New rules could curb house sizes in certain areas of Abbotsford

Public says subdivisions OK in infill areas, but houses are being built too large

The city may look to trim the size of new houses in redeveloping Abbotsford neighbourhoods.

Staff are developing new rules after those at three open houses said small subdivisions in central Abbotsford are less of a concern than megahouses being built on existing lots.

Earlier this year, the city halted rezonings in areas permitting infill – small subdivisions in which one lot is broken into two. The pause came after concerns were raised about the pace and style of redevelopment in central Abbotsford neighbourhoods where aging homes were being torn down in favour of newer houses, sometimes on smaller lots. Around 5,600 homes are in areas designated as “infill” by the official community plan.

The city subsequently held three open houses to solicit opinions from residents. And while the majority of respondents were fine with small-scale subdivisions, it was the size of new homes on existing large lots that drew the most opposition.

Now, having heard such concerns, staff will head back to their desks to craft new rules for infill development. That could include reducing the maximum height of homes from 9.5 metres to 8.5 metres.

Two-thirds of respondents felt that the current zoning allowed new homes to be built too tall, and too wide.

An overwhelming 68 per cent of respondents “strongly disliked” the replacement of smaller existing houses with those built to the maximum size currently allowed. Council permission to rezone a lot isn’t required in such scenarios, and the pause on infill subdivisions hasn’t halted construction of megahomes.

Most who came out felt the city should reduce the maximum floor space and height of new homes.

A total of 468 people attended the city’s open houses, with the vast majority owning property or living within the infill areas.

If development is to happen, the public indicated a general (but not overwhelming) acceptance of the small-scale subdivisions that embody the infill zone’s goal of slowly densifying developing neighbourhoods.

Replacing a single house with two conventional homes was liked or strongly liked by 63 per cent of respondents, although most who opposed the idea did so “strongly.” Duplexes and narrow homes garnered a similar response, although in both cases, many suggested a lowering of maximum heights.

Most also said a conventional single house should be allowed to have one secondary suite.

The public was split on small strata developments, and opposed to panhandle lots.

One idea floated by planners was almost universally liked, though: garden suites. Such a suite would be a small, free-standing house built behind an existing home, and roughly conforming to size rules that govern accessory buildings. Eighty-six per cent of respondents gave the thumbs up to the idea.

Council discussed the results Monday, with staff set to draft new zoning regulations to reflect the community’s input. That will include “modest reductions in the size and height of large houses,” a report said.

Coun. Kelly Chahal expressed some surprise at the acceptance of infill development, given the opposition commonly expressed at public hearings.

“I do find some of these responses a little bit surprising,” she said. “It seems a little more realistic and practical.”

Mayor Henry Braun said he had found residents were largely fine with two-lot subdivisions, but resisted in those instances when owners of corner lots asked to split one parcel into three different properties.

“There still are a majority, I think, who are OK with change, but they want us to think about things,” he said.

Mark Neill, the head of the city’s planning department, said one option would be to craft specific rules for corner lots.


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tolsen@abbynews.com

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About 5,600 homes in Abbotsford are in homes permitting infill in the city’s Official Community Plan.

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