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Calgary council reforms secondary suite application process

More than 100 speakers signed up to voice opinions on the City of Calgary's latest secondary suite bylaw tweak on Monday.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said too much was being made of the proposed amendments to secondary suite bylaws on Monday.

Helen Pike / Metro

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said too much was being made of the proposed amendments to secondary suite bylaws on Monday.

Unlike the Green Line, Calgary’s mayor said the council meeting on secondary suites is nothing to write home about.

On Monday, more than 100 Calgarians put down their names to speak to council for or against a bylaw change in the city’s land-use rules that would see making suites and backyard homes added as a discretionary use in the city’s R-1, R-C1 and R-C1L districts — areas that are currently detached single unit residential homes.

“This bylaw change actually changes nothing,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “It doesn’t actually approve one secondary suite anywhere in this city. It changes the process and people will still have the ability to make their opinions known on individual applications, just not at city council. It’s a very different thing, and I don’t think we ought to be making too much out of it.”

Citizens came forward to speak against a blanket change of their single detached residential neighbourhoods — areas most made the point to say they bought into because of that characteristic.

And Coun. Peter Demong was on side with these citizens, saying, yes, the city was taking on a major change.

“You’re blanket changing a land-use designation,” said Demong. “The land use ... basically says secondary suites are not a permitted or discretionary use, this is saying: yes it is, it’s completely changing what it is.”

But Demong said his role, and councillors’ roles today are to listen to options and ideas on how the secondary process should work and make those decisions based on feedback.

Many citizens who took the microphone during the public hearing questioned the city’s consultation process, and wondered why council was rushing a secondary suite process change.

But for the mayor, and many who have advocated for secondary suite rules that align more closely to the rest of the country, it’s been a long fight.

“We’ve had 14 years of public discussion on this,” said Nenshi. “We’ve had people die in basement fires, in unsafe suites, while we continue to dither, so I don’t see 14 years as being a particular rush.”

Coun. Druh Farrell pointed out that the city engaged homeowners directly and not the renters who may live in these suites.

“We have to remember that there are many, many renters who are unable to come down today, they can’t take the day off,” said Farrell. “And yet we’re still hearing from student unions and advocates who are trying to press forward.”

Although council got through the public hearing portion of the meeting, council was still debating the matter as of press time.

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