(5 minute read)
I would like to take this opportunity to talk to you about secondary suites. On December 11th, at Calgary City Council, it was a pretty historic day for the City of Calgary and for my Great Neighborhoods mission at City Hall.
Why? Because we significantly moved the ball further down the field with respect to secondary suites.
On December 11, City Council agreed in a 10-5 vote to direct City Administration to bring bylaw changes applying to the ENTIRE city around the issue of secondary suites. The objective of this move is to update and amend the Land Use Bylaw to make secondary suites a DISCRETIONARY USE everywhere secondary suites are currently not permitted as a discretionary use, rather than continuing to restrict R1-zoned districts.
The process today
Currently, when you bring forward a land use application to City Hall, you essentially say, "I'd like to convert my R1 property to R1s." Property owners present before Council asking for this change, often sharing personal details as to why they want to build a secondary suite. Neighbours can come out for or against this land use application, which is not only onerous and time-consuming for Council but pits neighbour-against-neighbour and can influence decisions on land use applications to be based on emotions rather than planning merit.
If you emerge from the other side successfully, you get a permitted use for a secondary suite within the four walls of your existing home, or you get a discretionary use for a cottage in your backyard or a carriage house suite above your garage.
Discretionary Use vs. Permitted Use
The difference between a permitted use and a discretionary use is this: if everything was zoned "permitted use" you'd be allowed to build a secondary suite as long as you meet the building code requirements without going through the steps of re-designating your land (which is what we currently do). With discretionary use, you would have to apply for a development permit. That development permit gets scrutinized by City Administration and it also gets weighed in on by your neighbours.
Discretionary use is a compromise.
I was initially concerned that by making secondary suites a discretionary use it would translate into six hours of almost semi-formal court proceedings at the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board; and, if you had wealthy neighbours who wanted to lawyer up, you would also need to lawyer up when applying for a secondary suite. In my mind, this would be a nightmare.
I was backed off of the ledge of fighting against discretionary use. Secondary suites are legal throughout most of Canada and it has not resulted in an explosion of Subdivision and Development Appeal Board hearings. What happens at the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board is they look at the technical merits of the case and if you meet them, you're free to renovate your personal and private property.
This decision, when fully implemented, is going to take an entire step out of the process whereby you are no longer required to come to City Hall and air your most intimate and personal life details to obtain a secondary suite.
My stance on what happened
The Notice of Motion that triggered this discussion was brought forward by Councillor Shane Keating, and it had three clauses:
- That secondary suites be a discretionary use throughout the city (except where they are already permitted);
- That we establish a registry so that all legal secondary suites are part of a database that we can track; and,
- That we return to the era of charging application fees for secondary suites.
I have been asked that if I was so supportive, why did I not put my name on that Notice of Motion – the fact is, I did not sign on because I was not in support of the third clause.
I supported the discretionary use. I also support the registry because it makes sense since we want to be able to track data. As time goes on, and as the black market of secondary suites transitions into a white market, the registry will help in determining and tracking this changeover.
The final thing, though, are the fees. When you're bringing a land use application forward, it's a $6000 application fee. The City of Calgary was waiving that application fee as an incentive to build secondary suites and was also waiving the development permit application fee (which is $454) for the same reason. Council (unfortunately) voted to reinstate these application fees. So while the age of coming in and getting a land use change is no longer necessary, you’re now going to be on the hook for a development permit application fee and a building permit application fee.
I am happy that Council supported secondary suites and its discretionary use through a 10-5 vote. On the whole, Council did a very good thing.
Were there other votes on secondary suites?
There were a number of other Motions Arising that were brought forward on this specific item before Council. I consistently voted against them. In the end, they were resolutions that told City Administration to think about other things while updating and amending the bylaw.
I was against them because:
- I want to keep the regulation on this simple; and,
- A lot of the concerns about secondary suites are not concerns about secondary suites. They're concerns about bad landlords and bad tenants and we have a Community Standards Bylaw that is meant to address these things. As a person who is against cumbersome regulation and red tape, this was contrary to my principles.
I'm hoping that this message gets across to my colleagues when this comes back in March for final approval, and that we move forward with the discretionary use with a licensing system and moderate application fees for secondary suites.
On the whole, December 11 was an historic day for the #YYCSuite movement, and I'm looking forward to March 2018 when we actually enact all of this into law.