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Laneway houses notebook (6)

March 21, 2019 email to Tony Cunha of Lanescape

I left you a voice mail a few days back and you've been copied on a few other things. I'm guessing that no response from you means that you don't have the documents that Chief Babcock thought you might have. If you can let me know if you do have some information, I can apply for the remaining correspondence etc. through FOI this afternoon.

My neighbours and I are talking about asking the fire station near here to do a fire drill through to the garage. Taking the hose through the walkway and through the house, taking the pumper down the laneway etc. That could be a fun neighbourhood event, maybe the fire captain will agree.

March 21, 2019, response from Tony Cunha

I apologize its taken some time to get back to you. We’ve been working on the fire access requirements with several other stakeholders and didn’t want to relay unreliable information.

Firstly, the main takeaway from the meeting with the city was that they are stead-fast in their requirements for a 1.0m walkway, and this needs to be entirely within your property. Anything from 0.9-1.0m will need to be approved by the building department through a compliance alternative application. This basically argues for a lenience from the building code on the basis of alternative design provisions, like sprinklers, non combustible construction etc. That said, your property wouldn’t qualify unless these rules are changed.

In the larger scheme of things, the city is drafting a memo clearly outlining the emergency access requirements and a process for getting these evaluated. We have not seen this document yet, but it will be circulated to other city departments before it goes out to the public. We expect this to simply reiterate the 1.0m and 45m requirements.

While I agree one could argue that personnel may be able to get down a laneway in certain cases, the municipality needs to consider the entire city and all the unique circumstances in our urban fabric. Laneway housing is a great solution to so many of our current housing needs, but not at the expense of preserving basic life safety for both the occupants and first responders.

I don’t have any further information at this time. Rest assured we are still working on this, but have to allow the city their due process. We’ll reach back out with any further info when received.

March 21, 2019 email to Tony

Thanks, Tony. Life Safety and Safety are a moveable feast for bureaucracies. It was on the basis of Safety that the city spent many millions tearing down playgrounds between 2000 and 2003 and most of those "standards" have now been removed again, partly because the playground injuries actually went up under the safer "standards." (Quote marks are because those "standards" were not in the law either).

The IT guy for CELOS (my brother) is now working on downloading the open data files for fire incidents in garages and basements apts. Life safety can't be entirely based on "what if," it needs to be based on actual events as well.

Your email sounds pretty much on message. Since we're on a different trajectory in the neighbourhood, if you feel like you're getting too much information from Havelock/Gladstone, let me know and I'll take you off our list. The info may expand now that I'm beginning to get in touch with more people.

At yesterday's Planning and Housing committee meeting, it was interesting to hear that the secondary suites are facing the same 1-meter block. If I heard her right, Ana B. (as chair) said there are an estimated 70,000 secondary suites in the city, many illegal. If the city decided to enforce that 1-meter rule, wouldn't that be interesting for the housing situation....

I'll look for the building code requirements for front door widths, for the firefighters to get in and out -- 1 meter?

March 25, 2019, Jutta to neighbourhood group

Dear laneway house friends, Adding to the housing stock on this neighbourhood is going to be even more interesting than I thought it would be. So here's this week's news:

1. An update from Tony Cunha of Lanescape, starting off with why he didn't reply to my previous email and phone call inquiry:

We’ve been working on the fire access requirements with several other stakeholders and didn’t want to relay unreliable information.

Firstly, the main takeaway from the meeting with the city was that they are stead-fast in their requirements for a 1.0m walkway, and this needs to be entirely within your property. Anything from 0.9-1.0m will need to be approved by the building department through a compliance alternative application. This basically argues for a lenience from the building code on the basis of alternative design provisions, like sprinklers, non combustible construction etc.

So even if you have 1.8 metres between two properties you can't build unless you put in sprinklers or build an asbestos house (bad joke).....

2. But re Tony's explanation, I think that we are also stakeholders, not only the city staff and the architects. The fire chief doesn't see it that way though -- when I asked him again for details of his decision process, he just gave me the number of the building code section he relies on, and I found it here. A nice quick read. He also suggested that Tony Cunha might have the "additional information you are requesting." But I think there's a misunderstanding here -- if a citizen asks for specific information, the staff person can't just tell them to go talk to an architect. So on March 21, I submitted these two freedom of information requests. By law they have to be answered in 28 business days, so I'll let you know.

3. Decisions should be based partly on reality. For example, before we require pedestrians to wear helmets in case they trip on a sidewalk, we need to find out how often and how seriously people are hurt in this way. After going to the internal meetings with the fire chief, Tony Cunha of Lanescape wrote to me:

Laneway housing is a great solution to so many of our current housing needs, but not at the expense of preserving basic life safety for both the occupants and first responders.

Indeed -- we need to be clear-eyed about the risks. The desire to help city staff make smart decisions has prompted my Freedom of Information inquiry. Beyond that, citizens who don't want to endanger basic life safety can also dig a little more on their own. There's quite a bit of Fire Services data posted on the city's Open Data portal, including fire incidents since 2011. But the files are so big that I couldn't open them. Then the IT department of CELOS (Henrik, my brother) came to the rescue. The link will be up on this CELOS "Laneway Houses" page here, in a day or two. The spreadsheet is pretty interesting, even just to see how often those big fire trucks respond to a medical call (stroke, broken arm), where there's no fire. (Very often).

4. Many of the houses on this street have lasted around 106 years so far without burning down. There's a semi-regular pattern to walkway-width that may have related to firefighter access when these housing tracts were built. Even the narrow intervals are wider than the front doors of the houses (doors seem to usually measure around 84 cm). But the fire chief feels that front door width is not good enough for fire access to the back. It would be helpful to count the number of laneway-house-ineligible properties (i.e. with less than two meters walkway width), in this neighbourhood. Want to count your block? If you send me the count, I'll post it on the web page.

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Content last modified on March 25, 2019, at 10:26 AM EST