A proposed trial study on infill housing is going to be fine-tuned before being considered by city council.
City of New Westminster staff is seeking to do a trial study that would be used to develop design guidelines for small lot subdivisions in neighbourhoods on New Westminster's mainland. An Oct. 15 report to council suggested that the trial study be done in the West End, Sapperton (excluding lower Sapperton) and Brow of the Hill neighbourhoods.
The report stated that as population and housing demand increases over time, there is pressure to build more detached houses in single-family neighbourhoods. Council had directed staff to create a policy framework for evaluation of small-lot rezoning and subdivision applications in December 2010, but staff hasn't been able to begin the process earlier because of workload issues.
In the spring, the city received an application to rezone a property on Princess Street to single detached dwelling districts (small lots) so a subdivision could occur.
"During the review of this proposed subdivision, some residents raised concerns that this application was being assessed in the absence of a policy to evaluate requests to rezone properties in existing neighbourhoods," stated the report. "It was noted to these residents that the preparation of such guidelines and evaluation criteria was about to be initiated as part of the work plan of the planning and development department."
Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he has some "grave concerns" with the implementation of design guidelines for small lots as proposed. He said there is tremendous pressure on the "very valuable" heritage inventory throughout the city and worries that this could put it more at risk.
Puchmayr said he'd prefer that the city look at these types of application on a case-by-case basis, rather than having "open season" on lots that could be subdivided.
Coun. Jonathan Cote said he'd be prepared to look at infill housing in neighbourhoods that are part of the "frequent transit network." He believes densification must be connected to transportation.
"Every increase in density has to be in an area that is supported by public transportation," he said.
Bev Grieve, the city's manager of planning, said the proposed neighbourhood infill design guidelines are intended to provide the city with a means of addressing applications in the short-term. She said staff would take a look at the bigger picture and determine where density and what type of density is appropriate as part of the upcoming update to the official community plan.
"We find they are difficult to respond to in the absence of a policy," Grieve said of applications.
Cote, however, expressed concern that design guidelines would become "the norm" once they're implemented
"Once you've got that established, it's kind of set," he said. "I'd rather us be cautious."
Coun. Betty McIntosh pointed out that the design guidelines are intended to be temporary because the city doesn't have any policy to guide infill-housing applications at this time.
According to the staff report, the city has approved small lot subdivisions for 56 single-detached lots since 1978, with most of these occurring in the West End (18 lots) and Sapperton (17 lots).
The staff report states that there are about 297 lots across the city that would be likely candidates for subdivision consideration - 50 per cent in the Queen's Park neighbourhood, 18 per cent in the West End, and eight per cent in each of the Brow of the Hill, Victory Heights and Sapperton neighbourhoods.
Coun. Bill Harper questioned why staff is recommending the trial project be conducted in neighbourhoods where the inventory of potential subdivisions is quite small. While the Queen's Park neighbourhood has the largest number of sites that could be considered for subdivision, he noted that it isn't recommended as part of the trial project.
Jackie Teed, a senior planner with the city, said staff looked a combination of availability of land parcels and the "appetite" for infill in various neighbourhoods. Although there are a high number of lots in the Queen's Park neighbourhood, she said there has historically been a "low appetite" for this type of development.