By Jonas Velaniskis
Published: Jan 11, 2016
Squamish is growing quickly. To keep up with our community’s needs, the District of Squamish has started the annual update of the District’s Zoning Bylaw with a goal of completing it by the end of January 2016.
What is a Zoning Bylaw?
While admittedly not the most exciting reading material, a zoning bylaw has a profound effect on how a community is laid out and operates. Zoning plays a key role in aspects of our daily life such as how far you have to travel to buy groceries or work, how many people live in your neighbourhood, the size of your place and how affordable it is, and perhaps most importantly what your neighbor is up to on that weekend project (this being one of the founding reasons of how zoning started in the first place). Zoning Bylaws are the main tool municipalities use to ensure that different land uses within an area are compatible and the intensity of those uses is mindful of its surroundings.
Why do we need an update?
Zoning bylaws are living regulations and require almost annual re-evaluation in order to keep up with changing community needs, priorities and alignment with other initiatives such as changes in Provincial law. We are a fast growing community, which means that our land and housing needs are also growing and changing faster than ever before. The last update took place in 2014 and included a number of positive changes for wider and better use of park space, more options for the use of commercial areas, distilleries and breweries are now permitted in our industrial areas, and of course urban chickens scored a landmark victory by earning a place in your backyard, subject to registration.
The 2016 update aims to re-evaluate the following zoning:
- Secondary suites,
- Home-based businesses,
- Construction within floodplain areas,
- Food trucks and fruit stalls,
- Child care,
- Outdoor recreation equipment storage, and
- Smaller-form housing such as micro-homes.
The general direction of the 2016 update is to ease the Zoning constraints in those areas. By working through some of the limitations of the Bylaw with our applicants over the last year, the District has identified potential solutions to some problems while others need further discussion with the you. Everything is open to discussion.
- Secondary Suites
Rental housing availability in Squamish is suffering from a significant shortage with an estimated vacancy rate stuck at 0%. It is becoming very hard to find a place for rent. High demand for housing in general has also resulted in a considerable increase in home prices to a point that is well beyond affordability for a significant segment of our community. This issue is quickly rising to the top as one of the most pressing challenges in Squamish.
Current secondary suite zoning regulations are restrictive, particularly when it comes to detached suites, which are limited in size, form and location. Detached secondary suites can only be located on the second storey of an accessory building and are limited in size to 56m² (or 600ft²). The size limitations are particularly challenging and limit the possibility of a two bedroom detached suite.
Properties containing a secondary suite are also limited when it comes to home-based businesses; only home office is currently permitted in the principal dwelling and no home-based business is permitted in a secondary suite.
While a size increase across the board for secondary suites is warranted, increasing secondary suite size options even more on larger parcels presents another opportunity to facilitate greater energy efficiency and contribute towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Squamish through density bonusing.
- Expand accessory suite housing options by increasing the maximum floor area of detached suites to 70m² (currently 56m²) for all areas.
- Increase the maximum floor area of detached suites to 90m² on parcels equal to or larger than 0.2ha if the building is insulated to a higher standard (DENSITY BONUS).
- Allow detached secondary dwellings at ground level outside of floodplain areas.
- Allow secondary suites outside of community sewer and water service areas.
- Allow secondary suites in conjunction with home-based business activity.
- Apply appropriate setbacks to detached suites, same as principal dwelling setbacks for front and side yard, 3m for rear yard and 0.6m where there is a rear lane, and 6m from the rear and 0.6m where there is a rear lane on larger properties.
- Food Trucks and Mobile Commercial Stalls
Food trucks and other mobile vendors are an important part of a lively and bustling town particularly in downtown areas. They bring people out on street and introduce spontaneity in our otherwise unchanging built environment. They can also compliment adjacent business by bringing people into Downtown. These are not yet clearly addressed in our Zoning Bylaw but the District has been issuing business licenses to accommodate food trucks and mobile vendors around town. The lack of alignment between the Business License Bylaw and Zoning needs to be resolved. The District is currently going through an update for the Business License Bylaw and hence it is an ideal time to clarify the Zoning Bylaw as well.
