The groups in favour of allowing secondary suites in all Calgary neighbourhoods include the key organizations for post-secondary students, businesses, poverty issues, conservative libertarians, home builders, developers and economic development.
Groups on the debate’s con side? That appears to be the exclusive domain of community associations, whose volunteer leaders regularly come to public hearings to persuade councillors an extra basement unit would worsen problems like parking, and that one may lead to many more where they don’t really belong.
These final bastions against citywide suite reform aren’t speaking with one voice — far from it.
Community associations have been more likely to support than oppose rezoning applications for suites in 2014, city records show.
“Overall there is actually — I’m not going to say support. I think people have come to accept them in the community,” said Murray Ost, president of Glenbrook Community Association.
“Four years ago, we would have had a different conversation. It’s quite a dramatic change.”
The issue returns to council Monday. Planners and inner-city councillors are offering separate proposals to take approvals on individual suites out of politicians’ hands and into planning staff’s. Both proposals bid to ease the affordable rental shortage and end the time-consuming process of council vetting one suite at a time.
The pitch by councillors would only lift zoning prohibitions in inner-city wards and near major transit stops.
The suburban majority on council has long opposed suite reform in existing stand-alone housing districts, largely influenced by protests from neighbours and community leagues.
But as homeowners seek zoning changes for suites, many community associations don’t put up resistance.
Of the 27 proposals that have gone to Calgary Planning Commission — the step before council hearings — only seven have received letters of concern from community leaders. Eight were supported or faced no objections, while the rest received no comment from the volunteer associations tasked with considering development changes.
In Cedarbrae, secondary suites have long existed legally in some zones and illegally, said Paul Bowen, the community’s past president. He views giving homeowners a path to creating legal, safer suites as a “win-win.”
“We haven’t had the issue come up in a big way, so sometimes silence may be more acceptance than anything,” said Bowen, who used to work for city hall’s affordable housing unit.
In Glenbrook, most of the neighbourhood has always been zoned for suites. Ost, the west-end community’s longtime president, said some opponents remain, but they’re a minority among homeowners.
“They see that the fears of the impact are often larger than the impact itself,” he said.
Directly south of Glenbrook, the community president in Glamorgan sees it differently. More homes there are zoned RC1 or R1, the land-use zone that doesn’t allow suites — and comprise 53 per cent of all residential properties in Calgary.
“People buy R1 because secondary suites are not a permitted use,” said Glamorgan’s Beryl Ostrom.
Neighbours do not want to be forced to allow short-term rental suites, when there are many areas that already permit them and the city could push for provincial rent caps or lower utility bills to improve affordability, she said.
“The more transient a community becomes, and the more rentals there are, the less vested interest people have in their community
“Then you put more of your money into policing,” Ostrom said.
Elbow Park’ development committee chair wrote the city to warn of deeper parking issues if a suite was allowed near the Glencoe Club. She also expressed concern about changing the neighbourhood “vibe” and setting the inner-city enclave on course for more suites, which “would change the designation of the R-C1 neighbourhood and make the term ‘single family home’ meaningless.”
Community associations don’t seem to have much company among organized groups with opinions on suite zoning prohibitions. Pro-reform groups include the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Calgary Economic Development, the Manning Foundation think-tank, Vibrant Communities Calgary, the Canadian Home Builders Association, Urban Development Institute, and Calgary’s two university undergrad student associations.
Community groups aren’t always successful in persuading council, which this year to date has approved zoning changes for 16 homes and refused suites in six — with more to come this fall, like the proposals in Glamorgan, Glenbrook and Cedarbrae.
Earlier this month, councillors voted 9-5 to allow a suite in Elbow Park, over the community group’s protests. In Woodlands — in the ward of Diane Colley-Urquhart, a convert to the reform cause — the community association had no objections to the proposed suite but council refused it 8-6.
“If this becomes a plague, obviously we don’t want to see 100 basement suites put in the next year, but I find it difficult to take a stand against one suite,” community president Cec Jahrig said in an interview. Neighbours around Woodpark Close S.W. organized themselves and petitioned council against that one suite, successfully.
Shane Keating, one of the councillors who spiked that proposed suite, said the views of surrounding neighbours matters more to him. “Community associations don’t always have a finger on the pulse of all the residents,” said the southeast member, one of nine who’s against blanket rezoning to allow suites in all districts.
Coun. Druh Farrell isn’t confident the 15-member council will shift its view Monday, and said she may push to further delay her colleague’s motion.
Where council stands on suites
In favour of zoning to allow suites in all single detached house districts: Druh Farrell (Ward 7), Evan Woolley (8), Gian-Carlo Carra (9), Brian Pincott (11), Diane Colley-Urquhart (13), Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Opposed: Ward Sutherland (1), Joe Magliocca (2), Jim Stevenson (3), Sean Chu (4), Ray Jones (5), Richard Pootmans (6), Andre Chabot (10), Shane Keating (12), Peter Demong (14).
By Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald