CITY OF BRANDON
This illustration is part of a presentation given to Brandon City Council Monday night by community planner Waleed Albakry.
Secondary suites and boarding houses are back in the spotlight this week as city council gave second reading to two bylaws which call for regulation amendments.
The city’s planning department has been working on easing restrictions for secondary suites and boarding houses for months to address Brandon’s tight rental market.
"The main idea why we are doing the whole project is … we have a very high affordable housing issue in town," said community planner Waleed Albakry. "That’s why we are trying to look at ways to create affordable housing in existing neighbourhoods or future ones."
Current zoning bylaws are very restrictive, Albakry said, and the proposed changes would make it easier to make such an investment.
"The main idea for the secondary suite zoning amendment is to actually alleviate size limitations," he said.
Existing regulations state the maximum size is 25 per cent of the floor area to a maximum of 50 square metres. The proposed amendment is to increase that number to 40 per cent of the floor area or 80 square metres.
Proposed changes include expanding the permitted secondary suite types to include attached suites (a dwelling unit located in the same building as a single family dwelling); garage suites, (a detached dwelling unit located either above or beside a detached garage); and detached suites, (a dwelling unit detached from both a single family dwelling and a detached garage).
The planning department has called for both boarding houses and secondary suites to be owner-occupied.
"We believe that when you have an owner-occupied building that the owner has a vested interest in making sure that building is fitting in well within the community," director of economic development Sandy Trudel told the Brandon Sun in a previous interview.
It will be considered a boarding house if it has more than three boarding units without cooking facilities in each.
Council must wait for objections from the community before it can go ahead with third and final reading of the bylaws. If objections are filed, there will be a public hearing, likely in January.
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell continues to raise concerns about the proposed changes, and says he doesn’t want to see mistakes of the past repeated.
Caldwell, a longtime Brandon resident and former Rosser ward councillor, said he saw first-hand the "serious, negative consequences" boarding houses had on neighbourhoods.
"It created unsafe neighbourhoods, it created unsafe living conditions … it lowered property values of properties," he said. "That is a very significant concern and it needs to be fully discussed by communities who will be affected by this provision."
Caldwell encourages all city councillors to have ward meetings on the issue.
"It’s not just the downtown section that will be impacted negatively by this, it’s the entire city of Brandon," he said. "So everybody that is concerned about their property values, the health and safety of their neighbourhood … should be canvassed on this issue, it’s not a trifling matter."
Albakry stressed all suites and boarding houses will have to comply with the current building codes. Also, people wanting to add a detached secondary suite to their property would have to apply for conditional use.
"Neighbours would have to be notified," Albakry said. "There would be a public hearing where the neighbours can have their say."
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said secondary suites and boarding houses serve as a "useful tool" in the affordable housing continuum.
"I think that what we need to do is to ensure the quality of life in the neighbourhood isn’t negatively impacted," she said. "Rigorous inspection and owner occupied are ways that we can ensure that they can continue to add value to the neighbourhood."
Decter Hirst said these types of inspections would be complaint-driven, so if people are concerned about a particular suite or boarding house, they can bring it to the attention of the building safety and planning department who would follow up.
The owner would also be required to sign an affidavit ensuring they live on the property and will not violate the agreement.
As far as Caldwell’s concerns, Decter Hirst said bylaws have been tightened up considerably since Caldwell was a city councillor "to deal with the very issues he was talking about."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 4, 2013