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Updated: 10th September 2018 18:11

Secondary suites back at Calgary council again, as public weighs in on reform proposal

Secondary suites are back on the agenda yet again at Calgary city council on Monday, as council holds what is expected to be a lengthy public hearing on reforming the application process.

Bylaw amendment would have permits processed by planning department, not council

City council continues to debate the future of secondary suites in Calgary. (CBC)

Secondary suites are back on the agenda again at Calgary city council on Monday for what's expected to be a lengthy public hearing on reforming the application process. 

Secondary suites are separate rental units located at a home, usually either as a basement suite or above an attached garage. Council has spent years debating reform on the current process, in which people who want to apply for a secondary suite have to make their case before city council. 

"Most secondary suite applications get approved ... but appearing before city council eats up hundreds of hours a year," said Coun. Evan Woolley.

Coun. Evan Woolley hopes the proposed secondary suites bylaw amendment goes through. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The proposed bylaw amendment would make the suites a discretionary use, which would allow public servants with the planning department to process and approve applications rather than politicians. 

An FAQ on the proposed changes posted to the city's website said that roughly 20 per cent of council's time is spent on secondary suites, and the cost to process a secondary suite application under the current system is roughly $5,000.

"This is a monumental decision for our city. We are one of the last major cities in North America to not have an enabling secondary suite legislation," Woolley said.

"We need to remove barriers at city hall. These barriers cost taxpayers money. They cost citizens their time, and it's not appropriate or acceptable by any means in today's world."

900 Calgarians sent in letters

More than 900 Calgarians have sent in letters on the issue, and dozens are expected to speak during the public hearing.

The planning and development report notes that clarifying the process could both increase the supply and range of affordable accommodation in Calgary and support changing demographics by providing families with more housing options.

There's currently a voluntary registry for secondary suites, but the new bylaw would require all suites — new and previously existing — to be entered into a mandatory registry.

Owners would have to pay a one-time registry fee of $232.

Coun. Sean Chu said he doesn't mind having every secondary suite proposal brought to council for debate. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Coun. Sean Chu said he's fine with the process as it stands.

"It's councillors' job to listen. Why are we complaining about our job?" said Chu. "Do I like it? No. But is it my job to do? Yes."

The change could affect up to 170,000 properties across the city.

The report also recommends implementing a two-year amnesty period, which would focus on encouraging owners of existing illegal suites to apply for permits and bring their suites up to code.

Inspections would focus on making sure suites are equipped with such features as smoke detectors, sprinklers and bedrooms with safe exits.

Neighbours would still have a chance to appeal development permits, but it would be done privately instead of at council.

Currently, the city refuses about five per cent of development permit applications for secondary suites if the suites don't meet requirements for parking or amenity space, according to the bylaw amendment. 

With files from Scott Dippel

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