Local RDEK directors split on new secondary suites bylaw

If passed, a new bylaw will permit secondary suites everywhere in the Columbia Valley except Electoral Area F.

Despite some strong vocal opposition, Area F is on its way to being excluded from any future legislation regarding secondary suites in the Columbia Valley. At the RDEK meeting on Friday, July 6, a new secondary suites bylaw was given first and second reading and authorized a public hearing with RDEK Electoral Area G director Gerry Wilkie, RDEK vice-chair Gerry Taft, Village of Canal Flats mayor Ute Juras, City of Cranbrook mayor Wayne Stetski and Cranbrook councillor Bob Whetham opposed.

“We, as the Upper Columbia Valley directors, are working collectively on a socio-economic plan for the Columbia Valley, and affordable housing is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of that foundation,” Wilkie told The Valley Echo. “Nobody is saying you have to [build a secondary suite] — that’s the whole point, we’re not imposing anything and it’s absolutely voluntary.”

The RDEK unanimously agreed to begin crafting a secondary suites bylaw in May, however at a June 6 board meeting, Area F director Wendy Booth said that after talking with constituents in her area, it had become clear that there was little to no support for such a bylaw, and  in fact there was a fair amount of opposition. Booth told the board that while the bylaw made sense when it was first brought before council two years ago, she felt there was no longer a need for it in her area, and that many communities had expressed concerns that higher density would severely tax community amenities. She reiterated those points via email when asked by The Valley Echo why she felt Area F should be excluded.

“Over the last several months, I have heard from various communities within Area F that they do not want secondary suites,” Booth wrote. “The reasons varied, it wasn’t just ‘not in my backyard,’ these communities were developed for a certain density and the amenities that they offer were created for that density. Having more people would stress the existing infrastructure.”

The latest amendment to the bylaw means that secondary suites will be permitted in single family dwellings and in detached garages across the Columbia Valley except for lands included within the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan, the Fairmont Hot Springs Area Official Community Plan, and a portion of Panorama Mountain Village.

At the moment, secondary suites are allowed throughout the Columbia Valley, but only after a number of stringent qualifications are met. The current application includes having the dwelling area rezoned, which is not only a costly process but also a time consuming one, sometimes taking up to six months to complete.

Wilkie feels that by excluding such a large portion of area residences — he estimates nearly 4,000 of them — from the new bylaw, the RDEK is missing a massive opportunity to promote growth in the valley.

“If even a small percentage of those residences were to supply secondary suites, it would help dramatically, especially with the young people whom we are relying on for the future of this sustainable foundation in the valley,” Wilkie said. “For young people, it’s probably one of the few ways they can afford a single-family home in this area… to have 4,000 units of housing sterilized… to me diversity is what makes communities.”

“Now is the time to establish [secondary suites,] before there is a demand,” he said. “In a sense that is what we as directors are trying to avoid, is this boom and bust situation.”

However, for Booth, she said support for secondary suites in her area was virtually non-existent, and estimates that she has spoken to some 300 people at various community association meetings over the last several months. In contrast, she said she had received only two emails and had two people speak to her directly in support of the bylaw in that same period of time.

“I agree in principle that secondary suites are a good housing option and in reality they exist throughout the valley,” Booth said. “If individual property owners or communities want to legalize them within Area F, they certainly would have that opportunity.”

Taft, who also voted in favour of including Area F in the bylaw, explained that in his role as mayor of the District of Invermere (DOI), he has seen the benefits of having secondary suites. He also agrees with Wilkie’s argument regarding the timing of the bylaw.

“It’s given [the DOI] a wider option in terms of housing, and I think it also helps with the affordability,” Taft said.”Some issues that are controversial, like the secondary suites… they might always be controversial. The suggestion that there will be a better time in the future to look at secondary suites in Area F, I’m not sure if I believe that there is ever a ‘better time.’ Sometimes I think there’s an obligation to have rules that reflect the reality on the ground.”

Area F residents also still have a chance to have their opinions heard, as the board has agreed to hold a public hearing in Edgewater on Tuesday (July 24).



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