City council unanimously gave approval to first reading of a new secondary suites bylaw, although some councillors signalled more tweaks may be needed.
Councillor Tara Veer did not favour allowing up to 20 per cent of homes in a neighbourhood to have secondary suites, although she admitted she didn’t know what the “magic number” was. Veer said the city has already had complaints about the suites in areas where there are far fewer than one in five homes with suites in place.
Veer also wants the city to get a handle on how many illegal suites already exist and ensure homeowners apply to the city to make them legal and have them inspected.
“I think it’s absolutely critical we deal with the inventory of suites we have right now.”
Veer said the bylaw, which has been in the works for two years, has come a long way “but as much as possible I’d like to get it right the first time.”
Councillor Larry Pimm said the bylaw isn’t perfect and some would say it goes too far, and others, not far enough. “I think it’s as close as we’re going to get.”
Councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer wanted to see a requirement that secondary suites only be allowed in houses with live-in owners.
The city’s legal advisers said requiring property owners to reside in a given house was out of the municipality’s authority and would not survive a legal challenge.
Watkinson-Zimmer asked that council be given a report on how the bylaw, if passed, was working after a year. The bylaw has been proposed as a two-year trial.
The councillor doubted that the city would be inundated with secondary suite applications if the bylaw is passed. “I don’t think the flood gates are going to open.”
Under the bylaw, which will go to a public hearing Dec. 14, secondary suites will be allowed throughout the city. Currently, they are only allowed in specified areas, including designated sites in new neighbourhoods. Proposed changes would make the suites a permitted use in many areas and a discretionary use in others.
Home owners with existing secondary suites that have not been approved would have until Jan.1, 2012 to apply for a development permit. Those who don’t comply face fines starting at $500.