The Municipality of North Cowichan is considering allowing secondary suites in neighbourhoods currently not zoned for them. (File photo)

The Municipality of North Cowichan is considering allowing secondary suites in neighbourhoods currently not zoned for them. (File photo)

Secondary suites considered in North Cowichan

Municipality considers zoning to allow about 2,000 units

The Municipality of North Cowichan is looking at allowing secondary suites in neighbourhoods where they weren’t permitted before.

Council has instructed staff to prepare a draft bylaw that would be considered to allow more than 2,000 attached secondary suites in numerous residential neighbourhoods, zoned R2, R2-A and R3, in the municipality.

“R” zoning refers to residential housing and the specific zones targeted are those with housing large enough to accommodate secondary suites.

In a report to council, Kyle Young, North Cowichan’s assistant manager of planning and subdivision, said 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.

He said 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,” Young said.

“Secondary suites are also a low impact, or soft, form of density within growth centres.”

Young said 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,” he said.

“If the zoning of a property already permits a secondary suite, this $2,500 fee could be avoided.”

Council instructed staff to begin drafting the zoning bylaw, along with a more detailed staff report on the issue, for consideration.

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said the current bylaw only allows suites in certain residential areas, and the municipality is considering expanding on that.

“Allowing only larger lots to have secondary suites is a holdover from the old days when the thinking was that people didn’t want secondary suites in many neighbourhoods,” he said.

“But affordable housing is now a huge issue and secondary suites are now seen as helpful to both the land owners and the renter. This will be thoroughly discussed and there will be many opportunities for input from the public before any final decisions are made.”

Coun. Tom Walker said he thinks it’s time for council to consider changing its secondary suite bylaws.

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” he said.

“I’ve visited people in basement suites and wondered about how they would get out in a fire. It’s a scary situation, and then there are abusive landlords who take advantage of people. Once word gets out and we hear from the public on this issue, we can finally begin to deal with it.”