News / Calgary

Council takes first step towards city-wide solution for Calgary secondary suites

In a 10-5 vote, councillors agreed to make suites a discretionary use across the city

Coun. Shane Keating looks at a secondary suite application during Calgary City Council's meeting on Dec. 11, 2017.

ELIZABETH CAMERON / Calgary Freelance

Coun. Shane Keating looks at a secondary suite application during Calgary City Council's meeting on Dec. 11, 2017.

For two terms, Mayor Naheed Nenshi had been looking to reform the secondary suite application process.

Just one month into his third term, it looks as if this council found the formula to make it happen.

On Monday, Calgary City Council voted 10-5 to make secondary suites a discretionary use city-wide.

Those in opposition to the motion included Councillors Sean Chu, Joe Magliocca, Ward Sutherland, Peter Demong and Ray Jones.

The change will still take some work on administration's part, and another vote to approve the final bylaw change in the first quarter of 2018, but it will end the debates in council every time a citizen wants to put a suite in their basement or above their garage.

Once the bylaw is amended, city administrators – not city council – will look at each application to see if citizens meet requirements. Neighbours who wish to appeal will do so at the Subdivision Development and Appeal Board.

"Council has made an extraordinarily important step today," said Nenshi after the vote.

He called the 10-5 vote an overwhelming majority, and said it should lead to an eventual fix of the problem of illegal suites.

Councillors also voted to make the secondary suite registry a mandatory part of making a suite legal, and they voted to reinstate fees, which had been waived in an attempt to encourage more people to legitimize their illegal suites.

Nenshi said safety was one of his primary reasons for reform. In 2009, three young people, aged 19-23, died in a house fire while staying in an illegal suite that did not have proper egress.

“Those kids had names,” said Coun. Druh Farrell during the debate. “Tiffany Cox, Jonathan St. Pierre, and Colleen Manley. They lost their lives because they were in an illegal basement suite that didn’t have all the life safety requirements.”

Aside from safety, suites ate up a large chunk of council's meeting time - as much as 20 per cent for the past council, according to the motion brought forward by Coun. Shane Keating.

Aside from the mayor, Keating had the backing of several councillors who tended to have trouble with secondary suites in the past.

He said he wanted to call each clause separately, so council could vote on contentious items and hopefully reach an overall consensus on at least some matters.

Administration will be reporting back to council with bylaw amendments sometime in the early spring. That left some councillors worried that there would be a rush of applicants looking to beat the fees, which will likely return.

Coun. Jeff Davison brought forward a motion asking administration to hold all those applications until March, meaning people can still get their paperwork in, but council will not hear the matters.

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