The District of Sooke is clinging to unneeded regulations that will ultimately drive up the cost of housing and reduce the size of new homes, according to the Sooke Builders Association.
Herb Haldane, representing the association, appealed to council Monday that it revisit the way the district applies a part of the B.C. Building Code that calls for a minimum of 2.4 metres clearance between houses.
The regulation was put in place as a fire prevention initiative in the belief that homes with less clearance may result in fires spreading from home to home.
That’s where Haldane insists the logic breaks down.
“They’ll let us build closer together, but if we do there can be no windows on the side of the house facing the adjacent house so natural light is eliminated on that side of the home and you might as well be building townhomes,” he said.
One way of avoiding the regulation’s restrictions on windows is for the homes to be equipped with sprinkler systems, a move that Haldane explained would require larger water lines to be run to the house and, together with the cost of the sprinkler system, would raise the price of the homes significantly.
The regulation can be waived if the fire department were to sign off on declaration of a 10-minute response time, something Fire Chief Kenn Mount said can’t be done without fundamentally changing the council-mandated level of service required of the fire department.
“Because of the structure of the department (utilizing volunteers) we would have to invest a lot of money in order to have a fire rated engine and the four staff to run it to a fire within that 10 minute window, and that’s what the code requires. There’s a question of whether the developers would accept any part of that cost. Otherwise, the developers benefit and the taxpayers end up paying for the changes,” said Mount.
That’s not to say that some compromise can’t be found, added Mount, but it has to be done right and will require more study and conversations with the builders.
“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” he said.
From the perspective of Haldane and the other builders, it’s the young families looking to get into a home at a cost they can afford who will pay the price.
“Prices have gone through the roof in B.C. and we want to be able to offer young buyers reasonably sized homes that they can still afford. Any additions we have to make, like unneeded sprinkler systems, only serves to put those homes further out of reach,” Haldane said, adding that he is hopeful that the builders and the district administration can come to a reasonable compromise.
The issue was referred to staff for review. The report comes back to council in November.