Saanich gives green light to garden suites after years of consultation

A company that builds garden suites and carriage homes in Greater Victoria is expecting an influx of requests after Saanich council gave the green light this week for homeowners to build the suites on their properties.

Nick Kardum, owner of Backyard Bungalows, said he’s working with several Saanich homeowners who are finalizing their design and architectural plans so they’re ready to apply to the District of Saanich once the bylaw comes into force.

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Following a public hearing Tuesday, Saanich councillors unanimously supported allowing garden suites in single-family housing zones. The bylaw will be ratified on Sept. 28.

“We’ve had some people who have said, ‘We can tell this is going to go through — let’s start right now. Let’s start on the design,’ ” said Kardum.

Maximum garden-suite sizes would range from 500 square feet to 1,000 square feet, depending on the lot size. A minimum of 4,305-square-foot lot would be required for a garden suite, and in order to have a 1,000-square-foot garden suite, you would need a 10,764-square-foot lot.

The size of the suites, permitted only in rear yards, would be limited by rules governing lot coverage and setbacks, and the lot’s owners would have to occupy either the main dwelling or the garden suite.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said the decision is long-overdue, considering the issue was first considered by councillors in 2016.

“We would have very much liked to have this done a year ago,” Haynes said. “Saanich prides itself on community consultation, but this one took a long time.”

The district surveyed the community several times about garden suites. Over the years, support jumped from 55 per cent to 85 per cent, Haynes said.

The mayor said garden suites could create more rental properties in Saanich, allow first-time home buyers to get into the market with a mortgage-helper or allow multi-generational families to stay close but not under one roof.

Kardum said he’s hearing from many families who want to build a garden suite for their aging parents as an alternative to a care home. The company can build the garden suite with specific accommodation for older people, such as wider doors for wheelchairs or walkers, accessible bathtubs and smoke detectors that are connected to the main house.

It costs, on average, $160,000 to $180,000 to build a garden suite, which Kardum points out is much less than buying a condo. Kardum has built many garden suites in Victoria, where they have been allowed in all single-family housing zones since 2017. The City of Victoria has approved 94 garden-suite applications, 58 of which have been completed.

Kardum says adding rental options to the community could have the added benefit of bringing down rental rates.

“The more rentals you have, the more you’re increasing that supply,” Kardum said. “And that should lower costs for rentals, because you’re increasing the supply.”

Haynes said if just 1,500 of the 35,000 single-family homes in Saanich added a garden suite, it could create a huge influx of either rental homes or homes for multi-generational families.

“I’m optimistic that, while it’s taken a long time to get here, it’s going to be have a very positive [impact] on the affordability of housing in Saanich,” Haynes said. “It’s going to let young people live, work and play in Saanich by getting a house and it will allow families to age and stay in Saanich.”

Garden suites cannot be used for short-term vacation rentals and homeowners who already have a secondary suite cannot build a garden suite.

Haynes acknowledged that some Saanich homeowners have already built garden suites or converted garages into living spaces with the knowledge that the bylaw would pass eventually. Those homeowners can arrange an inspection of the garden suite, and as long as it was built to code, it can be approved under the bylaw.

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