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Secondary suite reform

Update - Secondary Suite Reform Approved

On March 12, 2018, in a vote of 9 to 6, City Council adopted a motion to reform the secondary suite application process. The changes that Council approved affected more than 170,000 properties in the city's R-1, R-C1, and R-C1L districts - areas that are currently detached single unit residential homes. As a result of this decision, secondary suite applications will now be processed and approved by the City's planning department rather than directly on the floor of City Council.

Under the new Secondary Suite Bylaw, owners will have to pay a one-time registry fee of $232 and all suites, new and existing, will be entered into a mandatory City-run registry. The City will declare a two-year amnesty and encourage illegal suite owners to ensure their units comply with safety codes. Property owners will now be allowed to appeal secondary suite permits (just like any other development permit) at the Subdivision and Appeal Board, for a fee.

What I heard

In advance of the meeting and through the public hearing process, I heard from more than a thousand Calgarians who submitted their thoughts via e-mail, phone call, and in person. The concerns I heard most often related to the mixing in of laneway suites with basement suites, the rushed nature of the changes, and unintended legal consequences regarding restrictive covenant.

Why I did not support this proposal

After hearing from you, I did not support this proposal. Here is my rationale:

I was forced to vote on the large above-garage suites and basement suites as if they were the same thing. City Council views them identically and I don't find that to be reasonable. In my opinion, there is a very material difference between a suite contained inside a home and a second dwelling being built in the backyard, either as a standalone or over a garage, in regards to the negative impact and consequences on neighbours that these homes can have. This second standalone home could be twice the height of neighbouring properties. I was not comfortable with blanket approving above-garage suites without solid rules for addressing height, privacy and shadowing issues for neighbours. We were told that rules are coming, but I had to vote based on what was before me.

Most citizens I spoke with took issue with the City's consultation process, and questioned why City Council was rushing a process change. I would have liked to have seen members of City Council been given sufficient time to go out into their respective Wards, adequately inform and genuinely engage with constituents and Community Associations in a meaningful way to get their input.

Many communities in Calgary are governed by "restrictive covenants," or special legal agreements that were put in place dictating specific uses for land. Council was told by City Administration that the matter of enforcing those covenants was up to the courts - in effect, it will be up to communities to fundraise and lawyer up. After hearing from affected community members, I believe that the City proceeding without exempting these properties will likely needlessly burden our court system and also create ill-will between neighbours, likely pitting them against one-another. I want to build great communities, not weaken them.

In closing, I fully agree that the process of neighbours pleading their case before City Council was broken and not a good use of anyone's time. While it is somewhat of a step forward to have this out of Council's hands, my fear is that this move will take the issue of illegal suites off of Council's radar. Many tens of thousands illegal suites continue to pose a serious risk and they need to be dealt with. I look forward to seeing the guidelines for garage-suites, and will continue to be working to hold City Administration accountable.


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.‚Äč