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A difference take on non-conforming space bylaws

Proposed bylaw not about bigger houses



This week the local chapter of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) released a statement in reply to last week's story in Pique , "Non-conforming space bylaw delayed."

According the CHBA, the article - based on back and forth discussions at the council meeting - contained some misinformation, and misstated the intention of the proposed bylaw. The CHBA says the goal of the proposed bylaw is not to build larger homes or exceed the current limit of 5,000 square feet, but to increase public safety, bring homes into conformance and change the measuring system from square footage to volume.

"The public's safety must and always has been our number one reason for pushing for this bylaw change," wrote CHBA Sea to Sky president Eric Prall. "To date, there has been a gross non-compliance with illegal spaces that are turned into unpermitted living spaces in Whistler, once a new build has been completed.

"Our objective with this proposed bylaw change has never been about building larger houses, as reported last week; rather it is about taking existing houses that are non-conforming and having the ability to bring them into conformity... The bylaw also addresses new construction by using 'volumetrics' calculation."

Passing a voluntary volumetrics bylaw, said the CHBA, will not give consumers or builders the opportunity to build bigger houses, but to make effective use of the space/volume that has already been permitted.

The CHBA provided an example of two houses:

House A (Existing bylaw.) This house is designed to meet the bylaw setback, height restrictions and has a maximum square footage requirement. What has been happening in some cases is as follows: the house gets completed and occupancy permit issued. The owner then proceeds with converting certain space within the building into added living space. Often this converted space does not meet building code and safety egress requirements. This space now becomes unsafe in the event of fire etc.

House B (Proposed bylaw.) This house is designed to the same bylaw requirements, but has no maximum square footage requirements. From the street, the two houses could look exactly the same as they both have the same volume, however House B may have more square footage added inside the house. This is accomplished by the Architect/Engineer incorporating that footage into the volume of the house. The footage is designed to meet all code/egress requirements and is reviewed/approved by the Building department. The entire house meets code requirements and is safe.

The same process applies for when a renovation plan is provided to the Building Department for a home that has nonconforming space. Currently, there are many owners who may want to renovate, but will only proceed with the work without a permit and proper inspections because their non-conforming space would be exposed. This results in perpetuating the situation, as well as seeing the RMOW missing out on permit fees that would otherwise be paid of the work were done legally. The proposed bylaw would allow many homeowners to proceed with these renovations.

The CHBA has been working on the bylaw for over eight years, and was delayed by council once again as it was referred back to staff for review.

Bob Deeks from RDC Fine Homes has been following the issue closely, and said he believes the bylaw could result in smaller homes by making more effective use of the space.

"The current bylaw is unenforceable (and) anecdotal evidence suggests that 80 per cent of new construction has some form of non-conforming space requiring a section 219 covenant," he wrote in an email, emphasizing that non-conforming spaces create safety code issues.

"The volume calculation method would actually result in a smaller house size with regard to massing and volume than the current bylaw," he added. "Energy use would be reduced both in construction and heating as the maximum size would be reduced. In fact this would result in greater overall efficiency as people would be encouraged to maximize the living space inside a given volume."

Because non-conforming space already exists in all types of homes, Deeks said the focus should be on remediating that space to bring it into code rather than maintaining the status quo.

Said Deeks: "When faced with such gross non-compliance, should we not consider a better way that meets the current needs of residents today?"