Distressed by decision to overturn MPC and allow secondary suite

The following is an open letter sent to the mayor of Sylvan Lake, which we would be pleased if you were able to publish.

Dear Editor,

The following is an open letter sent to the mayor of Sylvan Lake, which we would be pleased if you were able to publish.

Mayor Sean McIntyre,

I am writing with regard to the recent overturning of a Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) decision regarding a secondary suite in the cottage area.

First, some background. As you are aware, in recent weeks and months, there has been considerable discussion regarding the whole concept of secondary suites in Sylvan Lake.

At a recent MPC meeting, a secondary suite was proposed for a 30 foot lot in the cottage area, which was to be a rental unit, both upper and lower suites. As a result of the rules governing the MPC, community input was allowed, notification of neighbours was required. The development officer was strongly in favour of approval of this development, and in statements mentioned that of the many property owners who expressed concern regarding the development, several were not full time residents of the area. It was pointed out by residents at the meeting that these property owners were in fact just that, property owners, and taxpayers. The MPC, after hearing the various presenters’ concerns regarding density and parking decided to disallow the development on the grounds that it was unsuitable for the area, which is designated as R5, with the specified purpose: “To provide an area for low density residential development in the form of detached dwellings and compatible uses, herein listed, on narrow lots.”

Shortly afterward during a town council meeting, a bylaw was presented to council for approval, which would have given the development officer complete decision making power regarding the granting of permits allowing secondary suites as discretionary uses in the town. This bylaw would mean that there would be no notification to neighbours of a proposed development, no community input, and no discussion. The decision would be made based solely on the exact definitions of then current Land Use Bylaw (LUB). Council debated this issue, and listened to several members of the community who presented their views and concerns regarding the process. The previously mentioned permit application was discussed, and it was shown that with the MPC retaining authority for approval, the outcome was the reverse of what it would have been had the development officer been empowered to make the decision.

Council continued the debate, and discussed the entire issue of the definition of secondary suites within the LUB. The terms “secondary suite” and “duplex” were discussed, as well as the restrictions placed on secondary suites in other jurisdictions, where the owner of the property must occupy one or the other of the suites. It was determined that a review of the LUB and in particular a review of secondary suites was required, and the proposed bylaw was defeated unanimously, leaving the decision authority with the MPC, and confirming the notion that the community was an important part of the decision making process. It was clear that council felt that secondary suites needed to be re-visited, and that it was a serious issue.

The developer/owner of the 30 foot lot appealed the decision to the Development Appeal Board (DAB).

At the Development Appeal Board meeting, residents and the developer presented their arguments. The developer pointed out that many of the property owners who were against the development did not reside in the area. It was then pointed out by a resident that the developer did not reside in Sylvan Lake either, and had no intention of residing in either of the two rental family units to be built on the narrow lot. The developer then stated that the cottage area was not special and had no particular protection against this sort of development. I personally believe that the area does have protection, based on the definition of R5 zoning, that being low density.

The appeal was granted, and the decision of the MPC was overturned.

Mr. Mayor, you were a member of the three person appeal board.

Another member of the Development Appeal Board is the husband of the Town of Sylvan Lake’s chief administrative officer, an outrageous conflict of interest.

I am deeply concerned and disappointed that in that position, you have apparently agreed that the cottage area is not different, is not special, and does not require protection. You are aware of the concerns of not only the residents of the area, but also of the council regarding the entire issue of secondary suites, yet you have agreed to go against the wishes of the community, disregarded the concerns of your own council, and ignore the clear unanimous decision of the MPC.

I, and the residents of the cottage area, fear for the future of our neighbourhood, when the mayor of our town seems oblivious to the nature and character of the oldest and most delicate area within our community.

The cottage area of Sylvan Lake is where Sylvan Lake began many years ago. It is a heritage area, that historically remains as an area of small, single family dwellings, some occupied year round, others only during the summer months. The cottage area is unique in the province of Alberta. This area is undergoing change, as many of the older units are being replaced with new homes, but in the vast majority of cases, these new homes are designed to fit into the cottage area environment.

The cottage area, due to its character, also maintains higher property values, and thereby tends to have higher municipal tax bills for the owners. A change to that character, by filling the neighbourhood with duplex-like developments will clearly lower values of surrounding properties, and lower tax revenues for the town. The infrastructure of the cottage area is also a feature of its character. The streets are narrow, and parking is at a premium. This is not a complaint, as it is my belief that residents want it to remain that way. High density housing in such an area is entirely inappropriate.

Mr. Mayor, I speak on behalf of the property owners of the cottage area when I say we are distressed by this decision, taken in full knowledge that in the near future there will be a complete review of the current LUB, and specifically the definition and suitability of secondary suites. It is in effect sneaking in under the wire, and creating a dreadful precedent and loophole.

I write this letter with great sadness, but in hopes the residents of the entire community of Sylvan Lake can clearly see and understand the situation. Secondary suites are not an issue for the cottage area alone, as there are many residents in Hewlett Park and Ryders Ridge who are facing similar issues. In fact, with this new loophole created by our mayor, every residential area is now at risk of high density development with no reasonable avenue of appeal.

I ask that all residents of Sylvan Lake make their views on this extremely important topic known to our council and Mayor McIntyre.

G. Brooke Carter

Sylvan Lake