B.C. to allow multiplexes on single-family lots: What you need to know

Lot values are expected to rise as the B.C. government takes over zoning decisions across Metro Vancouver and beyond.

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On June 30, the provincial government will mandate that all large municipalities in B.C. allow more residential units to be built on lots now zoned for single-family homes or duplexes.

Bill 44 requires municipalities with at least 5,000 people to change their zoning bylaws to permit up to four units on a standard residential lot, and up to six units on a standard lot near public transit. There are 191 municipalities in B.C., of which 86 have fewer than 5,000 residents.

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Premier David Eby says not enough homes are being built in B.C. and this law will increase supply — 130,000 units of small-scale multi unit housing over the next decade.

Here’s a look at the government’s new policy:

What is zoning?

Zoning is used by elected municipal governments to manage land use and determine what can be built on a particular property and what that building looks like.

For example, in Vancouver there are zones for agriculture (Southlands), industrial, commercial and housing.

Within areas zoned for housing there are multiple variants, many of which only allow a single-family home with a laneway house and/or a secondary suite.

Other zones allow for duplexes and triplexes, and some are set up to protect heritage homes.

Zoning plays a key role in the value of land.

In Langley, a large lot that contains the Twilight Drive-in Theatre was assessed at just under $40 million on July 1, 2022. A similar-sized lot directly north was valued at just under $3 million because it’s on (provincial) Agricultural Land Reserve zoning.

With residential development, allowing more homes to be built on a lot increases the value of that lot. This is seen along thoroughfares like Cambie Street in Vancouver where older homes were sold at well above their assessed values in order for several to be purchased side-by-side to make way for mid-rise development.

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What is the B.C. government requiring?

Under Bill 44, the provincial government has mandated that municipalities change their zoning bylaws by June 30.

Areas zoned for single-family or duplex development must now allow for three units on lots less than 280 square metres and four units on lots greater than 280 sq m. Six units must be allowed on single-family/duplex lots that are greater than 280 sq m and located near transit stops with frequent service.

The new law also asks municipalities to update Official Community Plans with a focus on population and housing demands expected over the next 20 years. Off-street parking will not be required if the development is close to public transit.

According to the B.C. Union of Municipalities, some municipalities (like Kelowna) are already fully compliant with Bill 44, while others (Campbell River and Surrey) have expressed concerns regarding the legislation’s stipulations, or lack of provincial infrastructure investment.

Some municipalities, like Coquitlam and Richmond, have asked for an extension that is permitted under the legislation.

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What about heritage protection?

Andy Yan, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University’s urban studies program, said there are three tiers of heritage protection. Under Bill 44, heritage homes designated by the federal and provincial governments can’t be knocked down for a fourplex.

Yan said, however, that homes with municipal heritage protection can be demolished.

The legislation states municipalities can’t use zoning, heritage alteration permits or designation of heritage conservation areas to unreasonably prohibit or restrict the use or density required to enable Bill 44.

Local governments will still be able to designate heritage properties, but they will have to allow the minimum density under the small scale, multi unit housing requirements on those lots, and they can’t unreasonably restrict multiplex development.

Yan said the legislation is ambiguous around what rights municipalities have to protect municipally designated heritage neighbourhoods like Queens Park in New Westminster and the RT-8 zoned areas in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood.

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What do the critics say?

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods has sent a letter to Mayor Ken Sim saying the June 30 deadline for rezoning is too soon and should be moved forward to the end of the year at least.

The coalition also wants the city to review infrastructure to ensure there are enough services to meet the expected increase in demand. The new bill does allow municipalities to collect money from developers that would go toward infrastructure.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke says her municipality will make the required zoning changes by June 30, but has raised some concerns.

“Surrey and other cities are facing an unprecedented challenge due to the province’s new housing legislation, which was implemented without any consultation,” Locke says.

“Aside from hindering a city’s ability to plan for livable communities, I am very concerned how these unilateral measures will change communities forever. The lack of foresight coupled with inadequate provincial investment in health care, education and transportation will place a strain on our city’s infrastructure and services. We need a collaborative approach with higher levels of government to ensure sustainable and equitable growth, rather than simply imposing top-down solutions.”

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Sim on the other hand is completely supportive of Bill 44, saying his city planners were already moving in the direction of multiplex housing on traditionally single-family lots.

The UBCM says the legislated changes require a lot from local governments within very tight time frames.

“We’re still looking for support from the provincial and federal governments to support the necessary infrastructure upgrades, adequate shelter spaces, affordable housing and more,” the organization said in a prepared statement.

Will it impact the economy?

Yan says that it will be the development community that determines what financial impact Bill 44 will have on the provincial economy.

The more units developed the greater the impact, but developers are facing higher interest rates, and inflated labour and material costs compared with two years ago.

Yan sees most small-scale multi unit development occurring in Metro Vancouver, the Okanagan and parts of Vancouver Island.

Jake Fry, developer and director of Small Housing B.C., said that each municipality is responsible for deciding what size a fourplex can be.

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Fry said he expects more than 130,000 units of small-scale, multi unit housing will be built, particularly by families taking advantage of parents with mortgage-free lots.

Fry said it will cost between $1.6 million and $2 million to build a 4,000-square-foot fourplex in Metro.

Yan noted that in some cases properties with three living units (main, basement and secondary) in Metro could be replaced by four units that cost more to rent.

The provincial government says it will recommend that local governments allow stratification of developments on formerly single-family housing zoned lots.

“We expect many small-scale multi unit housing developments will be strata titled, which will provide more accessible pathways to home ownership for people, especially for those who would not be able to afford a single-family home in many communities,” a Housing Ministry spokesperson said. “This will increase opportunities for home ownership while still adding to the supply of rental housing in the secondary rental market.”

In order to meet the anticipated demand for new residential construction, the provincial government is giving $6.7 million to a Castlegar-based lumber company to help fund a new facility specializing in prefabricated housing and multi-storey family structures.

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According to a government statement, the Kalesnikoff Lumber facility will create 90 jobs, stimulating the local economy.

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