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Abbotsford puts squeeze on new homes in established neighbourhoods

A split council passed new infill rules, despite concerns from some local developers
About 5,600 homes in Abbotsford are in homes permitting infill in the city’s Official Community Plan.

A revised set of rules to govern re-development in Abbotsford’s central neighbourhoods was approved last week by a divided council after a long public hearing.

The changes adjust rules for the size and scale of new homes, and parameters for small subdivisions, in long-established “infill” neighbourhoods. The rules affect what could be built on more than 5,000 lots if and when the owners of those properties choose to redevelop.

The city had paused small subdivisions last year after hearing concerns from the public about the pace of change in the neighbourhoods. Staff returned to council with new rules that will reduce the allowable square-footage for new homes, and reduce the size of upper storeys. The rules will also lower the maximum height of new homes by one metre.

Mayor Henry Braun said the new rules are a compromise that aim to facilitate redevelopment while expressing residents’ concern about the pace of change.

“There’s not everything in this bylaw that I like either,” he said.

But he said the new rules are a step in the right direction.

“If we vote this down, we are going back to what we had.”

The new rules passed, but not without some dissent: three councillors opposed the changes, citing concerns from dozens of residents who spoke at the hearing. Those people fell into two general camps.

One set of people said their neighbourhoods are changing too quickly and said they were unhappy with the size of new houses being built.

Another group said the new rules will deter subdivisions because the resulting homes will have to be too small. One such speaker, local realtor Raj Dhaliwal, said he delivered a petition with more than 1,100 names attached.

“We had a system that was working,” he told council. “This is going to cause a lot of unafforadability and it’s going to stall development in most [infill areas].”

Staff, though, told council that the Canadian Home Builders Association initially opposed a set of new rules drafted last July, but was supportive of changes that included an increase to the allowable floor space.

Although several people said the rules meant new homes on small subdivided lots couldn’t be larger than 1,300 square feet, staff told council that the number was 1,700 square feet for the very smallest lots. The average subdivision would result in a lot that would allow for a 2,700-square-foot home, including a garage, staff said.

Coun. Bruce Banman, who was joined in opposing the rules by Couns. Les Barkman and Kelly Chahal, said the response from the public made up his mind.

“Try as we might, the overwhelming response was we did not get this right,” he said. “Do I think we have to reject this in its entirety, no, but I cannot support this the way it is. It’s just not there yet.”

Banman said changes to the maximum size of homes in the Agricultural Land Reserve will cause those looking to build large houses to turn to central Abbotsford properties. Making it harder to subdivide a lot will only increase the number of very large homes built in established neighbourhoods he said.

“I think that if we want small homes and we want to be able to divide these lots so that it’s actually viable, we need to listen to them,” Banman said.

Chahal said she was “quite surprised” by the community reaction, and said she wasn’t happy with the floor space limits and upper-storey setback rules.

“Today the public spoke strongly and loudly,” she said.

The rules passed, though, with Braun and Couns. Brenda Falk, Sandy Blue, Dave Loewen and Ross Siemens supporting the changes. Coun. Patricia Ross was absent from the meeting.

Falk said the lots in question are just a slice of those in Abbotsford and said reducing the size of homes will hopefully increase affordability.

“The bigger the houses they are, the more they cost,” she said.


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