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How To Design A Multiplex in Vancouver: Part 3 - Zoning District R1-1 Residential Inclusive

Updated: Apr 4

The regulations that arguably have the most appreciable impact on what you are permitted to build on your property are the zoning bylaw and zoning district schedule. In this article, I navigate you through the relevant portions of those documents and explain how they set the constraints of your project.



If you're planning to build a multiplex in Vancouver, you likely are at least aware of - and perhaps understand a thing or two about - the zoning for your property. What most people don't understand is that the zoning bylaw and zoning district schedule are just a couple documents in a storm of regulations that all have some role in determining what you'll be able to build. In Part 2 of this series, I reviewed the overarching city rules and policies and provided a summary of the important points that act in conjunction with what we find here. In Part 4, I will continue with my Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan™ (Step 1 in my SAPPHR Strategy™ process) and investigate the client's own needs, but for now let's dig into the city's requirements.


A property's "zone" or zoning district spells out what types of uses are appropriate for that location (e.g. school, house, shop), how big the building(s) may be, where they may be positioned on the property, and to some degree what the building form should be. Many owners (individuals or developers), architects, and designers start a project by looking up the zoning district's schedule of requirements and then go straight into design. As you can see from just my Part 2 article, there are many documents other than the zoning district schedule, which significantly impact the design of a building. One benefit of my Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan™ is that we scope out these limitations before they become problematic later.


Zoning By-Law

City of Vancouver Bylaw 3575 - better known as the Zoning and Development By-law - is rather long. Sections 1 to 15 include administration, definitions, general regulations, use-specific regulations, and enforcement. Each zoning type has its own schedule; Ava's property is zoned R1-1, so we will consult the schedule for that zoning district.



The bylaw includes six general schedules, and Vancouver has a separate Bylaw 6059 - the parking bylaw - that regulates parking on private property. The parking bylaw - or parking requirements in the zoning bylaw - for any city are important at this early stage because they will help determine how much the required parking eats into space you have available to build on.


Vancouver has a number of additional bylaws; my R.A.D. Study™ (Step 2 in my SAPPHR Strategy™ process) investigates all of those in detail. However, the purpose of this initial study is to check the basic feasibility, so we'll leave the review of all other bylaws until later. At that later stage, I'll also look into any provincial or federal Acts that affect development.


R1-1

Unlike other cities in Lower Mainland such as West Vancouver or North Vancouver, Vancouver has simplified its multitude of single-family residential zones into the new R1-1 Residential Inclusive zone. While my article in Part 2 began with the very high-level rules, we now can feel confident in getting right into the requirements in the R1-1 District Schedule.


You could skip ahead straight to where the document covers commonly referenced parameters of permitted floor space ratio, building height, and setbacks - and for multiplexes the density - but that would likely miss potentially very important limitations. My approach is methodical and I study the entire document from the beginning.


One important concept to remember is that the requirements and limitations in this schedule - and all regulations actually - act independently, but you must comply with them all even if they don't agree with each other. Imagine if a child asks her parents for candy. Both parents must say yes; if either mommy or daddy says "no", it doesn't matter that the other said "yes"; the answer is NO. If one part of the zoning district schedule allows you a maximum FSR of 1.00, but other parts (such as the combination of front / side / back yard setbacks and maximum height) result in a maximum FSR of 0.85, then your limit would be 0.85. Let's begin from the top.


Intent:

This section explains why this zone (R1-1) was created and the types of development that the City will allow. Options include "multiplex" up to 6 dwelling units or up to 8 rental dwelling units. There is also a notice to consider the "Flood Plain Standards and Requirements".


Overview:

Outright and conditional approval uses includes a multiple dwelling of 6, 7, or 8 units as long as the area of the lot is at least 557m². Ava's lot is 670m², so the 6-plex to 8-plex are potentially allowed.


Outright and conditional approval uses:

Uses listed in this table as "conditional" are essentially those that are NOT prohibited. The city reviewer could reject any proposal it evaluates as not acceptable for a variety of reasons. For instance, a R1-1 site may not be suitable for a multiplex for any number of reasons including lot size, location, or any of what we've uncovered in the Policies and Strategies from Part 2.


