Seniors rail against suites process

It wasn’t exactly the storming of the Bastille, but a seniors-dominated crowd kept council at bay discussing secondary suites.

Around 40 people gathered in chambers Monday night, angry with council’s plan to further delve into the subject of legalizing suites in single-family homes – zoning currently prohibits the practice.

Having been asked by council for a plan for public consultation on the issue, municipal administrator Mark Brennan presented a report that was met with a series of questions from the audience.

“Why are we doing this? What’s driving this?” homeowner Cliff Hunt asked council about the rationale behind the push to further consider the matter.

The issue has been raised for many years. Although there are many reasons for addressing it, councillors have discussed the need to help alleviate low vacancy rates in the region. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said Greater Victoria’s current vacancy rate is 1.5 per cent.

More vocal people in the crowd were asked several times by land-use committee chair Coun. Allan Cassidy to pipe down, but several insisted on shouting out during the discussion. Some were particularly upset when Cassidy mentioned that homes on his street have illegal suites and he doesn’t find them to be problematic.

Brennan’s report recommended hiring a consulting firm to organize an open house for late March or early April that would include displays and speakers.

As well, an invitation-only stakeholder meeting in March was proposed for community associations, renters, affordable housing advocates and seniors groups.

Several spectators took umbrage at the prospect of a non-public meeting.

Transit Road resident Anthony Mears was fuming as he pointed out homeowners were not listed as stakeholders in Brennan’s report.

The retired social planner attended all six public meetings in 2009 by the ad hoc municipal committee tasked with examining the suites issue. He said they were essentially a whitewash – “nobody there (who) presented said anything negative,” he added.

Mears suggested a task force be struck to discuss homeowners’ concerns about the impact of secondary suites on the community. “You can say they’re fears, but they’re not.”

Council, however, voted to accept Brennan’s report and proceed with hosting the meetings.