Allison Summers’ family aren’t strangers to building community. Her great grandfather ran one of Port Moody’s first grocery stores, her grandfather was the vice-principal of the city’s first middle school, and her mother and father were the last couple to be married in St. Andrews United Church on St. Johns Street before the original structure burned down and was replaced.
Now, Summers and her 86-year-old mother, Valerie Julian, have become community pioneers who could make it easier for Port Moody seniors to live out their golden years close to home, family and friends.
At an emotional presentation to Port Moody council March 12, Summers was able to sway councillors to reject a staff recommendation against granting a development variance permit that will allow her family to build a laneway home for her mother behind their own house on Henry Street. The variance was sought because the proposed house is 47 square metres larger than what is permitted under the city’s bylaws and official community plan, which were amended just last year to allow for the construction of laneway homes in certain areas, like Moody Centre.
But Mayor Rob Vagramov said council quickly learned the reality of laneway homes can be different from the black and white of regulation.
“Bylaws have to change to reflect today’s reality,” Vagramov said. “Having that flexibility is really important.”
For Summers, flexibility means giving her mother the opportunity to continue enjoying independently the community and connections she has developed through a lifetime in Port Moody while having the security of family close at hand should she need a helping hand.
“We live for mom,” she said. “We owe her everything.”
For Julian, it’s all about being surrounded by people she knows and loves, and continuing her routines of walking two or three times a day to the nearby coffee shop, or down to Rocky Point Park for its weekly summertime concert series.
“It’s wonderful to see all the familiar people,” she said.
Carola Alder of CityState Consulting, which worked with the Summers on designing their laneway home as well as getting Port Moody council on board, said giving aging residents the chance to stay in their community is vital to their mental and physical well-being, especially as that population grows.
“Staying in the community is so important,” Alder said. “It can prolong a life.”
That was a lesson that hit close to home when Summers’ grandmother had to move into a care facility in Coquitlam after she could no longer manoeuvre around her own place.
“Going into a home shouldn’t be your only option,” she said.
So when Julian sold her home on St. George Street three years ago, the race was on to keep her close by.
Luckily, the Summers were able to find her a basement suite right across Henry Street. But when council passed bylaws allowing for the construction of laneway homes, neighbours hurried excitedly to share the news — many of them even signed a document supporting the variance and several spoke at the council meeting.
Vagramov said council took that support to heart and added that the city will take a new look at its bylaws regulating laneway homes to take into account the varying needs of people who might live in such dwellings, like seniors or adults with physical or developmental needs.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Vagramov said.
Which is something Julian can’t wait to enjoy at her new laneway home, which will include a deck, her own garden and an access ramp should her mobility needs change in the years to come.
Alder said looking at that long-range picture is important when considering the construction of laneway homes, especially if they’re to be considered for housing seniors.
Vagramov said while laneway homes aren’t “the magic bullet that will fix the seniors’ housing issue,” they can be an excellent option for families with the space and means.
Summers said she’s already making decorating plans for the home that will likely begin construction by summer and hopefully be completed in time for Christmas. And she looks forward to looking across the backyard to see her mom roll up the window shade in the morning to indicate she’s ready to share the day’s first coffee on the deck.
“Mom and I have always been close,” she said.