I popped by a Public Information Session a few weekends ago at the Admiral Anson Bed and Breakfast. I’ve never stayed at the Admiral Anson, but it’s a pleasant member of my neighbourhood with a well kept yard. As a fan of B&B’s, I think I’d like it and although I’ve not slept there, I do recommend it frequently to family and friends and have heard no complaints. According to the website, rooms are offered at $45 – $75 a night – which is incredibly reasonable – beyond reasonable, to be honest, when plain Jane hotel rooms in this city go for an average of $100 a night. The owner of the Admiral Anson, Allan Greenwood, held the Public Information Session because he is seeking City approval for a three-fold application: a Heritage Revitalization Agreement for the existing home, approval for a secondary suite below in the basement, and the subdivision of his lot into two separate lots so he can construct another house.
Heritage Revitalization Agreement
A lot of people associate New Westminster with old, heritage homes. The City of New Westminster has Heritage Revitalization Agreements (HRAs) in place with many of these homes. Julie Schueck (formerly MacDonald), the Heritage Planner for the City of New Westminster, says these are “legal documents that outline the City’s and the homeowners’ responsibilities” and that they become a part of the title of the properties. HRAs are written to suit each individual property and are therefore very powerful and flexible. It’s not an easy task to get an HRA adopted, either. “Depending upon timing, and all things going well, it can take anywhere from 4-6 months. That’s if everything goes well and nothing requires revisions,” says Schueck.
The Admiral Anson was built in 1915 for Robert A. Moir and his family. The house’s size and design is relative to the booming wartime fishing industry in which Moir was employed in and evidently doing well. The house was built in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood, one of the very few neighbourhoods that today has a city-adopted action plan. Currently there is a temporary city-wide moratorium on the adoption of new HRAs except in the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood because of that existing Action Plan. Schueck is working on the final touches of a document for the city to adopt that will outline the standards and policies for the use of HRAs, and once adopted, will be used for future HRA applications in all neighbourhoods.
My co-author Will already touched on secondary suites in a previous post. The second part of the Admiral Anson’s application is the approval of a secondary suite in the basement of the existing home. Although renting a basement isn’t a new notion, it wasn’t until 1998 that New Westminster developed an official policy on secondary suites. Additionally, a draft of an Affordable Housing Strategy is currently on the books awaiting approval. (Edit February 27th: originally I couldn’t find it on their website and mentioned as much here, so thanks to Lil Ronalds, the Policy Planner for the City, for forwarding the link my way). New Westminster has several initiatives already in place to ensure the rental stock stays high. One such example is a city-wide moratorium on the conversion of rental apartments to strata properties.
The third and final part of the Admiral Anson application is the subdivision of the lot and the building of a new contemporary style 2,000-ish square foot home, a home Greenwood intends to occupy himself. This is a whole new house in what was formerly a yard – not just a restoration or renovation of an existing building – so this is likely to be the part of the application that gets the most raised eyebrows. Infill housing such as this is one of the strategies listed in the Brow of the Hill Action Plan, and also in the draft of the Affordable Housing Strategy. Infill housing is a new-ish concept here in the Lower Mainland although some builds have been approved and have gone ahead in other urban settings such as the Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver.
The proposed new home is planned for the downward sloping back corner of the lot. While passers-by on 3rd Avenue itself will likely hardly notice the 14 feet of proposed house peeping around the existing home, an adjacent multi-family complex overlooks the Admiral Anson’s backyard, and their view of a backyard full of grass and trees will change, if approved, to that of a house. However, unlike other communities, current New Westminster bylaws do not prevent a home owner from removing trees, so even if a proposed infill home is not built on a person’s lot, the trees could still go.
The house Greenwood is proposing has some interesting environmental considerations built into its design. A butterfly style roof (a roof with higher eaves than centre point), for example, allows for better penetration of natural light, and although the original construction plans currently don’t call for it, the roof design does allow for the future installation of a green roof. Greenwood and Eric Pattison, the designing architect, intends for this new home to be “the greenest house in New Westminster,” and, quips Pattison, they “are not just talking about the paint.”
Other environmental aspects of this design include rainwater collection, EnergyStar appliances, PowerSmart lighting, natural gas heating, and interior finishes such as bamboo or cork and low-VOC paints.
Looking to the Future of This Old House
Anyone hoping to get a proposal such as Greenwood’s approved by the city has a long and expensive way to go for all the necessary approvals. After officially submitting a proposal including architectural drawings to the city, first stop is a review by the Advisory Planning Committee. Next is the Community Heritage Committee for review. These two groups will make recommendations to Council. Preliminary approval is given by Council, and terms of the HRA are drafted and negotiated by the city and the owner. The agreement is given its first and second readings, and a public hearing, if required, occurs at the third reading. The City has a useful guide for how this all goes down, although in the near future, the process will likely be revised to also include a review by the local Neighbourhood Residents’ Association. The last step after a public hearing (if it was required) is the fourth and final reading, and it is at this point an HRA can be adopted.
Whether it warms your heart or repulses you or something in the middle, applications for infill housing – garage conversions, carriage houses, and the like – are something we are likely to see more of in the future. As the real estate market continues to be volatile, people are looking for ways to increase value in an economically smart way and suburban cities across Canada are struggling for ways to encourage the retention of single detached dwellings to improve the appearance of their streets without sacrificing places to put booming populations. Where other dwellings are in relation to our own is something that isn’t just about buildings – it’s about our own personal bubbles and our ideas of what “too close” is. Greenwood and others who follow are likely to get their share of oppostion, but they may also get people thinking “You know, I could do that in my backyard.”
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For more information on the Admiral Anson’s proposal or to find out more about Heritage Revitalization Agreements, Infill Housing or Secondary Suites, you can contact the City of New Westminster’s Planning Department at 604-527-4532.