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Calgary's secondary suite debate may return under new council

Mayor says new councillors will bring fresh ideas to discussions

Coun. Jyoti Gondek previously served on the Calgary Planing Commission and believes that a city-wide solution for regulating secondary suites can be found.

ELIZABETH CAMERON / metro Order this photo

Coun. Jyoti Gondek previously served on the Calgary Planing Commission and believes that a city-wide solution for regulating secondary suites can be found.

Calgary City Council has four fresh faces out of the 15 who serve, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s looking forward to hearing their ideas on how to deal with the city’s ongoing secondary suites issue.

“What we heard in the election campaign is that everyone wants to fix it,” said the mayor.

Homeowners who want to put a basement suite in their home or above their garage often have to appear before council and ask to have the land use on their property changed.

These public hearings often involve neighbours speaking out against changing the land use — often because they fear the quality of their neighborhood will be changed by having renters living near their single family homes — and take up a massive chunk of council’s time.

“Once we sit through another public hearing on Nov. 6, I think the desire to fix that will be shortly thereafter,” said Nenshi.

Some councillors such as Ward Sutherland, Joe Magliocca, Sean Chu and Peter Demong have been proponents of protecting communities with R-1 (single detached) zoning and often vote against requests by citizens to change their property’s zoning to allow for a suite.

Other councillors and the mayor have been in search of a blanket solution; one that would apply to all communities in the city, including R-1 districts.

Newly minted Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he thinks there’s a solution to the lengthy council meetings, but he also wants to see R-1 communities maintain their character.

“I do not support blanket rezoning,” said Farkas. “I think you should have the choice of what type of neighborhood you live in.”

He believes that city administration can handle the process, rather than weighing down council agendas with individual homeowners’ requests.

“We could do this at a building permit stage,” said Farkas.”The key remains ensuring that they’re safe. As long as issues of parking and of safety are addressed — from there on, it should be out of council’s hands.”

Fellow council newcomer and Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek hates the phrase ‘blanket solution,’ but said she believes one can be found.

“As soon as you say there’s a blanket solution, people misunderstand and assume that secondary suites will come up everywhere. And it won’t happen,” she said.

Gondek recently co-authored a paper that looks at how secondary suites are more often about allowing multi-generational families to live together, rather than creating a rental income.

Her solution would to be to change the rules so secondary suites are a discretionary use for homes zoned R-1. That way, it would be up to administration to look at the plans and grant development and building permits, she explained.

“Having land use as the first step is absolutely ridiculous,” said Gondek.

She also thinks she can convince some of the returning councillors to see it her way.

“There’s nothing to say that their minds can’t be swayed by a different type of perspective,” Gondek said.

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