Public to have say on floor area ratio

Changes to zoning bylaws for floor area limit in Oak Bay will move to public hearing

Long-awaited alterations to zoning bylaws surrounding floor area limits in Oak Bay got the OK to move toward public hearing during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting.

“There’s no right way of making a bylaw. If there was we’d all have the same one in every jurisdiction,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch, who led the floor area review committee.

Council created the review committee in 2013 to address concerns that had been raised in regards to large houses on small lots and older homes with low basements included in the gross floor area of a dwelling. The current bylaw has fixed floor area limits for four different lot sizes in the RS-4 and RS-5 zones.

The proposal is to go back to a similar model from before changes were made in 2007 to how floor area is derived. Protecting heritage homes, while allowing for changes within those homes, was a major instigator of the bylaw review.

In its April 2015 report, that committee outlined 15 recommendations to tweak bylaws governing builds and renovations in RS-4 and RS-5 zones. February’s two most recent public sessions in the two-year process yielded a few minor proposed changes.

For example, one comment pertained to existing older homes with large undeveloped attic spaces. It suggested allowing development of attic space in character homes by developing a policy to allow the exemption of attic space from floor area calculations. The policy would apply to homes built prior to 1945 which retain their original roofline; would restrict the use of dormers to prevent overlook of neighbouring properties; and changes to the roof such as dormers would be reviewed by the Advisory Design Panel.

The floor area review committee met to discuss the notion and recommended – and council agreed – the concept should undergo more scrutiny by staff prior to being potentially included.

Committee did approve the 14 other recommendations, with the largest change being the switch from fixed floor area to a ratio model that would see a 0.4 to 1.0 floor area ratio; include accessory buildings in the calculation; and exclude low decks from floor area measure. Floor area would continue, as it is now, to be measured to the outside face of building sheathing and exclude exterior stairs from the building envelope measure.

Another significant modification includes 30 per cent total lot coverage including accessory buildings with a limit to seven per cent for accessory buildings.

Atrium space with ceiling height up to 4.3m would be counted only once as part of gross floor area, while atrium space with a ceiling height over 4.3m would be counted twice in the gross floor area. Floor area of interior stairs would be counted once per floor as is currently and the basement floor under stairs with less than 1.2m of height would be excluded from floor area.

View the full 14 recommendations in the floor area review report at on the April 20 committee agenda.

Decisions at committee are recommendations made to council for further consideration. Council meets Monday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. at 2167 Oak Bay Ave.