by Roger Stonebanks, citizen journalist
Saanich council has taken the initial step towards what it hopes will provide new accommodation in the municipality – legal secondary suites separate from the principal residence but on the same lot.
Whether this proposed change will prove more successful than an earlier effort for legal secondary suites within the principal residence remains a question.
In 2010 Saanich established a process including regulations for residents to create secondary suites inside houses south of McKenzie Avenue. This was extended in 2014 to the area north of McKenzie Avenue – except for Broadmead, the Blenkinsop Valley and rural areas beyond the Urban Containment Boundary. But few legal suites have been created and an estimated 9,000 or more suites remain illegal.
Back in 2014 council passed a motion from Coun. Dean Murdock that staff be directed to undertake “a future study” to explore the potential of legalization of secondary suites in accessory buildings south and north of McKenzie Avenue. Now (Aug. 22), on the initiative of Couns. Fred Haynes and Leif Wergeland, council has unanimously requested that staff “move forward” to develop strategies for council to consider on options for detached secondary suites.
Haynes and Wergeland said in a report to council that items for public input on how to deliver options for detached suites include lot size, percentage of lot coverage, setbacks from property lines, height, optimal unit size (500 to 800 square feet) and the application process.
“With 30,000 homes in Saanich if just 10 per cent took this up it would add 3,000 rental units, enable more options with the existing housing stock,” Haynes told SVO.
SVO posed some questions to Coun. Haynes:
SVO: “Given the paucity of responses to legal suites inside houses since 2010 south of McKenzie Avenue and north of McKenzie Avenue since 2014 – do you think there will be a better response with legal detached suites? And if so – why?”
Haynes: “I would certainly hope we can expect a greater uptake.This after all is the point of our resolution. The intent is to try and increase the supply of affordable rental space in Saanich. In answering your question, let’s look first at in-house suites.There are two aspects: first, applications for secondary suites on new-builds and, second, applications to legalize existing suites. In the past four years I understand there have been some 98 applications for renovating existing suites.This is a low number compared to the estimated 9,000 to 11,000 secondary suites in Saanich. In part it reflects the barriers of costs and administrative process to legalizing the suites. It can be as high as $50,000 to $75,000 to bring an in-house suite into a legalized condition and take six to 12 months. For new homes, I believe there have been some 40-plus or so built with secondary suites.
“Encouraging an improved response for detached suites is the comparative reduced costs of these to set up compared to in-house costs. Estimates for a detached Micro home (100 plus square feet) or for Garden Granny Suite (500 to 700 square feet) range from $20,000 to $59,000 depending on the size and features. In addition, there seems to be a good appetite across Saanich for a separation of the owner-occupier home from the rental home. It provides less invasion or private spaces. Detached suites enable this.”
SVO: “The legal suites process (inside houses) was restricted to within the Urban Containment Boundary and excluded Broadmead, Blenkinsop Valley and Rural Saanich – would you anticipate the same exclusion with legal detached suites?”
Haynes: “Yes, this exclusion continues. The current resolution addresses owner-occupied homes within the Urban Containment Boundary and excludes Broadmead, Blenkinsop Valley and Rural Saanich.”
SVO: “How receptive do you think established residential neighbourhoods would be to having two dwellings rather than one on a single lot?”
Haynes: “This “receptiveness” is now part of the conversation. What do our communities want? As a society, how receptive are we to adjustments needed to enable greater range and type of housing. Do we want to enable our land use policies to address the housing crisis? Where are detached suites most readily accommodated? Certainly there will need to be some accommodation on parking, traffic, density and welcoming new neighbours.
“I believe we are seeing that families are looking to help house their family members. In doing so some prefer a detached suite over shared in-house arrangements. It provides independence.
“When we look at the past four years of legalized secondary suites, some 229 complaints were received. Some for parking, some for noise. In part when this has occurred the owner has the option to bring the suite into a “legalized” condition. This would include “frequent flyers” where some owners receive a high number of complaints. In general we can see that owner-occupied suites are better managed. In some cases entire streets feature secondary suites and the neighbours get along. Complaint issues do crop up. An on-going issue exists with absentee landlords. Greater difficulties are seen here.
“In Victoria, where they have enabled detached suites, just five to six applications have been received in the past two years. The legislation requires a rezone. I am hoping we can do better. Certainly I believe we need to do better and that the time to act is now.”
Any changes to permit detached secondary suites will require amendments to the Saanich Zoning Bylaw which defines an accessory dwelling unit as “contained within the principal dwelling unit” and a secondary suite is defined as “an additional dwelling unit located within a building or residential occupancy containing one other dwelling units.” Residential zoning bylaws would also need to be altered to permit whatever council may decide are the rules and regulations for detached suites.