The process to allow secondary suites in neighbourhoods in North Cowichan where they weren’t permitted before took a big jump forward this week.
After a public hearing on Oct. 4, North Cowichan’s council voted unanimously to give third reading to a bylaw that will allow thousands of attached secondary suites in numerous residential neighbourhoods — including those zoned R2, R2-A and R3 — in the municipality for the first time.
A staff report states that, over time, a number of secondary suites have been illegally constructed on properties not currently zoned for that use and without building permits to confirm compliance with the requirements of the BC Building Code, which raises safety concerns.
The extent of illegal suites in North Cowichan is currently unknown.
“There is also an increased awareness of the benefits of secondary suites, including as a form of affordable rental housing, income assistance, family support and aging in place,” the report said.
“Secondary suites are also a low impact, or soft, form of density within growth centres.”
The report indicated that the Official Community Plan policies provide clear guidance to broaden the number of zones in North Cowichan that permit secondary suites and to reduce fees associated with legalizing suites.
“The current zoning bylaw amendment application is $2,500,” the report said.
“If the zoning of a property already permits a secondary suite, this $2,500 fee could be avoided.”
But council heard from a number of people at the public hearing who had a variety of opinions on the issue.
Bruce Wilkinson said he has safety concerns around the extra traffic in his neighbourhood that will come with new residents in secondary suites.
He said he also would like to see the secondary suites in houses where the primary landlord lives to properly monitor the rental unit.
“If one homeless person rents a secondary suite, will there be a lot more living there as well?” he asked.
One man whose family recently moved to North Cowichan from the Lower Mainland said one reason he moved to his neighbourhood is because it was zoned as single-family housing and secondary suites weren’t allowed.
“I think existing neighbourhoods should be grandfathered into the new system under the old rules, and North Cowichan should be targeting the new developments to have secondary suites,” he said.
Concerns were also raised over the staff report indicating that more cars parked on a street as a result of secondary suites would be a traffic-calming measure.
But Chris Hall, from the Cowichan Housing Association, said his organization is committed to safe, secure and affordable housing for all and he supports the municipality’s measures to broaden the housing market.
“Housing prices have gone up dramatically so this is needed,” he said.
“If this bylaw passes, it doesn’t mean all houses in all areas zoned to allow secondary suites will have them and most won’t see a significant change in their community.”
Coun. Tom Walker said he supports the bylaw stating that not only is it an affordable housing issue, but a safe housing issue as well.
“I’ve been in some illegal suites and many look like death traps to me,” he said.
“Most people favour this. The biggest concerns are around parking, but they can be addressed. Housing is a major issue here.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said North Cowichan residents have to get used to the fact that things are changing.
“The community is growing and we can’t keep growing out,” she said.
Mayor Jon Lefebure said more housing options are needed as the housing crunch continues, but communities shouldn’t fear they will be overwhelmed with new secondary suites.
“These suites will develop slowly over time, and many homeowners won’t have them, so they will be limited,” he said.
“I agree there will be some parking issues, but if we design our communities around parking, we’ll never reduce the number of cars on our streets and we want to see more walking, biking and busing. People have no right to say that they don’t want any changes in their neighbourhoods, because change will happen.”