March 11, 2016 | Cody Stuart
'A viable option'Airdrie looks to improve acceptance of secondary suites with bylaw review
Calgary is not the only Alberta city tackling the controversial issue of secondary suites.
Airdrie is putting its current land-use bylaw under the microscope, meaning residents in that city could soon see changes to the way the suites are regulated.
Suites are currently allowed in just three neighbourhoods: Bayview, The Canals and Silver Creek. Under the proposed bylaws, the City would allow at least one secondary housing option (a basement suite, a garden suite separate lot unit, or a garage suite) in most residential districts, with the development authority having final say on appropriate usage of a secondary suite.
To be considered a legal suite, it would have to meet the regulations of the land-use bylaw and the building code. Land-use regulations address use of the property, lot size, parking, setbacks and dwelling size.
The building code addresses health and safety considerations such as fire separation, access and ventilation.
Airdrie's Planning and Development recently held an open house to discuss the future of suites in the city, along with other key issues.
While City officials said public reaction to the proposed bylaw has been good, some feedback so far has mimicked that in Calgary – specifically traffic, parking and congestion, as well as how suites would impact school and community facility usage and possible property values.
Airdrie resident Will Grant said while he's not totally opposed to the suites, an increased number of vehicles could be a problem.
"My street has very little parking as it is," he said. "I have a garage and we have just the one car, but already there are times when people overlap my driveway trying to squeeze two cars in the space between my driveway and the neighbours."
Airdrie's last significant bylaw update occurred in 2005 when the city's population was 27,069 – less than half of the 58,690 residents counted in 2015. The update could help make homeownership a more affordable option, said Stephen Utz, senior planner for the City of Airdrie.
"Certainly, we have a situation housing prices have increased and it does provide a viable option for people," he said.
"We're looking to add [secondary suites] as a viable dwelling choice. There is a limited scope for them. There is a residential suites district in our current bylaw, which I think is used in The Canals. There are some places where we have considered [suites] to be part of a duplex in our R2 districts, but it's fairly limited and not very broad."
According to CREB®, Airdrie's annual average benchmark home price in 2005 was $197,875. In the decade that's followed, Airdrie's annual average benchmark price has climbed by 88 per cent to $372,233.
"We have a number of circumstances where it makes sense for people to have a secondary suite," said Utz. "They may have, for example, a child going to university and they want to take on a renter to help pay for a mortgage or they may want to help with an elderly relative – there are a variety of different reasons a secondary suite might make sense. It's an affordable housing option for many people, whether they be relative or not."
The goal of the open house was to gauge some of the concerns the public has in regards to the suites, added Utz.
"We're looking for a minimum lots widths and dimensions to make sure the lot is big enough to handle the suite itself, and to make sure they can handle parking and not take away any on-street parking that may already exist in that neighbourhood," he said.
The City of Airdrie does not have specific numbers on current secondary suites. Under the guidelines on its website, R-1SS District & Direct Control District 34 can accommodate "studio" suites — detached units located to the rear of lots behind the principal dwelling unit. These districts exist in Bayview, The Canals, and Silver Creek communities; R2 District and other districts that accommodate a duplex can accommodate secondary suites providing they meet the requirements of the land-use bylaw.
Aside from secondary suites, topics up for discussion at the open house included driveway widening, local business (child care, home businesses, community gardens, mobile food vendors) and development permits.
Utz said changes proposed under the new bylaws should be before council sometime in May.
The full draft of Airdrie's land-use bylaw is available at www.airdrie.ca
- With files from Carl Patzel
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