Oak Bay divided on secondary suites, poll finds

Oak Bay residents remain divided on many of the issues surrounding secondary suites, recent polling shows.

“There were no significant surprises from my standpoint,” said Mayor Kevin Murdoch, adding that consultation was not intended to be a poll on whether or not people favoured suites, but rather information to help in the drafting of a broader municipal housing framework.

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“There are both sides of the suites opinion. There are people who adamantly believe that suites have some inherent value, so we must allow them just because of their inherent worth,” Murdoch said.

“Then there are people who do not like them and do not want them at any cost because of their inherent lack of worth, I guess. I think most people recognize, a) they [already] exist without destroying our community and b) that regulating them for health and safety makes a lot of sense.”

Most concerns centre around issues such as parking, noise and ensuring owner occupancy.

“We have to legitimately look at the concerns that are raised and see how we can mitigate those as best we can,” Murdoch said

The housing framework will address issues surrounding suites in new housing and how to manage existing suites —looking at time frames and options to bring them into compliance.

Staff recently updated councillors on findings from an open house and provided preliminary results from a survey. About 96 positive comments about secondary suites were recorded by municipal staff from attendees at a recent open house.

Common themes included:

• The district has a responsibility to provide diverse and affordable housing (something that will help keep families in the community, encourage multi-generational living, and bring in youth who can provide services to seniors).

• Secondary suites will add gentle density that will benefit the tax base, improve walkability, reduce greenhouse gases, reduce sprawl and allow people who grew up in the community to return.

• Parking is not a significant issue with suites in that renters are less likely to have cars and mega-houses would have a larger impact on parking.

• Secondary suites can be regulated and taxed for the benefit of the community.

About 89 negative comments were recorded. The common themes were:

• Density is a bad thing that adds stress to the community and will cause neighborhood degradation; growth is not inherently good; Oak Bay will become over crowded; the municipality has never been affordable and should be kept this way.

• Secondary suites can lead to reduced level of services. There were also concerns about higher costs of garbage, policing, pollution, parking congestion, road work and the need for additional staff to monitor, permit and enforce secondary suites.

• Suites come with hazards such as increased risk of fire and increased nuisance, including parking, noise and tree loss.

• Suites might lead to higher costs and taxes to be borne by homeowners who don’t have suites.

• Without owner-occupancy, people will have suites without living in their home and that the Airbnb potential is undesirable.

About 795 people answered a community questionnaire on suites.

When asked: What conditions would make regulated secondary suites beneficial to you, your neighborhood and the Oak Bay community as a whole? The largest number — 72 per cent — said requiring owners to conform to building code requirements; 60 per cent said having adequate parking (on and off street); 55 per cent said requiring owners to live in the same building as the suite; 54 per cent said no impact on trees through additional off-street parking requirements; and 30 per cent said requiring owners to have a business licence.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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