Council votes in favour of moving forward with secondary suites

Oak Bay staff to prepare report on budget and staffing impact

Oak Bay Council voted in favour of a motion to move forward on legalizing secondary suites in Oak Bay last night (March 12).

Coun. Tara Ney’s resolution directs staff to prepare a report that outlines a project work plan, including timelines, next steps, and lead staff, with the stated goals of creating a public engagement plan to develop and implement policy, regulations, and bylaws for secondary suites in Oak Bay.

The motion brought passionate debate around the table, and ended in a 5-2 vote.

“The issue of secondary suites in Oak Bay has been lingering for over a decade. It’s at the top of the Council Strategic Priorities and with the affordability of housing in our region reaching crisis proportions, it’s time to have this conversation,” said Coun. Tara Ney. “We are the only community in the CRD that is paralyzed on the issue of secondary suites.”

The two votes against the motion, from Coun. Eric Zhelka and Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, were in part due to the fact that they would like to see a bigger picture housing strategy or framework completed before working on secondary suites, as suites needs to fit into a larger housing plan.

“In my humble opinion, doing a complete housing strategy helps us to identify how to accomplish this in a better way than just doing a secondary suite implementation,” said Coun. Hazel Braithwaite. “If we do that, then we will have to go back and do a strategy for duplexes, lane way houses etc. This just doesn’t make sense to me fiscally or otherwise.”

Coun. Kevin Murdoch had similar concerns and tried to get them addressed through an amendment to the motion.

“My hope was that council would agree to building more than secondary suites, which is why I made the motion to amend the narrowly-constrained original motion to include looking at more housing options for families, the elderly, the mobility-challenged, students, and more – housing needs that aren’t met with just secondary suites,” said Murdoch.

That amendment was voted down 4-3. In the end, Murdoch voted in favour of Ney’s secondary suite motion saying that he respects the will of council, and so would support the motion to consider the regulation of existing suites on its own.

Mayor Nils Jensen said he doesn’t feel it is necessary to create a housing strategy before tackling secondary suites.

“This is a simpler, more focused and more achievable project,” said Jensen. “Housing strategies often have to do with social housing plans. Because land is so scarce in Oak Bay there is not a lot of opportunity for such social housing strategies. We have to look at the priority of needs. The UBCM report shows that there is a need to provide affordable housing and one of the ways we can do that in Oak Bay is through secondary suites.”

When asked about the other elements involved in housing strategies aside from social housing, Jensen said that the Official Community Plan covers it and it is time to move forward.

“We are all aware that there is a housing crisis ongoing in the region, and I would like to see Oak Bay do our part to contribute to the solution, by legitimizing the existing suites in our community,” said Coun. Michelle Kirby.

Ney assures that there will be extensive consultation with residents (renters and homeowners) to learn of the issues and concerns, before designing program features like parking, suite size, owner occupier, exemptions, piloting, fees, enforcement, etc.

As this motion is bringing secondary suites into council priorities earlier than planned, and is a change to the priorities already agreed to as a council, the next step will involve staff preparing a report on the impact of the new priority on staff resources and budget. Once the impact is understood, council will make the decision on whether to proceed with the main resolution.

CORRECTION: The last paragraph has been added to give clarity on next steps.

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