News / Calgary

Council looks to reform Calgary secondary suites application process

Eight members have signed onto motion that would alter and streamline the process

This is the preliminary map showing the areas where secondary suites would be permitted (Zone 1) and discretionary (Zone 2). The map boundaries are up for debate.

Courtesy City of Calgary

This is the preliminary map showing the areas where secondary suites would be permitted (Zone 1) and discretionary (Zone 2). The map boundaries are up for debate.

It’s not a total demolition job; some of the city’s secondary suite rules are still salvageable, but eight members of council are saying enough is enough.

On Monday, a notice of motion from Coun. Shane Keating will attempt to "find consensus on the secondary suites application process"  that’s plagued city hall for years.

For weeks, council meetings have been bogged down by secondary suite applications; tied up neatly with dirty laundry and personal pleas to get the stamp of approval.

The proposal includes seven points Keating suggested could finally see the suites issue put to rest, and includes two zones: one for the inner city that makes secondary suites a permitted use, and an outer zone that deems them discretionary.

“Part of the reasons we’ve never been able to get off home plate with any of it is because they’ve always tried to make this thing blanketed, and one-size-fits-all; and it doesn’t work that way,” said Coun. Shane Keating. “We have to do something in council to change it.”

But if this motion passes, council could see some relief with specific measures that look to keep applications out of their meetings, bad landlords at bay, and allow secondary suites in some inner city zones.

“It’s kind of like cod liver oil, you hold your nose and you take your medicine,” said Keating.  

He noted these changes could be added as a two to three-year trial period for re-evaluation.

“Rather than us trying to change the system and go completely one way or the other, let’s put it in a place where it’s a good compromise on all sides, and then evaluate what works and what doesn’t.”

Commn. & Community Liaison - Ward 12

Suite compromise brings together boosters and critics

The plan to reform the secondary suite looks a lot like what some councillors were pushing for in 2015.

At that time, the plan was to have the four wards closest to the inner city allow secondary suites.

This latest plan brought forward by Councillor Shane Keating and seven other members of council – including Mayor Naheed Nenshi – would allow secondary suites based on geographical location.

The boundaries on the map are still up for debate, but homes in the centre section of the map would be permitted to build secondary basement suites without requiring council approval.

Homes in the secondary area would be able to build basement suites at the discretion of the Calgary Planning Commission.

Any homes outside those two zones would have to go through the process everyone currently faces.

The rezoning would mean some inner city homes currently zoned R1 and RC1 would be allowed to build secondary basement suites.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra has been a strong advocate for secondary suites and he’s happy to see at least some reform on the issue.
“I was done trying to move the ball further down the field but Shane has played an amazing role as a bridge-builder on this council,” said Carra.

Keating has also brought onside some councillors who have been fierce opponents of secondary suites – most notably Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu.

“I’ve been always advocating for a plebiscite,” said Chu. “I don’t think there’s any appetite from council for a plebiscite, so I think this is the next best thing.”

Chu said he was pleased to see licensing and a registry as part of the plan.

Jeremy Barretto of Calgarians for Secondary Suites said his group welcomes any reform that increases the number of suites in the city, but they still have questions.

Barretto questioned the need for a $1,000 registration fee that would have to be paid every second year by landlords.

Keating is proposing that fee be waived for any landlord living at the same address as their suite. It would only apply to so-called absentee landlords.

Barretto also wanted to know why the focus is on basement suites, with backyard suites altogether left out of this plan.

“We would like to see ultimately a comprehensive city-wide solution for secondary suites in Calgary,” he said. “Edmonton has a solution. Red Deer has a solution.”

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