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Burnaby's heritage homes could get exceptions to new laneway housing rules

Burnaby wants to encourage owners of heritage homes to build laneway housing. "We don’t have to see heritage and growth as opposites; they can be compatible," said the city's heritage planner.

As Burnaby prepares to allow laneway housing, city staff are planning ways to get owners of heritage homes in on the action.

The plan includes incentives that will likely include allowing various exceptions to certain laneway house regulations, like how big the laneway house is or how much parking it has.

"We don't have to see heritage and growth as opposites; they can be compatible," Lisa Codd, Burnaby's heritage planner, told the city's heritage commission Aug. 24.

"The challenge for heritage conservation is how to allow for more dwelling units while also retaining the heritage resources."

She said the city recognizes its rules for developing a laneway on a heritage lot need to be flexible.

One tool the city has to allow that flexibility is called a "heritage revitalization agreement."

It allows the homeowner to develop their lot in a way that would otherwise not be permitted, Codd said.

It's an agreement in which owners can get a variance to the city's zoning bylaw to "protect their resource," she said, and the owners agree to conserve their property's heritage features.

Codd called the heritage revitalization agreements "complex" and noted till now they haven't happened very frequently.

In the past, they've usually been used for subdividing a lot that's otherwise too small to subdivide to build a new house on the new lot.

With laneway housing on the horizon, Codd said the agreement could be used to make exceptions for how and what kind of laneway homes are built on heritage lots.

The agreement could allow for a larger laneway house; one with fewer parking spots, variances to its height or lot coverage, or the required distance between the laneway house and the main home, depending on the property.

A mini-history of Burnaby lot sizes

Codd said small homes on large lots are common with heritage housing.

"People loved a large lot with a smaller house, especially in Burnaby. They liked to have larger lots for backyard gardens, some people kept animals and farmed those yards well into the modern era."

But, Codd noted, times have changed.

Now people want to "have as much house as they can on a lot."

"It's a very different approach than in the past."

Building a laneway house, Codd said, could be one way for owners of heritage homes to get more housing on their land.

A small heritage home on a large lot, typical throughout Burnaby history. By City of Burnaby

Heritage homes in Burnaby

Codd said there are 90 privately owned buildings listed on the city's heritage inventory, and 61 of those are in residential neighbourhoods.

Since 2006, there's been just 13 heritage designations of private properties through the heritage agreements or other incentives, Codd said.

"And unfortunately, we're currently losing more resources on the heritage inventory to demolition than we are retaining through heritage designation," Codd said.

Since January 2021, three privately owned heritage properties have received demolition permits, and only two heritage designation bylaws have come to council, Codd said.