Secondary suite rules should be strengthened; approval remain with MPC

I find myself struggling to understand a recent string of council decisions and am hoping others can help clarify

Dear Editor,

I find myself struggling to understand a recent string of council decisions and am hoping others can help clarify council’s mindset for me.

I’m sure most readers remember council’s decision to amend the Land Use Bylaw with respect to garage suites − but only after a large number of citizens showed up in council chambers to vent their frustration and displeasure. New bylaw changes significantly restrict when and where garage suites can be proposed for development. Council also directed administration to maintain final approvals through the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) − as they should for discretionary development. So far, so good.

As a result of the new direction, however, our development officers and the MPC suddenly found themselves dealing with a surge of development requests for secondary suites − which are also a discretionary use in single family residential areas. Under the bylaw, and as currently written, property developers can now legally build two residential suites on a single lot. I suspect the approvals process has quietly been going on for the past few years but, because council had previously delegated their responsibility to administration, no one is aware of the extent.

I personally advised Mayor McIntyre and Councillor Plante of my concerns on May 23rd. Both expressed surprise and promised to look into the matter; the mayor since advised me “council has indicated interest in introducing some kind of further conditions with respect to secondary suites”. Three days later, council passed first reading of Bylaw 1644/2014 − a bylaw which will once again delegate authority for secondary suites approval to the development officer.

Where is the logic in all of this? Approvals for both garage suites and secondary suites were previously under the delegated authority of the development officer? Council (accidentally) rescinded both authorities and significantly tightened the rules with respect to garage suites, but left secondary suite development with virtually no controls in place? Garage suite development is now severely restricted, yet any approvals must still go through MPC?  Secondary suite development is suddenly creating additional work for both administration and MPC so council proposes to back away from the process pending some ambiguous, future fix?

Your readers should understand that I am not against secondary suites, per se.  Other communities place permanent caveats on development such that a secondary suite can only be rented out when the home owner also lives on site.  This allows people who might not otherwise qualify for a mortgage the opportunity of home ownership while at the same time ensuring that property developers can’t just throw up a whole bunch of two suite revenue properties in single family residential areas. I’m sure there are plenty of other good ideas out there if council is interested in putting a stop to this madness.

Am I the only person who feels this way?

Richard Backs,

Sylvan Lake

cc:  Town Council and MPC


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