public hearing.

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