Esquimalt reverses course on family-size requirement

A decision to require that 10 per cent of units in new developments have three bedrooms has been rescinded by Esquimalt councillors.

Council agreed to the three-bedroom provision before the municipal election last October at the suggestion of former councillor Olga Liberchuk, who noted that new multi-unit residential developments rarely include larger units suitable for families.

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The resolution also specified that there be no age restrictions on who could live in the three-bedroom units.

But last week, councillors reversed course after staff reported that making such a bylaw amendment might not achieve the desired result and could result in unintended consequences.

“The requirement of 10 per cent could present problems in terms of projects coming forward,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said, adding that 10 per cent might be too much, especially for smaller developments of 20 or 30 units.

In smaller developments, it could even affect the affordability of the other units.

“We continue to say we want you to bring forward three-bedroom units,” Desjardins said. “Staff are telling people that. Developers are doing that.”

Bill Brown, director of development services, noted in a report to council that developers have been willing to voluntarily incorporate three-bedroom units in new developments.

While council has the ability in its zoning bylaw to specify what kind of units can be built, it has no authority to control who might live in those units, meaning there is no guarantee that a three-bedroom unit would be rented to a family.

“If council wanted to ensure that the three-bedroom units were only occupied by bona fide families without age restrictions, it is possible that this could be achieved through the use of a housing agreement, although staff would first want to seek a legal opinion before making such a recommendation to council,” Brown’s report says.

The report adds that housing agreements are voluntary, and enforcement “could be fraught with a myriad of issues,” such as defining who constitutes a family.

“In encouraging families, what may, in fact, happen is we end up with three single people living in those units, because you can’t designate who can live there and who can’t,” Desjardins said. “Then the consequence of that may be you end up with more parking requirements because there are three single people, as opposed to a family that only requires one vehicle.”

Coun. Meagan Brame said that some projects, such as those at busy intersections without much green space, are simply not suited to family units.

“I don’t want to force something in an area that isn’t necessarily right for it or force too many in a building,” she said.

Coun. Jacob Helliwell argued in favour of the motion, however.

“To me, it makes sense to try and build our developments to try and match what our demographics are today, and what we’re hoping they are going to be in the future. To me, that includes at least some three-bedrooms and I think 10 per cent is a reasonable amount,” he said.

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