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Strong support for secondary suites in Maple Ridge

A display at Wednesday
A display at Wednesday's open house. An open house reviewed input received so far in the year-long review, such as the fact that 79 per cent of the 67 people who answered a questionnaire believed that secondary suites are an important part of affordable housing.
— image credit: Phil Melnychuk/The News

Maple Ridge moved a step closer to a new secondary suite bylaw after the last stage in its public consultation process Wednesday.

An open house reviewed input received so far in the year-long review, such as the fact that 79 per cent of the 67 people who answered a questionnaire believed that secondary suites are an important part of affordable housing.

Most of those who responded, 69 per cent, also believed that Maple Ridge should keep its requirement that homeowners live in the home where the suite is located.

While the district doesn't know how many secondary suites are in the district, or how many are legally registered, according to Metro Vancouver stats for 2011, Maple Ridge has 2,890 suites dispersed throughout 16,650 single-family homes.

Several display boards walked residents through the ongoing consultation process and current requirements. One listed safety, parking, affordability and infrastructure capacity as major issues.

For realtor Danny Gerbrandt, secondary suites are crucial to the housing market. Many buyers wouldn't be able to qualify for mortgages without having the income from a suite in the basement. If the district clamps down on illegal suites, it would hurt the local housing market, he said.

Gerbrandt added about a quarter of the small-lot homes in Albion in the 240th Street area have suites, though zoning doesn't allow that.

Secondary suites in Maple Ridge are only allowed on lots larger than 557 sq. metres (6,000 sq. feet), although temporary residential units for family members are allowed on smaller lots. And most in the consultation process are saying they don't favour allowing second suites on smaller lots, such as in Albion, added planning director Christine Carter.

Gerbrandt suggested one way to encourage people to register their suites is to relax enforcement and reduce inspection fees.

Requiring new homes to be built secondary-suite ready, so that a homeowner easily could add a suite, would create better secondary suites, added realtor Jim Isherwood. "At least it will be safe for the public."

He said that another way of preserving the neighbourhoods where secondary suites are located is to limit the amount of on-street parking. Requiring residents to have parking permits, and limiting the number issued per household, will help limit the number of people living in secondary suites, Isherwood added.

In order to increase affordability, the district needs to increase floor-area ratio, and thus the density for projects so Maple Ridge can match what's happening in other cities in the Lower Mainland, added Rob Grimm, a developer.

Don Mitchell, a resident, favoured the requirement to have owners live in the premises where the suites are located, but said that's not happening in many areas.

While many homeowners don't want to register their suites, safety and financial security make compelling arguments to do so.

Bylaws director Liz Holitzki said insurance companies may not cover for fire damage of homes with illegal suites.

"We always recommend people talk to their insurance companies to find out."

Some of the requirements of the current secondary suite bylaw, passed in 1999, are for thicker drywall to separate the house from the suite, a separate heating and ventilation system (with a second furnace), a separate entrance, as well as a sprinkler system. A parking stall also has to be provided on the property.

Homeowners also have to pay double the utility charges for water and sewer.

Maple Ridge planner Diana Hall said the review is an attempt to improve the bylaw.

"Parking has been by far the greatest concern."

Staff will write a report, compiling the feedback then present it to council.

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