Coach Houses: Bring ’em On!

The district is currently going through some navel gazing regarding coach houses. While the current proposal makes a number of limitations on an acceptable coach house, the key one for Delbrook residents is that it needs to either connect to a lane or be on a property over 929 square metres

Apart from the streets below St James, there are almost no lanes within Delbrook. So, you’re looking for a property bigger than 929 square metres. How big is that? Chances are, if your property is square it is too small (you can find out for sure by going to http://www.geoweb.dnv.org, use the property information application, and click on your property). We have numerous large properties around corners and at the ends of cul-de-sacs, but the vast majority of our properties are too small to support a coach house.

The District discussion paper has a good enumeration of the benefits of coach houses:

  • Supports neighbourhood character
  • Makes use of existing infrastructure
  • Adds to housing diversity
  • Increases rental stock
  • Supports ageing in place

To these, I would add

  • By retaining the existing structure on the property, coach houses do not cause as much waste as new builds. Coach houses are more sustainable
  • Smaller houses encourage people to live outdoors more, and may foster greater community.
  • Smaller houses make people consume less junk and lead more sustainable lives.
  • Coach houses support higher density without a big impact on the neighbourhood character.
  • Adding a rental dwelling to a property might almost make it affordable to ordinary people.

I can’t think of any similar list of benefits of tearing down an existing (heritage?) house and replacing it with a mega home. I don’t see the point of limiting the benefit we might see from adding secondary dwellings to our properties. Coach houses should be encouraged on every property.

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Community Engagement for Delbrook Rec Centre

At the AGM in September, we decided we would press forward with our own community-driven planning process. We had an idea what that would look like at the AGM, and I appeared before the district council shortly afterward to let them know this would be coming, and to invite them to participate.

Since then, nothing. From an outside perspective, we’ve been pretty silent. “So, how’s it coming?” you might reasonably ask.

The truth is, the community association executive have indeed been working on this, but let’s just say, we all have busy lives and only so much energy to devote to your community.

My appearance before council got their attention, and in the fall, Bryan Bydwell, the General Manager for Planning, Properties and Permits, contacted me. He and Susan Haid, Manager-Sustainable Community Development, joined one of our executive meetings in January, and we came away with an idea as to how we could work together.

Our key message for Mr Bydwell and Ms Haid was that the community association still doesn’t know what it wants to happen to the property. We believe there is an opportunity to improve the quality of life in our community through the development of the Delbrook Recreation Centre site, but we don’t all agree on exactly what that looks like. Some of us think it should be a park, some would like a coffee shop, while others think there should be no retail on the land at all. Our hope is that the community engagement process looks at what we lack in our community and uses this opportunity to provide it.

For their part, Bryan and Susan indicated that William Griffin would not be finished until the end of 2016, and with all the other initiatives on their plate, they don’t see themselves starting to plan the Delbrook site until 2015. The community engagement project will most likely go out to tender at the end of the summer or early in the fall. Susan was keen to work with us to form that engagement project in a way that we feel will result in a good outcome.

At the same time, we came to realize that one of the reasons the Lynn Valley engagement process resulted in the rancor it did was because we all have limited attention spans. The people that engaged at the beginning of the five year process were not the same ones fighting at the end. For the Delbrook site, we want the engagement process to be much shorter so that it has a hope of coming to a good consensus that most everyone will support. The result was that we decided to take our foot off the gas a little, and slow down the process so that the end of the engagement process comes closer to the start of the development process.

Our plan has always been a three-step program: Inform, Engage and Report. We see ourselves fitting nicely into the Inform stage of this process. So, we are planning a series of speaking events through the rest of the year, with the hope that when people begin to join in the District’s engagement process, they have a little more knowledge of what is out there in modern community design, and we will have ideas of how we could take this property and really enhance the quality of life, both for people in our neighbourhood, and also in the rest of the District.

I really must thank the other members of the executive for finding speakers, locations and (a little) money with which to hold this speaker series.

The series kicks off on April 30th at 7PM at the District Hall with a panel discussion where we hope to find out what “Wildly Successful Community Engagement” looks like.  This will be the beginning of your chance to influence the gateway to our neighbourhood; I hope you will come out and join us and bring your friends.