Town looking at suite policies

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Current policies on secondary suites may be doing more harm than good, says an Okotoks councillor.

Councillor Florence Christophers said something definitely needs to be done on the secondary suite policy in town.

“It’s truly hurting people,” she said.

“What I want to see is a community that’s willing to make room for each other, to be a little more flexible.”

Land use bylaws in Okotoks include provisions for studio suites as accessories to the main dwelling on a property, and are subject to approval by the Okotoks Municipal Planning Commission.

A development permit and building permit must both be obtained before construction on a secondary suite can begin.

Okotoks director of development services, Michael MacIntyre, said public safety is paramount.

“Regulations exist to minimize the impacts of studio suites on surrounding properties and to provide for the development of safe living spaces,” said MacIntyre.

Requirements include one extra parking space on the lot in addition to the minimum spaces already required for the existing home, safety permits for building, plumbing, electrical and gas. In addition, suites cannot be larger than 40 per cent of the floor area of the dwelling, or 75 square metres, and there cannot be more than one bedroom, he said.

He said secondary suites fall under the umbrella of affordable housing, and may be reviewed by council’s new affordable housing task force, which struck in 2018. The task force will be able to put forward any recommendations that arise for secondary suites policies and regulations, he said.

At present, Okotoks residents who have never received a complaint from their neighbours are being busted for their illegal suites, Christophers said.

In one case, a 12-year-old suite turned out to be three square metres too big, and was brought before the Municipal Planning Commission.

“Not one person has ever lodged a complaint against his house,” said Christophers.

“So we’re creating problems where there aren’t problems.”

She said the Town should adjust its policies to allow more flexibility over size.

As long as it’s still just a one-bedroom apartment, it shouldn’t matter how large it is, she said.

As long as the homeowner doesn’t get complaints lodged over parking, there shouldn’t be an issue, she said.

“I think we need to look at this policy and connect with the community about their priorities here,” said Christophers. “Is it parking or is it suites? Is it allowing people to make a little bit of extra revenue in an economy like this, or is it access to income for homeowners, is it access to suites for the community?”

Overall, secondary suites are important for Okotoks but need to work for the neighbourhood, the homeowner, and the renter, she said.

An increasing number of applications for secondary suites have been submitted each year and there have already been 12 in 2018, which should tell the Town it’s time to look at the policies, she said.

“I don’t want to sacrifice the interests of the neighbourhood to prioritize the interests of a homeowner, or the interests of renters, but I want to make sure we have the right sweet spot and I don’t think we do,” Christophers said.

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