Tien Sher proposes 300 sq. ft. micro-lofts for Surrey
Tien Sher, the developers behind Quattro, are recognized for their efforts to bring affordable housing to the market – their six-storey wood frame Quattro 3 was an effort to do just that, by reducing building costs and passing those savings onto consumers. Their latest project though, pushes the envelope even further. Tien Sher is proposing to build the first of a three phase project featuring 56 micro-lofts, with units as small as 300 square feet.
Microlofts are small, studio style condos featuring one multi-purpose space for cooking, eating, sleeping, and day use. Each unit will include a galley kitchen with a standard fridge/freezer, electric range, and dishwasher, as well as a closet for a stackable washer and dryer. Most units will include a ful bathroom with a tub and shower. To increase livability, Tien Sher is proposing an upgrade option that would include a built-in work station, built-in media centre, and pull out Murphy bed. 32 units will be 300 sq. ft., 11 will be 320 sq. ft., and the remainder are small, on bedroom units between 424 and 656 sq. ft.
The project breaks new ground, not just by pursuing such small units, but by contravening many of the established processes and regulations in City development.
Due to confusion surrounding provincial amendments to the Local Government Act, the developer will not have to pay Development Cost Charges on all units under 312 square feet – 32 of 56 units. The City initially understood provincial law to apply to only units, but has since been informed that it requires the entire building to feature units at that size. All future projects will conform to this new understanding.
In addition to the tussle over DCCs, the City has been reticent to allow the entire building to feature one size of units. It fears the concentration of a certain type of individual (youngins with no money?) in one building and would prefer a mix of units in each and every development.
The biggest stumbling block has been over parking. Current by-laws require one parking space per unit. Tien Sher only wanted to build 33 spots, creating a parking ratio of 0.6 residents to parking. Its argument is simple: to build affordable units, it is seeking to reduce extra costs whenever possible, parking being a major cost that is passed on to consumers. It is estimated that each underground parking space costs $40,000. Furthermore, the type of person that would live in a micro-loft near Gateway is likely to take transit or bike, rather than drive. The Engineering Department wants the developer to move up to a ratio of 0.75, and while Tien Sher’s addition of two car share spots in the building has moved it closer to meeting the ratio, the City is still requesting $40,000 in lieu of the additional spots, money that will be passed on in the market.
While the City is having trouble fully embracing the bold proposal, it is surprisingly only the second micro-loft development in the region. The first was at Burns Block, a historic building bordering Gastown and the Downtown Eastside, with modernized units between 226 and 291 square feet.