News / Calgary

Letters pour into City Hall opposing secondary suite reform

Calgary's not-so-dark secret about the secondary suite approval process will come to council Monday.


Jennifer Friesen / for Metro


More than 900 Calgarians have written to express how they feel about a tweak in the city's land-use bylaws that would streamline how secondary suites are handled – a change so minor it won't bring the city in line with the rest of the country, but will save politicians time.

On Monday, councillors are set to vote on whether or not to change the city's approach to secondary suites. A notice of motion, which was originally drafted by Coun. Shane Keating, proposed makeing suites and backyard homes a discretionary use in the city's R-1, R-C1 and R-C1L districts – areas that are currently detached single unit residential homes.

On monday, council will likely approve or possibly reject the changes to the bylaw brought forward by city administration.

It's a sore-spot topic for citizens, and the city is ready for a massive turnout. City clerk Laura Kennedy said they are encouraging employees to tune in from their desks instead of sitting in council chambers, which has a capacity for about 160 audience members, and in the atrium they have seating and several screens for more than 250 citizens to tune in.

Coun. Shane Keating said in his time in Calgary politics, he's never seen this level of response for any item.

Letters include some support for changing the process, but encourage the city to uphold the integrity of single-family home living. Some letters call for a referendum on whether or not suites should be allowed across the city, and others oppose any change that might allow basement apartments in their neighbourhoods – one letter specifically asked if this change was "an April fool's joke."

But that's not exactly what's being debated.

What this tweak will effectively do is take the process of approving or denying each and every secondary suite application on council floor, and move them to an administrative process, which includes a measure to appeal any plans at the Calgary Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.

Currently, council approves more than 80 per cent of secondary suites, and 45 per cent of the city currently allows suites either as a permitted use or as a discretionary use – discretionary meaning they would need to be applied for and approved by administration according to planning principles.

Calgary's secondary suite process is unlike any other in Canada. In Edmonton, their process to approve secondary suites was refined in 2007, and moved to allow suites within most residential zones in the city under a permitted use with the caveat that they meet certain design requirements. Ontario permits suites in detached homes, semi detached homes and even row houses.

A dip into more than 900 letter submissions Calgarians filed ahead of Monday's debate show a pattern of concerns about preserving the "face" of a neighbourhood, they included concerns about parking access and increased traffic to residential streets.

Concerns even included a letter from the Federation of Calgary Communities outlining concerns about proper consultation, and education, about how suites work and what the land use bylaw changes would mean.

"Council has been very open about listening to the perspective of Calgarians," said Coun. Jyoti Gondek. "People have been given notification that change is being proposed, people are welcome to come and do a presentation – this is an issue we've talked about for years. This is not something new and so now the time has come to make a decision."

More on