North Vancouver council remains divided over size of legal crawlspaces


The City of North Vancouver has approved the addition of basements and cellars below garages of single-family homes. The measure passed with council casting a sharply divided 4-3 vote Monday (January 20).

Mayor Darrell Mussatto and councillors Craig Keating, Rod Clark, and Linda Buchanan voted in favour of the new policy.

According to Mussatto, it’s meant to provide residents more storage room. He noted that many can’t park their cars inside garages because these are crammed with other things. He added that, in some cases, garages aren’t enough.

“If you look at the stuff they store in storage depots, which have been doing very good business, instead of having to pay a hundred dollars a month to store your stuff, you can store it down below and you’re actually saving money,” Mussatto told the Georgia Straight by phone the day after the vote.

A city staff report included in Monday’s agenda recommended against basements and cellars in garages on single-family housing lots.

City planner Christopher Wilkinson wrote that crawlspaces less than four feet in height are already permitted in accessory buildings like garages and carports.

However, Mussatto said residents need a bit more.

Detached accessory buildings are currently allowed a maximum floor area of 600 square feet and are limited to one storey. According to the staff report, garage basements go up to five feet in height; cellars are higher.

Councillors Pam Bookham, Don Bell, and Guy Heywood voted against the measure.

For Bookham, it’s not a simple question of storage space. She argued that it’s bigger than that and has something to do with increasing the value of properties.

“I believe that when you increase the square footage, even if it’s underground, it increases the development potential, the square footage that can go to market,” Bookham told the Straight in a phone interview. “And therefore it impacts the value of the land, which, of course, we all know is the major driver in the affordability gap.”

Bookham asserted that this will “appeal particularly to absentee landlords and developers”.

Mussatto rejected Bookham’s claim about properties becoming pricier, saying he’ll be interested to see if the councillor is able to back it up.

The staff report also touched on how new spaces below garages may increase the prices of homes.

“Due to market forces, homes built by developers are typically built to the maximum allowable floor area,” Wilkinson explained in his report. “Given current land prices, developers will likely build garage basements and cellars if permitted in the Zoning Bylaw thereby increasing the cost of a single family home by approximately $60,000.”

The city planner also wrote that staff has received an inquiry from the “development community” about underground garage spaces.

“Should Council permit garage basements and cellars, there will be intensification to avoid a permit process for coach houses; there will be potential residential space built without windows or other livable design considerations; and an increased risk of unsafe suites,” Wilkinson warned.

However, Mussatto maintained that these will be allowed only for storage purposes.

“It’s not living, habitable space,” Mussatto said.

Monday’s vote makes the City of North Vancouver the first municipality on the North Shore to explicitly allow garage basements and cellars.

Wilkinson’s report noted that although there are some garages with basements and cellars in the districts of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, the zoning bylaws of these municipalities do not contain a specific provision allowing these. Because of a regulatory gap, applications in the two districts are reviewed on a case-to-case basis.

In another report last summer, Wilkinson noted little interest in the districts of North Vancouver and West Vancouver in new underground spaces in their garages.
Wilkinson could only speculate why: “The varying regulations, additional cost of construction, and the ample size of single family homes may be a reason home owners are not proposing to add garage cellars, although there is no conclusive evidence to support this.”

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Not allowing basements for fear that it will be occupied is crap thinking. Of course it will be occupied. Of course, it should be occupied. How much more land is being made in Vancouver? Would the answer be: none? Really? Oh I guess we should be maximizing its usage then, don't you think?
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