The City will be seeking feedback from residents regarding accessory suites. According to the City, the issue of accessory suites was discussed last June by City Council in the context of the Affordable Housing Plan.

"The goal was to task city staff to remove obstacles when building approved suites, recognizing their potential to boost our local economy and champion sustainable growth," The City stated in a recent social media post. "As part of this initiative, we're reaching out for input from residents, businesses and other stakeholders towards the end of March."

But what are accessory suites and why are they in such demand now?

Types of accessory suites

City Planner Tega Odogu 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."

The most 'popular' accessory suite? 

Odogu said that the basement suites are the most common type of application submitted to the city.

The City stipulates that a secondary suite must have five separate elements to be considered as such. These include a separate entrance, living facilities, cooking facilities, sleeping facilities, as well as sanitation facilities.

"If you are planning a secondary suite in your basement, you will need to get a development permit for an accessory suite as well as building permits. A secondary suite is only allowed in land use districts where it is listed as a 'permitted use' or 'discretionary use'," The City added. 

Other stipulations are that secondary suites are not allowed in duplexes, townhouses or other types of residential units.

"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-wise, 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 secondary suite.

"All parking must be located on the property. On-street parking is not counted as parking for a secondary suite application."

What is driving demand?

While Odogu said she could not comment on the reason behind the rising demand for accessory suites, The City's website states that, 'In the past three years, Airdrie has witnessed a significant increase in applications for accessory suites. This trend is a clear indicator of the growing interest and need for diverse housing options in our community.'

The City of Airdrie believes that the demand for accessory suites will not slow down any time soon. (Graphic credit to City of Airdrie)The City of Airdrie believes that the demand for accessory suites will not slow down soon. (Graphic credit to City of Airdrie)

Statistics show that accessory suite applications have gone from four to 72 from 2016 and 2023. The City added that in response to the demand it is enhancing infrastructure and services in anticipation of the growing number of secondary suites, as well as proactively planning to enhance our infrastructure and municipal services to support this increase.

"[There is] continued community engagement, recognizing the importance of community input, we want to understand residents’ needs and concerns."

Apart from this, The City added that they are monitoring this trend and will continuously evaluate its policies and procedures to ensure they meet the evolving needs of the community. 

The application process for a secondary suite

Odogu said that before a secondary suite can exist, the property owner must submit a development permit application to the city for review.

"We need the [application] package to contain floor plans for the suite and also contain the elevation drawings to show if they're the land owner, or the property owner will be putting in a side door to access the suite. Once we confirm that it's complete, and the payment is taken, it's assigned to a file manager," she said.

The file manager confers with different city departments including building inspections, as well as the engineering and fire department. 

"Once that review is done by [those] departments, and we get the comments back; we compile those comments and then send it back to the applicant."

Any issues that arise must be solved before anything goes forward.

"We make a final decision [and] once we make a final decision, either to approve or refuse, then the land owner will be issued a notice of the decision. After that, there is a 21-day appeal period."

The appeal right is a way for neighbours in a 60-metre radius to voice their concerns about a development permit being granted for the accessory suite. The appeal(s) must be submitted to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB).

"Then that board gets to review the concerns that have been raised and make a decision. So, they will now be the final decision-making body."

Odogu underlined that if no appeals are brought forth in 21 days, a development permit is issued to the landowner looking to develop the secondary suite. 

Complaints and compliance issues 

Odogu said that they have received complaints about possible illegal secondary suites. Those complaints are then passed to a compliance officer.

"The compliance officer will contact the property owner and we'll conduct a site inspection. The compliance officer will go to the site and inspect the basement to see if there are elements to show that it's a secondary suite. If it's a suite, and they don't have permits for it; whether it's a development permit or a building permit, then they will be requested or required to apply for one so that they can bring it up to code."

Not adhering to this may mean being fined. 

"The Land Use Bylaw (LUB) gives us provisions to do that."

Concerns over accessory suites 

However, the rising demand for accessory suites has also meant concerns from residents. One of the most common concerns that Odogu says she encounters is that residents feel that parking in a neighbourhood will be further limited, leading to overcrowding.

"[We hear] the overflow of parking onto the street; that people can't find parking in front of their properties. [The] second [concern] would be property values."

She added that most often these concerns are why neighbours will often object to secondary suites in a particular neighbourhood.

The City has tried to debunk what they deemed as 'myths' which include concerns over parking and decreasing property values. As per the issue of parking, the City states that it, 'implements careful planning to ensure adequate parking and maintain neighbourhood aesthetics and functionality.'

As far as decreasing property values, the city added that, 'contrary to this belief, accessory suites can increase property values by providing additional income potential and appealing to a broader range of buyers.' 

Other myths the city listed on its website include the concern that secondary suites may compromise safety, to which the city underlined that all approved accessory suites must adhere to strict building and safety codes, ensuring they are as safe as any standard home.

Odogu said that while she didn't have an exact number, applications for accessory suites are not denied often.

The City added that it is not likely that the demand for accessory suites will slow anytime soon, and will likely increase. 

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