By Andru McCracken

At their last council meeting Valemount’s mayor and council made major changes to rules around building homes in Valemount that could increase housing supply and density in the village.

Council passed third and fourth reading of Zoning Amendment Bylaw 806, which makes it possible to build homes as small as 592 square feet (55 m2) on the main floor (previously the limit had been 1000 square feet). It also allows for smaller lots, as small as 6000 square feet or 540 m2.

A duplex can be built on a lot as narrow as 72 ft (or 22 metres) wide.

Included in the rule changes is the allowance for up to four dwelling units to be built into commercial buildings (provided they have a separate entrance). Previously only one dwelling unit was allowed.

Chair of the Village’s housing committee Rashmi Narayan said she was pleased with the changes and credited village planner Megan Vicente for crafting the bylaw amendments.

Narayan said the committee based their recommendations on research of the experiences of Fernie and Nelson.

These same recommendations had not been followed up when the housing committee made the request to council in October 2017.

“It took someone to take initiative to make it happen,” said Narayan. “I’m pleased about it, but I’m not sure it is enough.”

As a housing advocate, Narayan said there are many other strategies used in other communities that would have had a more immediate result.

“Vacant land parcels, short term vacation rentals,” she said. “Having smaller parcels and smaller homes is fine, but we have very few vacant lots on the market. Most of the people who are sitting on those lots are sitting on them for speculation.”

“When somebody subdivides they can create smaller parcels. But will we see more smaller homes built when there are very few vacant lots on the market?”

She doesn’t expect that residents will jump up and build a home because of the cost of vacant land; instead, laneway homes, secondary buildings on residential, would have had a bigger impact.

Narayan said she’d really like to see a different tax rate for homes that aren’t being used as homes, but short-term rentals or seasonal homes.

“All the research is out there; all the successes and lessons from other communities,” she said. “Which of these can be applied to our community?”

Narayan said that the reality for Valemount’s minimum wage workers should have more of an influence on housing policy.

“As a community we are saying we’re fine if these people just rent – four people living in a two bedroom apartment,” she said. “We’re saying that’s okay.”