- Define food trucks and other mobile commercial vendors (sale of goods such as fruit or flowers) in the Zoning Bylaw.
- Permit food trucks where stores and restaurants are permitted, during Special Events, as well as on public property or parkland with District Approval.
- Permit commercial mobile vendors where stores are permitted, as well as on parkland or public property with District Approval. Ensure that mobile vendors are not located within 100 metres of a business that sells the same type of product.
Child Care Facilities
Squamish is attracting many young families and is statistically one of the youngest towns in BC. As a result, we are experiencing a shortage of child care spaces. In addition to permitting child care facilities in a number of zones, the Zoning Bylaw allows residential-scale child care facilities in detached homes as well as duplexes. If current demographic and population growth trends continue, Squamish will likely continue to experience a significant shortage of child care facilities..
- Permit licensed residential-scale child care facilities (up to 16 kids) in multi-unit residential zones and in secondary suites (limited to one per property).
Outdoor Recreational Storage Facilities
Outdoor adventure is the cornerstone of the Squamish brand and culture, which has much to do with where Squamish is located. Both a climbing and watersports meca, outdoor rec is still expanding in Squamish and becoming more accessible with the recent addition of the Sea to Sky Gondola. A number of rafting operations are also based in town. However, according to the current Zoning Bylaw, outdoor recreation related facilities are only permitted in certain Park zones and two Comprehensive Development zones. This limitation has generated location challenges for commercial and non-profit outdoor recreation operators and clubs, particularly as it relates to storage of recreational equipment close to natural amenities. Given the Squamish brand and culture, significant expansion of this use is warranted.
- Permit outdoor recreational storage facilities in any zone outside of residential zones.
Many people in Squamish have pets and from time to time those four legged friends need professional care. The current Zoning Bylaw limitations on pet care, particularly veterinary clinics and grooming, are fairly prohibitive. Pet grooming is only permitted in some industrial areas. Veterinary clinics are only permitted on one property, which is currently undeveloped. These provisions mean that pet care businesses cannot operate downtown contrary to historic use and ordinary land use practice. Further, the unintentional restriction on veterinary clinics means that a veterinary clinic cannot initiate in Squamish at this time. Health clinics suffer from the same condition as veterinary clinics. The use is only allowed in one Park zone and one other property.
- Allow Pet Grooming in Downtown Commercial C-4 zone.
- Allow Veterinary Clinics and Health Clinics in all zones where Personal Service Establishments are permitted.
Micro and Smaller Homes
Connected to the rental housing shortage issue, housing affordability in Squamish has been getting worse in recent years. While housing affordability is a wicked problem that will require a well-resourced long-term strategy to manage, some building barriers can be addressed through this Zoning Bylaw update. Many of us have likely heard of the movement towards smaller living space that significantly reduces housing costs and our environmental footprint. The late comedian George Carlin once said “that’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get… more stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house, you could just walk around all the time.. ”
As reported by the BC Real Estate Board, a single detached house in Squamish is selling on average for $620,400, (14% increase since last year), a townhouse is selling for $381,300 (5.3% increase), and an apartment is now going for $293,000 (13% increase). Micro homes are certainly getting attention and traction as a way of life if you are ready to let go of some of your stuff.
The current bylaw contains a number of fairly conventional limitations on minimum house width and size within single detached and multi residential zones. Given land values and market demand for high quality housing, it is unlikely that eliminating these provisions would result in significant change in residential building form in Squamish, but it may facilitate more uptake in building more affordable and sustainable forms of housing.
- Eliminate minimum building width provisions in all zones.
- Eliminate minimum dwelling unit size provisions in all zones.
The importance of having a strong local agricultural sector is being once again recognized as one of the key components of a strong and resilient community. Earlier in 2015, the District adopted the Squamish Food Charter prepared by the Squamish Climate Action Network (CAN). The Charter is a declaration of collective will of the District and Community to protect and promote a healthy, just and ecologically resilient food systems. At its core, the Charter recognizes the importance of local food systems including local food production to community health and local economic resilience.