Going forward, I will extract and paraphrase only the lines which apply to Ava's lot because the wording in bylaws and other regulations is often muddy and confusing even to design professionals.


2.2.1.(b), 2.2.2.

For a multiplex, Ava must retain at least two trees having 8" trunks, in the front yard are retained. What if there is only one tree or none or just skinny ones with trunks less than 8"? Plant one or two trees in the front yard to make up the difference using the Protection of Trees Bylaw as reference. That bylaw will be reviewed during my RAD Study phase.



2.2.7.

Ava may only build 7 or 8 units if all 7 or 8 units are non-stratified secured market rentals.


2.2.8.

A multiplex is permitted only if the lot is a single lot as of October 17, 2023, there is vehicle access to the rear of the property, and it's not in a floodplain. All of these conditions are true, so we may proceed.


2.2.9.

This table attempts to condense a range of scenarios into one box and takes some effort to digest.


We'll put in a pin in this for now, but as an example, here's how a six-plex project would be evaluated, assuming that Ava lives in the building (which we already know):

If Ava commits all six units as "secured rental", at least two of those must be at least 2-bedroom units.

If Ava decides not to commit all units as "secured rental" and either rents them out on her own terms or stratifies and sells them, at least three of the units must be at least 2-bedroom units.

We know after establishing the Project Pillars that Ava wants her parents to live in the building, so to take advantage of the 100% secured rental incentives, her parents would technically be tenants.


2.2.10.

A multiplex need not be one large, single building but may be two main buildings if the city deems the configuration to comply with all regulations - here and elsewhere - and intents.


2.2.14.

An accessory building (e.g. a shed or a garage) will be permitted if it's no more than 4.6m high and 48m² in area, is at least 0.6m from the rear property line, and at least 3.1m from the centreline of a rear lane.


3 Density


3.1 Multiplex

The maximum Floor Space Ratio (FSR) is the ratio of the total of all floor areas to the area of the entire property. First, refer to the definition of floor space ratio in Section 2 of the zoning bylaw:

"The figure obtained when the area of the floors of the buildings on a site is divided by the area of the site."

What counts as floor area? That will be covered below in 4.2 under GENERAL REGULATIONS.


3.1.1.1.(a) Maximum floor space ratio (FSR) 0.70 except may be:

  • 1.00 and 8 units IF all units except Ava's are secured rental, OR

  • 1.00 and 6 units IF at least one unit is a "below-market homeownership unit" (minimum 2-bedroom 90m² that sells for no more than 50% below market value) when Vancouver and BC Housing have finalized their arrangement for this - which they have not yet, OR

  • 1.00 and 6 units IF Ava provides one amenity share or affordable housing share to the City of Vancouver for each square metre above the FSR of 0.70.

...and if the City agrees that the proposal meets all other requirements and policies.




3.1.2. Form and Placement

  • Ava's lot area of 670m² and frontage of 18.3m permit 6 dwelling units.

  • Ava's lot area and frontage permit 5 dwelling units.

  • Ava's lot area and frontage permit 4 dwelling units, but both exceed the limits (maximum area 463m² and maximum frontage 13.3m) for 3 dwelling units.

  • Ava's lot depth of 36.6m is greater than the minimum of 33.5m which allows multiple principal buildings in a courtyard configuration as well as a single building containing all units.







  • A single principal building or a front building may be 11.5m tall and 3 storeys high

  • A rear building may be only 8.5m tall and 2 storeys high.



The setbacks tell us where we CANNOT build:

  • Front yard setback 4.9m

  • Side yard setback 1.2m

  • Rear yard setback if Ava chooses a courtyard configuration is 0.9m. If she designs only a single building, the rear yard is 10.7m.

  • Buildings in the rear must be at least 6.1m away from any buildings in the front.




  • Maximum building depth (front-back) is 19.8m

  • Maximum building width is 17.4m

  • Buildings located side-by-side must be at least 2.4m apart


Remember that in addition to staying within the boundaries established by the setbacks, by the separation between buildings, and by the maximum height, depth, and width, the TOTAL FLOOR AREA also must be considered.


