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Concerns rising in Okanagan over B.C.’s new infill-housing legislation

Municipalities across B.C. only have a few months left to amend zoning bylaws to accommodate more infill housing.

Last year, the province announced it was mandating changes so that single-family lots can now house multiple housing units.

In November, the plan became law, and municipalities have until June 30 to adopt new zoning bylaws to support the new legislation.

It’s an effort to tackle the housing crisis but there are concerns the new law could drastically alter neighbourhoods, with multi-unit housing being constructed on single-family residential lots.

“We have to allow up to four units, and possibly six units, depending on factors related to lot size, garbage collection areas and parking requirements,” said City of Kelowna spokesperson Nola Kilmartin.

The city says it’s now identified how many lots could be affected by the new law, and that’s more than 11,000 urban lots and more than 13,000 suburban lots.

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“Those sound like large numbers,” said Kilmartin. “But we really have to put it in perspective that not every property owner is going to go knock their home down and redevelop with multiple lots.”

The new legislation is raising concerns, especially in some neighbourhoods like Kelowna’s historic Abbott Street corridor.

“If infill housing is going to happen, it’s going to really change what this whole neighbourhood looks like,” said Bev Kalmakoff, a member of the Kelowna South Central Association of Neighbourhoods.

Kalmakoff says infill projects must be done sensibly in heritage areas, with good setbacks, protection of mature trees and consideration of the area’s character.

“It needs to be done with some thought, it needs to be done with thinking about what this place looks like now and how much of the character that we have now that we can preserve,” said Kalmakoff.

“If you lose it, you never get it back.”

Nola said the city is working within the province’s framework, “but we’re doing our best to make sure these changes are sensitive to residents and respectful of the Heritage Area and other considerations like around the hospital.”

One item becoming more popular is when a group of neighbouring homeowners combine to sell properties. Known as a land assembly, the homeowners usually get more for their properties than if they were to sell them individually.

In turn, the prospective buyer will then build a large, multi-storey building – such as an apartment complex — encompassing all the sold lots.

The city says residents will have to accept change, and sometimes quickly.

“Homes are people’s largest investments. There have been lots of other changes with short-term rentals and things coming down as well,” said Kilmartin.

“So it’s a significant amount of change for residents to have to accept in a very kind of short span of time.”

More information about the new provincial rules is available online: here and here.

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