The Zoning Bylaw already has a number of provisions that allow for agricultural use on rural and resource lands, and allow for urban agriculture on residential properties. However, there are still a number of limitations on lot coverage, gross floor area and number of buildings, that present some barriers for agriculture in both urban and rural parts of Squamish. Greenhouses are also somewhat limited given the accessory building limitations in terms of number, size and location.
- Remove provisions that limit agriculturally-used buildings to one per property on properties where agricultural use is permitted as a main use.
- Increase maximum lot coverage limitations for greenhouses (the area of a property that is allowed to be covered by buildings, usually between 30% and 50% of a property is allowed).
- Consider whether greenhouses should be allowed in some of the front yard space (10%, 15% or 20% of front yards) (currently not allowed).
Home Occupation (new)
Home-based businesses provide live-work opportunities for many residents in Squamish. This type of commercial activity is not akin to businesses that you find in commercial areas and is considered secondary to the residential use of a property, but it allows for small scale commerce without impacting the neighbourhood. Current provisions of the Zoning Bylaw that apply to home-based businesses are somewhat limiting particularly when it comes to operating a home-based business on a property that contains a secondary suite. The Bylaw only permits a home-office on properties that contain a secondary suite or on duplex properties. The size of the home-based business use is limited to 10% of the total house area to a maximum of 23m² (250 ft²).
- Permit home-based businesses on properties containing a secondary suite, in secondary suites as well as in duplexes (one per property).
- Permit home office within secondary suites.
- Eliminate the 10% Gross Floor Area limitation and increase the maximum floor area for a home business to 400ft².
- Permit the residential-level child care as a home-based business in a duplex.
Flood Construction Level
The beautiful natural setting in and around Squamish is likely one of the main reasons we’re all here but it also presents some serious land development challenges. The three major rivers running through the District mean that a good chunk of our community is situated within a floodplain area (particularly between Brackendale and Downtown). This means certain precautions need to be exercised when approving development applications in accordance with provincial flood protection guidelines. For instance, the District has adopted a 5.0-metre flood construction level (FCL) as a measure to account for flood protection requirements south of the Mamquam River. The FCL sets the minimum elevation for livable area within a home, which means that for new home construction, the grade of the property needs to be brought up to the that elevation or the first storey of the building can only be used as a garage (not considered part of your living space). The 5-metre reference is measured from the sea level which means that this number shrinks as you travel up from the shoreline. The new standards do affect residential buildings in particular making it hard to squeeze two floors between the FCL and the existing maximum building height requirements, which vary across the District.
Another often encountered challenge with the flood construction level is the lack of flexibility when it comes to the type of space permitted below that elevation. Currently only garages, entrance foyers and crawl spaces are permitted. Crawl space is limited in height to 1.5 metres. This often results in extensive garage space or having to install a fake ceiling to create a crawlspace as part of your first storey if the garage can’t cover the whole area.
Resolving the FCL-related constraints on livable space presents an opportunity to facilitate greater energy efficiency and contribute towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Squamish through a land use incentive program called Density Bonus. Density Bonus usually means doing more than a bylaw or law requires (such as increasing your home’s efficiency) in return for additional building space such as floor area or building height. One of the measures that is well suited as an incentive program is to insulate a building to better standard than required by the BC Building Code for the Squamish area in return for allowing more storage space and increased maximum height. This would mean lowering energy needed and costs to heat a home, while reducing our community’s overall energy footprint.
- Permit a 1.5-metre increase in the maximum building height within floodplain areas where the livable space has to be situated 1.5 metres or more above the natural grade. This will allow for height flexibility in floodplain areas. Higher standard insulation incentive could be applied to new construction or new additions that want to take advantage of this additional height (DENSITY BONUS).
- Permit non-livable floor space below the FCL other than parking and entrance foyers to allow for storage or exercise space.