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Calgary City Council reaches rare compromise on secondary suites

By Fabian Mayer, May 21 2015 —

Secondary suite advocates scored a victory last week when Calgary City Council passed the first reading of a bylaw that would legalize secondary suites in four inner-city wards.

Secondary suites are separate housing units inside single-family homes, usually basements with their own kitchen and bathroom and typically rented out by the homeowner. Zoning restrictions make most of Calgary’s secondary suites illegal.

According to University of Calgary Students’ Union president Levi Nilson, 20 per cent of students are renters, with a quarter of those students living in secondary suites.

“We want more available housing to be there for students, considering how tough the rental market is,” Nilson said.

The SU has been advocating for secondary suite legalization since June 2014.

“It’s exciting. It’s not city-wide, which is preferable, but it’s definitely a huge step forward and the first significant step forward on secondary suites in quite a while,” Nilson said.

If the motion passes its second and third readings on June 29, homeowners in Wards 7, 8, 9 and 11 would find it easier to build and rent secondary suites. Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said passing the motion was encouraging.

“I’m delighted that we reached that compromise as a council,” Carra said.

Secondary suites have divided city council for years, with few compromises made on either side. Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating introduced the amendments that helped the motion pass 9-6 just before midnight on May 12.

“I knew that something had to be put forward because, as it was, we were in a gridlock of no one willing to compromise on either side,” Keating said.

The amendments include a registry for secondary suites and an appeals process for unhappy neighbours.

“It gives them some assurance that their neighbourhood is not going to be degraded,” Keating said.

Nilson hoped the motion would pass without amendments, but understands the need for compromise.

“It’s a little bit unfortunate because it does add a couple more hoops to the process,” Nilson said.

Coun. Carra, a long-time proponent of legalizing secondary suites, said he can live with the amendments.

“I don’t think they are too onerous and it moves the ability to put secondary suites more broadly across the city forward,” Carra said.

Despite the apparent breakthrough, Carra isn’t confident the bylaw will pass subsequent readings.

“It’s looking good for a pass, but there’s going to be a lot of lobbying by the anti-suite lobby to break the thin majority that’s brokered this compromise,” Carra said.

Coun. Keating has opposed secondary suites in the past. He doesn’t believe this will lead to city-wide legalization of secondary suites.

“What we have to look at is that each area of the city has different requirements and they should be treated differently and I think that’s what these compromises do,” Keating said.

Councillors Keating, Magliocca, Pincott, Woolley, Carra, Colley-Urquhart, Demong, Farrell and Mayor Nenshi voted in favour. Councillors Jones, Pootmans, Stevenson, Sutherland, Chabot and Chu voted against the bylaw.

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