Oak Bay council had its first look into the much anticipated secondary suites study.
It’s a preliminary look, as presented by consulting firm Urban Systems on Monday (Jan. 11) night, with a broad set of options that will require trimming.
A draft of the suggested regulations and potential bylaw changes should be in front of council by March.
The report is part of the council strategy to address whether it should legalize, permit, or promote secondary suites while recognizing Oak Bay is in short supply of rental units compared to the rest of Greater Victoria. Secondary suites are still not allowed under Oak Bay’s zoning bylaw.
The 2019 Housing Needs report noted the number of rental units in Oak Bay decreased from 2,090 in 2006 to 1,830 in 2016. It showed that between 2016 and 2018, 133 households were built, though only nine were in addition to the housing stock. The majority replaced previously demolished households.
The secondary suites study is seen as one of the easier ways to increase the housing stock, and 78 per cent of Oak Bay residents supported that they be permitted and regulated in 2014 community consultation.
Urban Systems’ research shows there is no preferred method to regulation. The report outlines a variety of options around legalizing suites, making them non-legal conforming, how to include them in the building code and how to enforce them – or not enforce them. And yet, the often go unregistered or accounted for.
“Chilliwack has a non-enforcement role [wherein] if you register the suite, it is logged in existence and bylaws not to be enforced,” said Urban Systems’ senior planner Dan Huang, about Chilliwack’s non-enforcement incentive program.
It’s on the extreme end of strategies and exemplifies the limited options around regulating secondary suites, no matter how simple or complex the policy becomes.
Oak Bay is estimated to have between 500 and 750 “unregulated” secondary suites and the goal, as outlined in the Housing Needs report, is to add 290 household bedrooms in the next five years. This is to help Oak Bay keep pace with the region’s overall growth.
One question Coun. Tara Ney had was about the size of the suites. The B.C. Building Code removed previous constraints on the size of a secondary suite. It is now at the discretion of each municipality.
The building code used to have a max of 40 per cent of the gross floor area of the house up to a maximum of 90 square-metres for a suite, Huang noted.
“[Maximums] is something we should consider,” Huang said. “If you’re silent, then somebody could come in and make it as large a secondary suite as possible.”
Another option is to use a percentage maximum with a ceiling such as 150 square metres (1,600 sq. ft.).
“It’s large but many houses in Oak Bay are quite large, up to 10,000 sq. ft,” Huang added.
With the report in hand Oak Bay can now move forward with community consultation.
The consultation is “to tease out from the community what they like about the scenarios and the challenges, rather than a vote on options,” Huang noted, “from least restrictive to most restrictive.”
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