Height limits a hot topic as city officials consider making changes to zoning bylaw

When city planner Mike Maturo and assistant planner Stacey Lightbourne presented the state of the new zoning bylaw to council on Monday, the idea that single family residences should be able to have "detached secondary suites" was supported while the term "coach house" was quashed.

  • Wed Jul 6th, 2011 8:00pm
  • News

When city planner Mike Maturo and assistant planner Stacey Lightbourne presented the state of the new zoning bylaw to council on Monday, the idea that single family residences should be able to have “detached secondary suites” was supported while the term “coach house” was quashed.

The real political question, however, fell on whether height limits should be raised, or if they should remain the same and continue to require variances if the limits are exceeded.

Currently, most residentially zoned houses are only legally allowed to reach seven metres from average grade to average roof height, but the proposed bylaw would extend this to 10 metres.

Similarly, detached suites are currently allowed to reach 4.5 metres, but the new restrictions would be raised to seven metres.

“Most houses are pushing between eight and 10 metres,” Maturo said, noting that one aim of the reviewed bylaw was to bring more buildings into compliance. “Ten metres is comfortable.”

The mayor contended that he would prefer the lengthy and expensive process of variances approved (or denied) by council to ensure that neighbours retained the right to “have a say” about, for example, changing viewscapes.

Coun. Andy Stradling suggested that “it’s a question of how much council wants to deal with,” noting that “not-in-my-backyard” arguments often arise as a knee jerk reaction to any change, and shouldn’t stop reasonable developments that fit with community objectives. “We were elected to chart a course,” he said.

The planners presented a number of arguments for the change, following directions set in the Strategic Sustainability Plan and the Official Community Plan three years ago.

For example, Maturo noted, a seven-metre height limit is just enough to build a to-code suite on top of a garage. The new law would allow people to easily build a suite that meets its own parking requirement on small lots.

Lightbourne also pointed out, under present regulations, suites may be built to the full height of the principal dwelling so long as they are architecturally attached.

The current bylaw has become bogged down by “a million amendments,” Lightbourne said, “and it needs to be updated so it’s easier for staff to use, to make it consistent with other regulations, and to help the public understand it.”

The new zoning bylaw has been addressed publicly already, most recently at a session on June 23 that was poorly attended after flyers that were held up by the postal lockout, and before that on May 26. Another public meeting is planned for July 14.

On May 26, the most vociferous complaints were heard by two of three owners in the vicinity of the museum that was to be rezoned as “light industrial.” One owner was “tickled pink” at the change from rural-residential, but the other two owners complained on a number of grounds, notably that their tax assessments would rise.

Since then, the planners discussed the issue with the assessor and determined there was a risk that the assessments would increase by as much as two and a half times, so they decided to leave the zoning on those parcels unchanged unless the owners apply for a change later.

Lightbourne and Maturo want more public input to help shape the law more before it comes before council. Lightbourne said, “We’ve tried to do the best we can with it right now, but it’s even constantly changing right now as we receive input from the public.”

All the documents can be downloaded from the city’s website, www.rossland.ca, or picked up at city hall.