In the hopes of updating the rules and regulations for accessory suites, The City has initiated an online survey to garner feedback from residents on the issue.

According to The City's website, 'supporting the Affordable Housing Principled Action Plan passed by Council in June 2023, and in light of the increasing number of accessory suite applications received by the City, City Staff have been tasked with reviewing the regulations for accessory suites.'

"The review aims to identify barriers associated with creating accessory suites, and recommend updates to the regulations in The City's Land Use Bylaw to reduce those barriers in appropriate locations city-wide," The City added. 

Previously, City Planner, Tega Odogu explained to DiscoverAirdrie that accessory suites are defined as secondary dwellings that are separate from the principal residence on a property.

What are the current regulations surrounding accessory suites?

Currently, Airdrie's Land Use Bylaw stipulates the regulations around accessory suites. Some of the regulation include:

  • Allowed Land Use
    • The land use district of your property lists a garden, garage and/or secondary suite as either a permitted or discretionary use.
  • Single, Detached Dwelling
    • The suite must be located within or on the same property as a single, detached dwelling. They are not allowed with a duplex, townhouse or other types of residential units.
  • No other conflicting uses
    • The property must not already contain a bed and breakfast, child care facility, supportive housing facility, another suite, or a home business that interacts with clients at the property.
  • Parking
    • There must be two parking spaces provided for the main dwelling/house, plus one space per bedroom (up to a maximum of two) for the accessory suite.
    • All parking must be located on the property. On-street parking is not counted as parking for an accessory suite application.
  • Size of property
    • In the case of garage and secondary suites, the property (not the house) must be at least 13.0m (42ft) wide and must be at least 400m² (approximately 4,300ft²) in area.
    • In the case of a garden suite, the property (not the house) must be at least 600m² (approx. 6,500ft²) in area.

Types of accessory suites

Odogu previously explained that accessory suites are defined as secondary dwellings that are separate from the principal residence on a property.

"You can have your primary house where the family lives and then you have something separate from that; that maybe another family member uses or you rent out, depending on what you want to do with the space," she said.

Accessory suites come in three different forms, including a secondary suite (more commonly known as a basement suite), a garage suite, or a garden suite.

"A secondary suite is mostly in the basement, a garage suite is mostly above a garage and a garden suite is just somewhere else on the property. It might be a few meters away from that principal dwelling bought on the same property. These three types [are] completely different from if you just want to develop your basement as a game room for your kids or a space for to have meetings or to have an office."

Concerns of residents remain

The ongoing efforts of The City to encourage residents to participate in the survey, as well as attempts to share information on accessory suites via social media, has garnered plenty of debate, with many residents continuing to cite parking concerns as one of their main worries.

Some residents were frustrated on social media with what The City has deemed as 'myths' or common misconceptions about accessory suites. According to its website, the overcrowding and parking issues are considered by The City as a myth.

"The City implements careful planning to ensure adequate parking and maintain neighbourhood aesthetics and functionality."

Other common misconceptions The City has addressed include decreasing property values, accessory suites compromising safety, as well as the suites causing more noise and disruption than a single-family home.

The City has also argued that the benefits of accessory suites far outweigh any perceived concerns. The City cited numerous benefits to accessory suites including entry to home ownership, supplemental income for homeowners, diverse and inclusive housing opportunities, as well as affordable rental options among the positive factors.

Airdrie resident on garden suites 

Stephannee Ryan, an Airdrie resident who is in the initial stages of looking at the potential of a garden suite being developed on her in-law's property, explained that she feels accessory suites may be a unique opportunity.

Ryan and her family were priced out of being able to afford her own home. The family sold their own home and will be renting, with the hopes of being debt and mortgage-free in several years. 

"By doing that, [we're] hoping to build a garden suite; my sister-in-law purchased my mother and father-in-law's house, so, that they would be able to age in place. They are hoping to renovate their house [and] at the same time we would be looking to build a garden suite in the side lot. It's an opportunity that we very much are hoping to take advantage of and be able to have a multi-generational opportunity in one spot with multiple families."

Ryan who works with seniors in the city said that multi-generational living, which is common in other parts of the world, is something that may be becoming more attractive in Canada.

"This is a cool opportunity that I think more people would be able to take advantage of; if they were more aware of it," she added.

However, when asked if she is concerned, like other residents about the parking issues, which some argue could be potentially exacerbated by accessory suites, she conceded, that in her previous home, there were parking issues. But Ryan said that it is a bit of a never-ending loop, in that while accessory suites may be a great opportunity for seniors who would like to age-in-home, the parking regulations may be a deterrent to homeowners seeking development permits for accessory suites. 

"We need help in the parking department as well; [and] we need help in the infrastructure department and it's all going to affect it," Ryan added. "It's one hand feed[ing] the other."

Ryan said that if there were to be changes to the current regulations, she would like to see more ease of access for those submitting development permits for accessory suites. She underlined that it would be beneficial for The City to look at permits on a more case-by-case basis, especially for those permits in which the application is for a suite for family, rather than for investment or rental purposes.

"If it's a family and it's not income based - [maybe] trying to get those applications streamlined. Because that's ultimately what we're trying to do - help the families."

A realtor's perspective

DiscoverAirdrie spoke to local realtor, Cat Tyler, who said she has observed that the interest in a certain type of accessory suite, namely basement suites is growing among potential homebuyers.

"I see buyers looking for places either with a secondary suite or with a basement that has the potential to be developed," she said. "It's a big helper for mortgages; it's very hard to be able to finance a property right now with the mortgage rates as high as they are. It's [an] important opportunity to be able to take advantage of to have that extra income coming in and to help them out."

She said that perhaps one of the reasons that secondary suites above all others are most favoured is because of the way homes are designed in Airdrie.

"If we're talking about [a] detached [home], then they're a two-storey [home] with an attached garage. You wouldn't have anywhere to put a secondary suite other than the basement in most cases. Carriage suites [garden suites] are sometimes common. I just don't see them a lot in Airdrie."

Tyler added that secondary suites may be one of the factors that may ease demand in the housing market.

"There's such great demand in the market right now that builders can't keep up with how much demand there is. Secondary suites do increase the density, but that's okay because they do it in a way that the individual can develop the basement," Tyler added.
"That creates a home for someone, whether it's an individual or a couple."

She also underlined that secondary suites also add affordability to a strained rental market. 

"It's more affordable for renters. If you are an individual or a couple, rents have gone up a lot and that's just the trickle-down effect of such increased interest rates on mortgages that affects rents," Tyler said. "If someone's not needing [that] entire detached home or even townhouse for themselves, they [may] just need that smaller space. [Secondary suites] are just a little bit of a more affordable option in overall a very unaffordable rental market right now."

Next steps?

The survey is open online until April 15. In May, city officials are slated to share a summary report of what was heard through public engagement, while simultaneously between April and June, city staff will be utilizing, 'findings from comparative research, internal stakeholder coordination, and public input to draft the recommended updates to the Land Use Bylaw regulations about accessory suites.'

A public hearing is slated for either June or July in which the recommendations will be presented to council at a Public Hearing for deliberation and a decision.

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