Based on previous feedback received from a variety of stakeholders through open houses and public hearings on the topic of accessory suites, Council directed the Administration to amend the rules in the Land Use Bylaw (LUB) for Secondary Suites and Backyard Suites. This week in Council, we looked at the proposed LUB amendments.
I've heard concerns about these changes. The information has been confused somewhat, and I hope to clarify here:
What is the goal of the proposed changes?
The considered changes are to both clarify and make the process of incorporating suites into our existing communities more consistent. The two major impacts concern parking requirements and lot dimensions.
Administration recommends approval of the proposed amendments because they reduce barriers to the approval of legal suites in districts where they are already allowed. Accessory suites will continue to be managed by rules regulating maximum building coverage, building envelope size, parking requirements and amenity space requirements. The proposed amendments would simplify the rules for accessory suites while continuing to regulate for the specific needs and impacts of a suite.
The LUB as it stands, contains various provisions for ensuring the impact of increased density is not overly burdensome for current neighbourhood residents. While studies show that tenants of secondary suites tend to have fewer vehicles than single family homes, decreased parking space along the street tends to be a primary concern.
Over the years, the LUB has accumulated a number of restrictions designed to mitigate these concerns. This has resulted in complex and confusing requirements. The proposed amendment to the LUB would clarify the requirements, and achieve the same outcome: if there are not enough parking spaces on-site, the suite will be denied. The amount of available parking necessary has not changed.
Under the current LUB, the lot width requirement varies based on whether the building is a duplex, a semi-detached, a single detached, a single detached with a secondary suite, or a single detached with a backyard suite.
The definitions of these terms are important. A duplex, under the LUB, is one unit above another. A semi-detached is what is usually referred to in common language as a duplex (side by side). A single detached is one, standalone, residence.
It is important to note that the LUB does not allow secondary suites in duplexes or in semi-detached homes on R-C2 lots. A duplex or semi-detached building is legally sub-dividable: a secondary suite is forever attached to the title of the detached residential building it resides in. These are not small differences, and the additional regulations related to residential buildings (that are not part of the LUB) come into greater play on this differentiation. There are significant structural differences involved, from fire rating of the materials used between units to HVAC (heating and cooling) system requirements. Regulations that help to determine the differences between a secondary suite and a duplex or semi-detached dwelling include the Safety Code, the National Plumbing Code, and the Alberta Building Code.
If a lot is labeled with an R-C2, only two units are allowed. These units can be semi-detached OR a duplex, OR a single family home with a secondary suite OR a single family home with a backyard suite. Please note that a duplex may not be located on a parcel narrower than 13m. The Motion coming before Council does not change which Land Use Designations allow suites.
Another concern raised surrounds the possible subdivision and then subsequent densification of R-C2 properties. Yes, most R-C2 lots are sub-dividable: the reason they were zoned R-C2 initially was to indicate that they were large enough to host two dwellings. The width of the subdivided parcels will have an impact on the owners’ ability to apply for a Land Use Change in the future, specifically due to parking requirements. For each parking space required in the LUB, an automatic decrease of parcel coverage area accompanies it (parking pads count as “built area”).
The minimum lot width is discussed in the proposed amendment to the LUB. With these amendments, the width required for secondary and backyard suites will be standardized to the contextual width (the width of the surrounding lots). Again, the goal here is to clarify the requirements and remove restrictions where on-site parking is available.
One of the key regulations of building in established areas is the allowable parcel coverage.
For a standard 25 foot lot (standard 50 foot that has been subdivided), the total area available is about 280m2. The maximum allowable parcel coverage for RC-1N lots is 50%, unless the lot is less than 300m2 in area, or it is less than 10m wide. If this is the case, the 45% parcel coverage rule applies. The LUB states that the total allowable parcel coverage in R-C2 lots is 45%. Therefore, the buildings on that lot (with the exception of very small items such as sheds) must not cover more that 45% of the available area. On a lot with an area of 280m2, this translates into 126m2 that may be covered by buildings. If the area of the main residential unit is 100m2, and a 21m2 parking space is required to service a possible suite, there is not much space left for a backyard suite. This means that the suite, if the lot is designated to support one, will be contained within the main residential building.
It is also important to note that many of the lots in our established communities are large enough to be only marginally affected by these changes in the Land Use Bylaw. Maps, drawn to scale and indicating the approved Land Use of each parcel are available at Calgary.ca (search “Land Use Maps”).
What about densification?
It is important to allow densification in established neighbourhoods, as this densification helps to keep property taxes lower and our City in good financial standing. All new neighbourhoods require investments in infrastructure installation and maintenance, which increase the burden on all Calgarians. Many of our older communities have as many residents as originally built for, which has an impact on our infrastructure demands. However, this densification must be addressed with an eye to balancing the character of the neighbourhoods as well as the rights of private property owners. A careful increase of the available housing stock, especially when the increase is contained within the existing building footprints, is an excellent way to ensure housing options are available to all, and that our seniors can stay in their homes, and our children can continue to live in the communities they grew up in.
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This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.