Image from Tyee Rendering submitted by B Collective and KOR Architecture

WCS Engagement + Planning has been working with Small Housing over the past year on an initiative to accelerate the adoption of “gentle density” infill housing throughout BC communities. We co-hosted a Summit, attended by 50 local government planners, earlier this month to learn about leading practices and success stories from other communities and to peer crowd-source solutions. We will continue to support Small Housing with the creation of a Community of Practice. 

What is it?  

“Gentle density” refers to infill of existing single-family neighbourhoods to allow up to six units per lot. It can include accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which could be attached (secondary suites) or detached (e.g., carriage homes, laneway homes), as well as tri-plexes to six-plexes. Gentle density housing is part of “missing middle” housing, which includes townhouses (often on corner lots). 

Why gentle density? 

  • Overall, there is a lack of diversity of housing types, including smaller units that can be more affordable, in all BC communities. 
  • Most communities in BC are zoned exclusively for single family, which only allows one type of housing form. 
  • There is a growing trend towards smaller average household sizes in many communities. 
  • To reduce climate, infrastructure and servicing impacts of new development in new/greenfield sites, we can use existing serviced lands more efficiently.  
  • Local governments can use their zoning power as a tool to add housing. 

How is this being done?  

Fortunately, many communities in BC are starting to dip their toes in gentle density. While most communities are still in the policy stage, there are some great practices and initiatives that we’ve seen so far, from BC and beyond. Here are just a few examples. 


The Missing Middle Housing Initiative (to be approved by Council) proposes to allow houseplexes (townhouses, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes) and corner townhouses in addition to single-family homes in Traditional Residential areas of the city. It will also help to conserve homes with heritage merit by allowing other homes to be built on the same lot as the heritage registered building. Ground-oriented buildings up to three storeys and multi-unit buildings up to three storeys are allowed as supported by City policy. 

Zoning bylaw amendments include delegating development permit approvals to staff for cases where proposed missing middle housing is permitted in zoning, development applications are consistent with the Missing Middle Design Guidelines, and no zoning variances are requested. 

schematic of different housing types


In 2016, the City of Kelowna conducted the Infill Challenge, an innovative competition to identify new designs for infill housing in parts of Kelowna’s urban core. The result of the 2016 Infill Challenge was the creation of a unique 4-dwelling zone called RU-7, which was applied to over 800 properties (i.e., prezoned). The winning designs were exempted from the requirement for a development permit and building permit reviews were accelerated. As a result, if a property owner elected to use one of the winning designs, they would be eligible for the “fast-track” stream, which reduced approval processing times by approximately 6-8 weeks. Approximately 100 projects totalling more than 400 units were built over five years. 

The RU-7 zone has now been replaced with the MF1 – Infill Housing Zone, which allows for ground-oriented housing of two storeys. MF2 – Townhouse Housing allows ground-oriented housing up to three storeys. Furthermore, the Multi-Dwelling Zones (MF-1, MF-2, MF-3) contain subzones that restrict the dwelling units to a rental only tenure. 

schematic of zoning and housing


The Village of Cumberland has created zoning that allows further densification within the residential infill area to align with the Official Community Plan goal of densifying the Village Centre with a new residential infill land use:  

  • ADUs are permitted within this new zone and no longer require a Development Permit.  
  • Minimum lot sizes for single family homes have been reduced to 325 metres2 to allow for infill subdivision to small lots (e.g., with a single-family dwelling on each). 
  • New zoning regulations allow for residential infill development that supports compact, sustainable development, while maintaining neighbourhood character.  

RM-1, RM-2, RM-3, RM-5 and MU-1 zones now all allow duplexes, townhouses and rowhouses, and the (new) RM-5 zone is designated rental tenure multi-family, only allowing units to be built for rental. 


The City of Portland adopted rules to allow more housing options (which was done before the passing of Oregon State Housing Bill 2001 requiring the expansion of building options in residential zones). The Residential Infill Project (RIP) includes: 

  • Allowing four units on most lots and six on a lot if half of them are affordable; fourplexes are the most common type of new dwelling units (60% of sites). 
  • Implementation in two stages: the first stage allowed infill in certain zones, and the second stage was expanded to all residential zones. 
  • Varying Floor Area Ratio (FAR) by number of units (i.e., larger FAR for higher units). 
  • Allowing up to six units and 1.2 FAR when half of the units are income restricted. 
  • Implementing a « Z Overlay » where sensitive environment, landslide, etc., limitations exist to restrict infill to duplexes. 
  • Eliminating minimum parking requirements and requiring lots on alleys to use alleys for parking. 

While demand, context and the regulatory environment may differ in different communities, there are many approaches that can be shared among communities. Get in touch with Cheeying at cho[at] if you’d like to discuss gentle density approaches or would like to join the budding gentle density Community of Practice.