4 GENERAL REGULATIONS


4.1 Amenity Shares, Affordable Housing Shares

We'll refer to Schedule F of the Zoning Bylaw to calculate the cost if it applies.


4.2. Floor Area Calculation

Floor areas are measured to the outside face of the building including accessory buildings, stairways, and other features. Also note that a space higher than 3.7m (12'-2") is counted twice in the calculations (e.g. in a loft configuration). Floor area EXCLUDES:

  • open parking areas (max 7.3m long),

  • bike storage (up to 24m²),

  • mechanical and heating rooms (up to 3.7m²),

  • patios, roof decks, and balconies (up to 12% of the allowable floor area),

  • covered but unenclosed porches, entries, and verandahs above the main floor (up to 16% of the allowable floor are when you add it to balconies),

  • crawl spaces,

  • spaces under steep vaulted ceilings between 1.2m (3'-11") and 2.3m high (up to 10% of the allowable floor area), and

  • 7.5m² (80.7ft²) per stairway leading to an upper level dwelling unit


4.3. Measurements

  • The maximum area of impermeable surfaces includes the area occupied by the buildings.

  • Building depth is defined as the dimension from the front-most face of the building to the rear-most face of the building.


4.4. External Design

This subsection describes only very generally the "design" of the building form - not the aesthetic.

  • Basements can't be bigger than the main floor.

  • Basement window wells extending maximum 1.0 are permitted.

  • Lowered entries on the front or rear walls are permitted and can extend a maximum of 3.1m (10'-2") including stairs and be a maximum combined width of half the building width (or 4.6m / 15'-1", whichever is less).

  • Exterior stairs can be no longer than 2.4m (7'-10 1/2") horizontally.

  • Each dwelling unit requires at least 7.4m² (79.6 ft²) of balcony, deck, roof deck, patio, or other outdoor space that the city deems acceptable.


Appendices


The Zoning Bylaw has a number of additional sections that are essentially appendices.


Schedule C - Streets Requiring Landscaped Setbacks

Ava's street isn't in the list of streets in this Schedule, so we can ignore it.


Schedule D - Zoning District Plan

If Ava wasn't sure what her zone was, she could consult the Digital Zoning Map - an interactive map that shows just the zones. Ava's property is confirmed to be "R1-1 Residential Inclusive district" as we understand.


Schedule E - Building Lines

Ava's street is not in this schedule, so we can ignore it. However, these "building lines" limit how close your building can be to an adjoining lane or other feature and are independent of any other requirements, appearing only here. The map below shows the streets where these setbacks occur. If you were developing a property that was in an area identified here and didn't check this schedule, you might find that a portion of your proposed design needs to be cut back substantially. You would have wasted significant time, application fees, and consultant fees.


Schedule F - Affordable Housing and Amenity Share Cost Schedule

This schedule contains a table of fees that an owner will need to pay for development. Looking at the map toward the end, we see that Ava's lot is near the West edge of "Sub-area B". For her lot (669.8 m², 18.3m frontage), the fee listed is - $1,076.39 per m². Amenities are also defined in this schedule.


Schedule G - Heritage Amenity Share Cost Schedule

Ava's zone is not in this schedule, so we can ignore it.


Schedule H - Stipulated Rents at initial occupancy for secured market rental housing

Part of our study for Ava is to help uncover the total costs for the project. While she will need to do her own comparison, I can provide her with input values. For "secured market rental" units, here are the rents at which is is permitted to start (at the time of this article's writing):

  • Studio: $950

  • 1-Bed: $1200

  • 2-Bed: $1600

  • 3-Bed: $2000


Parking By-Law

The requirements for parking can drastically alter the development potential of any property and is as fundamental to understanding FSR and setbacks, so understanding your parking, loading, and bicycle storage requirements at the beginning is crucial to avoid panic redesign later.



