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LETTER: Changes to secondary suite zoning would do more harm than good

What is the real story behind Oak Bay’s basement suite initiative? The article “Secondary suites draft report due in new year” appeared in the Dec. 3 Oak Bay News.

Don’t be fooled: this densification initiative is about removing the two-tenant limit, currently a provision if a homeowner has or decides to have a suite. This means that there would surely be a dramatic increase in the present 1,000 to 1,500 suite tenants in the district. The provincial government does not permit local governments to tax basement suite rents. All Oak Bay residents pay for the required municipal services.

The new building code now allows full basements: Any suite zoning change would permit the same number of occupants in a basement suite accommodation as the primary unit. In effect, it would be an up-and-down, untaxed duplex. Let’s not be taken in by obvious developer “suite regulation jargon.” No community has been able to successfully regulate/register suites – very few suite owners register their existing or new suites. The Provincial Secondary/Basement Suite Guidelines explains regulation programs are expensive and B.C. municipalities are still struggling with the many pitfalls that are euphemistically called “challenges.”

At present, Oak Bay homeowners can legally have a two-tenant suite and rents range from $800 to $1,500. Suite owners are not complaining that this additional income is inadequate. The fire department has not raised the alarm that there are any serious fire and safety problems. The bylaw officer has not alerted council that he is overwhelmed with basement suite complaints. Evictions are rare: the basement suite housing stock is accepted.

It is apparent that the present basement suite provisions work fairly well and there is no credible evidence to show otherwise. Changing the zoning bylaw to remove the two-tenant limit would, more often than not, create sub-standard housing and have no identifiable benefit for most of Oak Bay’s citizens who did not vote for increased over-densification.

Let’s hope this council considers the facts, acts rationally and recognizes that a suite zoning change would almost surely do more harm than good and leaves well enough alone.

Anthony Mears

Oak Bay