This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s July 2022 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
Blake Richards came onto the modular building scene with the goal of providing more housing in Revelstoke that didn’t force residents to break the bank. As of January 13, 2022, Zoning Bylaw No. 2299 was adopted by the city, launching Richards’ dream into the realms of reality.
The new carriage and garden suite change came at a special meeting following the city’s comprehensive review to update, modernize, and clarify the city’s bylaws. The city informed the public about the significant change in a Talk Revelstoke discussion forum during their review phase.
Richards is the owner of Earthwright Shelter Company, a portable building manufacturer in Revelstoke. Typically, Richards creates portable, modular units designed as an office or studio space but not intended for a person to live. However, when city council adopted the new bylaw, Richards saw the opportunity to serve the community.
The bylaw adopted allows residents in Revelstoke to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that were not allowed in previous versions of the city’s bylaws. ADUs include secondary suites, like the classic basement suite, carriage suites and garden suites.
The latter two suites are liveable spaces and separate buildings from a primary house that, before January, were not permitted in standard residential zones of the city. Now they are allowed, and businesses like Earthwright Shelter Company are poised and ready to react.
The city defines a carriage suite as a detached, subordinate dwelling unit that contains a garage or similar storage space on the ground floor, with a dwelling unit on an upper floor located on a permanent, continuous foundation. A garden suite is a detached dwelling unit typically on the ground floor, on a permanent foundation.
Richards describes the units as mini versions of the main house. “One of the important parts of this bylaw is that the carriage home or the garden suite has to be built of similar materials, complementing materials and sort of similar design,” he says. “So it looks like a little sibling of the house that we’re putting it next to — the same sort of roofline, same sort of materials, same sort of trim and all that kind of thing.”
Jocoah Sorensen, owner and operator at Adaptive Homes, says he anticipated the bylaw change and has started a few projects involving ADUs. “We designed a series of carriage houses ahead of time and then released them actually at the same time the bylaw changed. We had a lot of initial inquiries about that. We’ve been dealing with that over the past few months, working through building permits and drawings and all that stuff,” he says.
Sorensen says the permitting process for one of these suites is very similar to what needs to be compiled for a regular home build, with some exceptions to meet the new bylaw’s requirements. For example, the carriage home or garden suite can’t exceed a useable floor space of 40% of the usable floor space of the primary dwelling with a maximum of 90 square metres and must have a minimum of 10 square metres of open space dedicated to the suite’s occupant.
Implementing this bylaw creates the potential to increase density within Revelstoke and gives businesses like Richards,’ and Sorensen’s a big boost.
Both Earthwright Shelter Company and Adaptive Homes use a modular style building method that involves building projects offsite before being transported and assembled at the final location, mitigating some of the vexing qualities of construction. Richards’ modular building technique allows him to build all his projects in a shop, limiting the noisy construction that has to happen on location at his clients’ homes. Additionally, Richards says his business is equipped to build carriage and garden suites because they are smaller construction projects in which his company already specializes. Richards says larger companies may be more reluctant to take on smaller building projects like the suites.
“Any urban planner will tell you in a confined space, density is how you solve things,” Richards says. “Where do your kids live? If you’re raising kids in town and they’re old enough, they’re not going to buy a house. Where does your mom live when she retires and doesn’t want a big house anymore? There’s not a ton of options.”
Additionally, Richards thinks that people will take on these projects to use them as rental units to help with expensive mortgages, despite the exorbitant market prices on building supplies right now.
“It’s costing my customers twice as much to build a house in 2022 as it did in 2018,” he says. “To balance that out, we have huge amounts of equity sitting in people’s houses. If they owned it five or six years ago, it’s worth so much more now than what they purchased it for. There tends to be enough equity on the table that it makes the financing pretty easy. So, I think we’re going to see people doing this.”
Richards points out that these are social issues tearing at our community and is thankful that the city has opened up avenues for residents to build solutions. The city says they’re issuing building permits for garden and carriage suites and have had four applications this year.