On-Site Parking Stalls

Section 4 establishes the quantity of on-site parking spaces to be provided, and we find "Multiple Dwelling" under 4.2.1. Dwelling, and in R1 zones (which includes R1-1), there is no requirement (i.e. no parking spaces required). However, we also confirm that the noted exceptions in 4.2.1.8. (Social Housing), 4.2.1.10. (Artist Studios), and 4.2.1.13. (certain areas near intense commercial or waterfront) do not apply to Ava's property. Unlike most other municipalities in British Columbia, Vancouver is aggressively encouraging development that relies on current and future planned rapid transit centres.



On-Site Loading Stalls

Section 5 determines what loading spaces are required. The table shows under 5.2.1. for Dwelling Use that no loading stalls of any sort are required for a multiple dwelling of less than 50 dwelling units.


Off-Street Bicycle Parking

Section 6 tells us how many bicycle stalls are required. Under 6.2.1. Dwelling in the requirements table, the line that is applicable to Ava's development situation is 6.2.1.2. Multiple Dwelling. Scanning down through the numbers, we see "No requirement in an R1 district." for both Class A and Class B parking. No bicycle parking is required.



Ava is not required to provide bicycle parking spaces, but she may provide as many as she wishes if she thinks this would improve the appeal to renters.

If you're curious about Class A and Class B, subsections 6.3 and 6.4 describe what they mean. Essentially Class A are spaces in a bike room and Class B are slots in bike racks.


Off-Street Passenger Drop-off

Section 7 identifies "Off-street Passenger Space Regulations", but the table of requirements under 7.2.1. Dwelling tells us that there is a requirement only for developments with 50 or more dwelling units. Ava isn't required to plan for any drop-off space, but of course she could if she wanted.



BONUS ROUND: Section 10 General Regulations

While my Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan doesn't review ALL the parts of every bylaw, the City of Vancouver has an important little bit in Section 10 that we need to take into account at this early stage.


10.33 Zero Emission Building

For a "zero emission building" in R1-1 (and others), the buildings are allowed to be taller, deeper, and may have 19% of the floor area excluded from being counted. However, note that this incentive cannot be combined with 10.15 (exclusion for extra wall insulation thickness), 10.19.1. (bonus 5% FSR for low operational housing six-plexes or larger), or 10.33.3 (exclusion for heat recovery ventilators and related shafts).


A zero emission building is defined - again looking in Definitions, section 2 of the zoning bylaw - as:

A building that has been designed to meet:

  • (a) the Passive House or EnerPHit standard and achieve certification by the Passive House Institute of Darmstadt, Germany, as verified by a Passive House building certifier;

  • (b) the Zero Energy standard and achieve certification by the International Living Future Institute, as verified by an ILFI Auditor; or

  • (c) an equivalent standard and verification acceptable to the Director of Planning.

The 'net zero' home certification by the Canadian Homebuilders Association is not explicitly qualified, but Ava could look into that option if Passive House is too difficult to achieve.


Moving Forward

We are getting closer to the stage where we design the building, but the next step will be to compare the options available and do some calculations. Following that, we will explore different building configurations and start to lay out the site.


Using my SAPPHR Strategy™ process and beginning the project with the Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan™, we can be confident that progress that we make won't need to be rolled back later on.


Without this comprehensive investigation at the start, architects, homebuilders, and designers miss important restrictions or requirements. They are discovered only much later, and the project ends up taking longer and costing more for redesign and sometimes a less desirable building.



Do you own a R1-1 property and want to know what your options are for building a triplex or other multiplex? I offer a simple redevelopment study service called the RED Report™. Download a sample by clicking the link below.






If you'd like to book a free, 30-minute consultation with me to discuss how to move your development plans from the rough idea stage into the solid research phase, click the button below.





 

DISCLAIMER:

The information included in this article is to an extent generic and intended for educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Thorough efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the article, but having read this article, you understand and agree that Daniel Clarke Architect disclaims any legal liability for actions that may arise from reliance on the information provided in this article. I am an architect in BC, but readers are recommended to consult with their own architect on their specific situations before making any decisions or exercising judgement base on information in the article.

 




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