Sunday, May 31, 2015

Studying the Secondary Suite Situation

The topic of secondary suites elicits strong responses from the community. Council has undertaken a review of our secondary suite regulations in order to address a number of the concerns that have arisen with them. Here's what's being proposed and some of my thoughts surrounding the issue:

What are they?
A Secondary Suite (SS) is a dwelling located within, and accessory to, a Single Detached Dwelling.

Should we allow them?
The creation of secondary suites has been heralded as an efficient way to address the housing needs in cities, particularly in places with high growth rates and a transient population. Adding more space for people in existing housing is a cost effective method of meeting housing needs. Not surprisingly, many Albertan cities have embraced their development.

There are a number of pros and cons that come with the proliferation of secondary suites:

More housing is available at lower costs
Slows the rate of urban sprawl
Allows smaller investors to access housing rental market
Utilizes excess home space more efficiently

Can change the character of established neighbourhoods
Higher population densities lead to congestion issues with parking and traffic flow
Reduces demand for higher density housing options (ie. apartments)

There are a range of options on this topic ranging from allowing suites wherever and however to banning them completely to finding a middle ground in between.

Personally, I am supportive of having secondary suites as part of our housing mix. However, there needs to be a balance between giving homeowners and builders the ability to meet housing needs with this type of development with the development standards the community is asking for.

In a survey we put out a few months ago, there was overwhelming support for SS, but there were definitely concerns raised with their development (see results here).

Council has recognized that current regulations have allowed some developments to occur that have produced highly congested areas which have major parking and traffic flow issues.  The quality of some neighbourhoods have been lessened due to these issues.

City administration have proposed a number of changes to address the problems which you can read in full here.

To address the congestion problem, Council set a goal of limiting secondary suites in a neighbourhood to 15%. There are quite a few options that were looked at to do this.  For example, we could only allow every 4th or 5th lot to have a SS or we could identify certain lots with increased parking (such as corner lots) and only allow SS in them.

After looking at all the options, administration is proposing that we limit SS to only 3 per 50 metre radius and no more than 2 in a row.  This option would give more flexibility to those looking to build SS.  Also, SS would also be limited to lots that have minimum width of 12.2m (40ft) and minimum area of 403m2 (4337 sq ft.)

These proposals would limit the number of SS in a neighbourhood to roughly 15%.

I feel that these proposals found an appropriate balance, however I look forward to further discussion on the topic and to hearing more from interested community members.

After some concerns were raised with these proposals at the last City Council meeting, they were referred back to the Community Growth committee which will discuss the proposed changes further on Tuesday at 10:00am. The meeting is open to all. You can find the report that will be coming to committee here.

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