More MR secondary suites coming

Council debates coming bylaw changes allowing more secondary suites on smaller properties

Maple Ridge councillors generally favour allowing more secondary suites on smaller properties, but will draw the line on allowing them in the smallest lots in the district – in the Albion area.

That was one of the points of a long discussion about the topic at Monday morning’s council workshop, during which staff and elected officials went over many of the fine points of a revised policy. Requiring more parking spots, charging an annual licensing fee and not allowing basement entry doors in homes where secondary suites are restricted were some of the matters for discussion.

Staff reported neighbouring municipalities are allowing secondary suites in neighbourhoods with smaller lots than does Maple Ridge, and they recommended the district follow suit, in order to remain competitive to developers.

Coun. Al Hogarth, a realtor, estimated that the changes could bring the possibility of 1,000 new legal suites to homes in Maple Ridge.

The smallest lots in the district, those in the R3 residential zone, will be prohibited from having doorways into their basements, in order to make it difficult for homeowners to rent out basement suites in this zone.

Hogarth noted that when these neighbourhoods were developed, the district allowed narrower streets and smaller lots, generally 3,000 square feet in size, in order to keep the price of single family homes affordable. He characterized the density there as “close or equivalent to a townhouse type of scenario,” and said allowing suites there would make the neighbourhoods too crowded and streets too congested.

Every property with a secondary suite must have a minimum of three parking stalls, and there was some discussion of increasing this to four for those with two-bedroom suites, to alleviate on-street parking frustrations, at the suggestion of Coun. Bob Masse.

Staff noted that of all the complaints generated by secondary suites, a lack of parking and noise top the list.

Although the municipality requires people to have three parking stalls, there is nothing preventing them from parking their RV or boat on the property, and parking their car on the street.

“You can require that there be a parking spot, but you can’t make someone park in it,” noted director of planning Christine Carter.

Development manager Chuck Goddard noted that from a design perspective, 90 per cent of a 4,000 square foot lot would be covered by pavement or building if more parking space was required, and that would not be desirable.

Masse suggested changing regulations so that people with suites would not be permitted to park a boat or RV on their property. There was little support for that, and Mayor Ernie Daykin suggested that was too heavy-handed.

“How much regulation do we impose,” asked the mayor.

It was noted that people are able to afford their homes based on income from these mortgage helpers.

There is also a lack of affordable housing in the district, aggravated by condominium strata bylaws that discourage renters, and basement suites help alleviate this problem.

There was also a lot of discussion about enforcement, and the process is generally complaint-driven, so the bylaws department will only investigate where neighbours take issue with a secondary suite.

“We’re doing a fair amount of work in the Albion area,” noted Liz Holitzki, director of licences, permits and bylaws.

Staff will be doing more work on the bylaw, and bringing the proposed changes back to council.

Staff will also review the fees charged to secondary suites, which are $550, plus a charge equal to two-thirds of the household utility bills. Coun. Corisa Bell noted that the charge adds about $850 per year to the homeowners tax bill.

Under the plan, the district will continue with a requirement of owner occupation in a home with secondary suites, either in the principle or secondary unit.

The secondary suite review was ordered in July 2012, and staff held focus groups, did online questionnaires and held a public open house.

The bylaw is nearing completion.

There would be a “period of grace” where those with illegal suites will be allowed to come into compliance with new regulations.