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Airdrie's accessory suite regulations to be amended this year

Results from the review of Airdrie's secondary suite regulations is anticipated to result in regulation amendments.
The City is asking residents to weigh in on the issue of secondary suites.
Results from the review of Airdrie's secondary suite regulations are anticipated to result in regulation amendments.

Changes are set to come forward to make accessibility suites in Airdrie less restrictive following a recent review of the regulations around these secondary suites.

Airdrie’s administration found that the existing regulations in the land use bylaw do not align with the evolving housing trends. Approximately 70 per cent of approved accessory suite applications between 2016 and May 2024 required a variance to a regulation – most frequently to lot width and area.

Administration compared the City of Airdrie’s accessory suite regulations against those of seven other municipalities and engaged with stakeholders. Compared to those municipalities, Airdrie has the most restrictive regulation on accessory suites despite considering the differences between cities.

Based on the information gathered from stakeholders and public surveys, amendments to the land use bylaw (LUB) will be proposed to more broadly allow secondary suites.

Potential options include changes to the number of districts in which suites are allowed, increasing the permissibility of suites in some districts, and eliminating the minimum lot width and lot area requirements. These changes could increase housing diversity without removing the requirements for parking, city staff stated.

Coun. Heather Spearman raised the concern about parking near schools, which would see an increase if accessory suites are allowed nearby. Administration said they are still reviewing parking situations.

Coun. Al Jones followed up by stating the City should consider restricting accessory suites within a hundred yards of schools due to the increase of traffic.

In Airdrie, a suite must provide one parking stall per bedroom within a suite, on top of the required two parking stalls for the primary dwelling. The minimum lot area is currently 400 m2 and the minimum lot width is 13 metres, which could be amended.

Administration will present the recommended LUB amendments to the Community Infrastructure and Strategic Growth (CISG) Committee en route to a public hearing at Council in Q3 2024.

Coun. Tina Petrow asked if there are any legislative tools to address affordability.

Jessica DeVreeze, Airdrie's affordable housing strategist, said affordability is regulated through the Residential Tenancies Act, and is in the realm of the Province. The City doesn’t have any municipal tools to regulate how much someone can charge for their secondary suite but DeVreeze said the supply of rentals is currently at an all time low, 1.1 per cent overall.

“Although there’s many variables that go into the cost of rental housing and cost of housing overall, supply is a major one of those variables,” DeVreeze said. “Our supply is low, so getting the supply up and allowing more access to secondary suites not only will give a pathway to home ownership for some people who have been priced out of the market, but will also give, on the other side, a lot of access to more housing choice for residents in Airdrie.”

Speaking on illegal suites, staff noted an inspection is done when complaints are filed about illegal suites. Homeowners with an illegal suite must then apply for a permit, or they will have to remove one of the elements categorizing it as a secondary suite.

The LUB currently recognizes three types of accessory suites: secondary suites, garage suites, and garden suites. Currently in Airdrie, only single family dwellings can have suites, but there are also semi-detached and townhouse dwellings to consider, administration said.

Starting in October 2023, Administration undertook a comprehensive review of the current regulations contained in the LUB in response to a surge in accessory suite applications indicating growing demand, feedback on applications with variances, and the opportunity to apply for the Housing Accelerator Fund Action Plan.

An online survey gathered public feedback on the opportunities and challenges of allowing accessory suites on more residential parcels. A key opportunity identified by respondents included “more opportunity for rental income”, as a way to help with mortgage payments, aging in place, and providing retirement income. Key challenges identified by respondents included finding street parking and worrying about changing the characteristics of their neighbourhood. 

City staff noted that concerns weren’t specific to any neighbourhood in Airdrie, and were spread throughout the community.

The ‘What We Heard Report’ showed a detailed breakdown of the 734 responses received from the public. Administration also conducted an accessory suites site tour, visiting six areas within Airdrie with a clustering of approved accessory suites to review cumulative impacts.

Masha Scheele

About the Author: Masha Scheele

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