Housing · New Westminster

On Preserving Single-Family Homes in New Westminster

There are five houses near the corner of Ash Street and Gloucester Street in New Westminster. Four of them were built in 1900 or earlier, making this one of the oldest cluster of houses in the city. The fifth was built in 1971. From building details it appears that the five (and possibly one other) properties were subdivided from one larger property sometime around 1889 and built over the next ten years. The 1971 house previously had a house built in 1890 on it.

One of the older houses is currently up for sale. Here’s part of its listing:

A true heritage home gem. Built approximately 1898 this home has been cared for but not at the expense of its character. You will be surprised at how large the home feels, the owner loves to entertain and regularly has social functions with over 25 guests. Double french doors lead to a fully fenced, landscaped backyard that adds to the livable space and creates an outdoor oasis. The ancient grapevine trunk has been carefully pruned and gives off shade from the supporting trellis as well as a bountiful harvest from its shoots.

It sounds really nice, and given the current asking price of $848,000, it’s amazing that it’s been on the market for weeks now. It was previously listed for $899,000, and I guess being on the market for so long has got the sellers to drop their asking price.

Houses at Ash & Gloucester

It probably isn’t selling because it’s on a very small lot: 33 feet by 66 feet. Compared to the standard New Westminster lot size of 50 feet by 130 feet, this lot is about a third the size of a standard lot. And the house is almost as big as you’re allowed to build (you could add another 170 square feet) so it’s probably not worth knocking the house down to build a new one.

In fact, this cluster of houses is an excellent example of fairly gentle densification with single family houses. The total area of these five houses is just about the same as two standard lots (1,202 m2 compared to 1,215 m2), meaning it’s 2.5 times denser than your standard New Westminster single-family house neighbourhood.

Gentle densification! Yay! Single-family homes! Yay! (for some non-extreme value of yay)

But let’s mention the last part of the listing for the house that’s for sale. This part wasn’t in the listing until the recent price drop, as my wife pointed out to me at the time:

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY: This home along with the surrounding houses is not on the heritage registry. It is likely that at some point they will be assembled as a multi family development.

No!

First off, the houses on either side of this house sold at separate times within the past year. Sure, “at some point” there might be some land assembly but I’m willing to bet that that won’t happen for years to come. There’s already a lot of low-hanging fruit in Brow Of The Hill where land assembly will mean two lots being merged instead of five. Dealing with two owners is a lot easier than dealing with five.

Second, this corner is exactly the type of gentle densification that’s great! It’s got heritage, it’s got curb appeal, it’s even got a mid-70s house with a carport. What more can you ask for?

I mean yes, I’m all for densification, but not here. Let’s densify two standard single-family lots and put six townhouses on them. But let’s not tear down five single-family houses to put eight townhouses on them. This corner is already perfect, let’s not ruin that with some mad rush to assemble lots and put multi-family buildings everywhere we can.

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