Building Height and Grading

How big should residential buildings be?

The City is looking for a better way to measure and regulate the height of buildings. We are trying to balance the requirement for accuracy with the challenge and expense of surveying every property before and after construction.

Why do we want to improve the current grade system?

The current grade system determines average grade from whatever design grade the project uses. Design grade is the grade that a developer intends to finish the project with. This system encourages grade manipulation to achieve a desired view or aesthetic and can also penalize portions of a building that have a walkout condition. Further, we presently do not require a post development survey that includes elevations, so it is difficult for the city to determine if a Building was built to an appropriate height.

In addition to the standard challenges with grades, the present system does not formally account for development in the floodplain where the flood construction level can be above grade.

Why do we want to improve the current height system?

The current height system is based on the highest point of a building regardless of roof form or pitch. This system was developed when the dominant roof form was a gable roof with substantial pitch and typically at a time when most people did not build to max height. Over the past decade or so, lower pitched roofs and single pitched roofs have become more prevalent leading to buildings that may have a larger mass than initially intended. This is particularly true in narrow lot situations where the eave line ends up very high.

How do we propose to change the system?

Grades

The City is proposing two complimentary approaches to calculate grades:

  1. For all existing neighbourhoods, we would use our 2018 Lidar data to determine the average grade of a parcel. This is done by taking each data point within the property and determining the average of all of those points. This system has the advantage of being simple to implement and cost effective for home owners. The alternative, which this system is intended to avoid, is to require pre-development surveys of a parcel to support any building permit application.
  2. For new subdivisions in undeveloped areas, the use of our Lidar data will not work as substantial re-grading is typical as part of the subdivision. In these situations, the proposal is to have different average grade and would be calculated as part of the subdivision grading plan and approved by the City at time of subdivision.

Height

Presently we measure height to the top of the roof for most zones with only a few areas where roof form affects height. The proposed new system is to use a series of measurement points tailored to the type of roof being built. This system has been implemented in the City of View Royal with good success. In most cases, the peak of the roof would be used for low sloped roofs and the midpoint would be used for steeper pitched roofs. In order to keep overall building heights similar to what is currently permitted, the maximum height of buildings in all zones would need to be reduced by ~20% to account for the change to midpoint of roof measurements.

How can you help?

We are looking for feedback on the proposed system and for help figuring out where it may break down. What do you think will work and what do you think will pose challenges? We have prepared a redline draft of the zoning bylaw to demonstrate how the bylaw could be amended to incorporate the new system. If you have any questions or feedback for us, please email them to fernieplanning@fernie.ca.

Downloads