Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said he commends individuals who want to increase the supply of housing by looking for ways to bring illegal housing units into compliance.
He made those comments last week as Saanich’s committee of the whole unanimously rejected an application to rezone a single-family home that once housed an illegal marijuana grow operation into a duplex after hearing opposition from area residents.
The public had heard earlier the home in the 900-block of Karen Crescent had had its fair share of issues, including an illegal marijuana grow operation, irresponsible tenants, and parking issues, during the previous decade.
“I did hear your lament and community pain that you have experienced in the past 10 years,” Haynes said. “I also heard the applicant, who has come forward with a brave new approach. It hasn’t meet your criteria and social license as Coun. [Colin] Plant mentioned. But I would like to commend him for taking it on.”
If the applicant were to re-think his approach, the project might have a chance in the future, he said, adding the area is already home to many secondary suites.
“I suspect that many of them may not have gone through an approval process,” he said, adding that the number of unregistered secondary suites appears to be on the rise.
According to Saanich spokesperson Tara Zajac, the municipality has issued 534 building permits to create secondary suites. But this official number is likely far below the actual number.
While secondary suites have become a fact of life in Saanich and elsewhere in the region, concerns heard last week suggest that they remain a source of unease, as several residents speaking against the application raised the past of the home as a rental property in their opposition.
While Coun. Karen Harper ultimately voted against the application, she said the past of the building represents just that.
“We do have a new owner, who is trying to do the right thing, and I do concur with the mayor, that we are going to be seeing a number of these kinds of proposals coming forward,” she said. “We have to be open to dealing with that. The issue tonight is should it go to public hearing, and based on what we have heard tonight, I can’t see it being a worthwhile endeavour.”
A previous owner had converted the home with seven bedrooms to a two-family home contrary to permitted zoning and without obtaining a building permit and other required approvals.
David Campbell, the current owner of the building, said he was “well aware” that it was not an actual duplex when he purchased it in June 2017 as an investment property. “I just figured I would rent out the two suites,” he said. “I have been able to rent one out, but the basement is currently empty.”
Staff said that the building would not comply with existing bylaw provisions concerning secondary suites, because both units exceed the maximum size for a secondary suite and the registered owner of the property would not reside on the site.
This said, staff recommended approval of the rezoning, because it is consistent with the Official Community Plan, which supports a range of housing types within neighbourhoods, including two-family dwellings, subject to various conditions.
But even with staff’s recommended approval, the application faced considerable opposition from the neighbourhood, with several speakers noting the building’s history.