Developing Story: Laneway tour focuses on retaining older homes

The two-storey home owned by Mike Roberts is just over a century old.

“It originally sat here on a larger piece of property and was one of the original south Granville farmhouses built in 1912. It would be one of the very few surviving houses in the neighbourhood,” said Roberts, who’s owned it for about five years.

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An old, dilapidated garage of the same vintage was at the back of the house and needed to be replaced, so Roberts decided to build a laneway home, which created both garage space and a rental suite. It was recently finished and is being rented for about $2,400 a month to a young professional couple beginning in November.

Before then, it will be among seven Vancouver laneway homes included in the 2013 Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour. The tour is meant to showcase how older homes can be retained while density is added to neighbourhood in a way that complements the original heritage structure, according to Judith Mosley, executive director of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. The popular laneway tour is in its fourth year.

“For the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, our focus is on retention of, and repair and restoration of, Vancouver’s historic buildings and structures and that can take many forms,” Mosley said. “There is pressure for density in the city, for adding new forms of housing and more housing, and we see laneway housing as an opportunity for homeowners to add accommodation on their lot without demolishing the existing home.”

The appearance of his laneway home was important to Roberts.

“One of the things that we really wanted to do for our sake, but also for our neighbours’ sake is make sure the laneway house blended well with this house and with the neighbourhood,” he said. “So the basic construction of the laneway house — the colour, the shape, the style — is all very much in keeping with the original house.”

The interior of the laneway home, however, is modern with high-end furnishings and appliances.

Homes included on the tour will reveal a variety of styles and floor plans.

“[The tour] gives ticket holders an opportunity to get inside some quite different homes, get some ideas and see how this can work within their neighbourhood,” Mosley said.

“There are some good examples of thoughtful design that has been done. Certainly, we tried to find ones that represented that.”

In 2009, the first year the City of Vancouver allowed laneway homes, 18 permits were issued. That jumped to 192 in 2010, 232 in 2011, 354 in 2012 and 269 in 2013 as of the end of September, for a total of 1,065 permits.

Since 2009, 633 final inspections have been completed. It can take time for some owners to book an inspection, so the number of completed laneway homes is probably closer to 700, according to the city. It gets about eight complaints a year, which is far less than when the program was introduced at which time about 60 complaints were lodged.

City council approved amendments to the laneway home program in July, which among other things allow for single-storey laneway homes.

The city hasn’t seen an increase in applications for permits since then, but it is monitoring the situation to find out if more single-storey structures are being built.

Tickets for the self-guided laneway house tour, which runs from 1 to 5 p.m., Oct. 19, are $30 plus tax and can be bought online until Oct. 18 at vancouverheritagefoundation.org.

On the day of the event, tickets can be purchased at an information booth — details are posted on the VHF website.

noconnor@vancourier.com

twitter.com/naoibh

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