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Suite changes in the works

Council considers easier approval of so-called granny flats

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Winnipeggers who want to install a separate suite inside their homes for relatives or tenants will have one less hoop to jump through, according to proposed changes regarding so-called granny suites.

City council is about consider changes to zoning rules governing secondary suites, which city planners tout as a means to alleviate housing shortages, make it easier for property owners to afford mortgage payments and increase the city's density.

A report heading to council's property and development committee on Tuesday will recommend Winnipeg end the practice of requiring homeowners to go through a public-hearing process before they create a secondary suite within a new or existing home.

Instead, homeowners will simply need to comply with a standard set of rules governing secondary suites within homes and apply for a building permit.

Secondary suites in detached buildings -- garages or garden houses, for example -- would still require a public-hearing process.

In a review of 24 recent applications for secondary suites, city planners found little to no opposition in every part of the city, both in newer and older neighbourhoods.

"All 24 of these applications have been heard at the Board of Adjustment and in all cases the board has approved them," senior planner James Veitch writes in the report. "The general lack of opposition to secondary suites suggests that Winnipeggers throughout the city are generally comfortable with this type of housing in their communities."

The proposed rules demand no more than one entrance on the front of any home with a secondary suite, which must be at least 350 square feet in size but no more than 600 square feet. Any home with an interior or detached secondary suite must also have two off-street parking spaces and no granny suite can be used for a home-based business or as a personal-care home under the proposed changes.

City housing officials hope more secondary suites can alleviate Winnipeg's residential-housing crisis, which has been marked by rental-apartment vacancy rates below one per cent for several years.

Citing the experience in nine other Canadian cities, Veitch suggests secondary suites could create more affordable-housing options without an influx of scarce public funds. "Since the housing is provided by the homeowner, no government subsidies are required," he writes.

The income from secondary suites could also allow older property owners to remain in their homes longer -- or younger property owners to afford a mortgage, the report also suggests. The suite may also allow families to remain together, as the name "granny suite" suggests.

Finally, secondary suites are touted as a means of reducing the cost of maintaining infrastructure through an increase of density.

On the downside, Veitch writes, the city can expect "some level of resistance" from residents who fear "secondary suites will undermine property values and change the character of their communities." In Vancouver, however, secondary suites did not reduce property values, he said.

City council property director Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said he believes the biggest obstacle to creating the suites will be the expense involved in meeting strict building codes. The province has created a grant program to serve as an incentive, he noted. Browaty believes there will be little opposition to secondary suites once people understand there can be no more than one on any property.

"We're not talking about rooming houses, where things get out of hand," he said. "It's one additional, legal, properly maintained unit."

More granny suites

SOME of the proposed regulations governing secondary suites in Winnipeg:

Homes can have one secondary suite -- either attached or detached. Homes cannot be turned into rooming houses.

Public hearings are no longer required for secondary suites within homes. Public hearings are still required for secondary suites in detached buildings such as garages, pool houses or garden houses.

Even without a public hearing, secondary suites must still meet building-permit conditions.

No more than one entrance from any dwelling can face the street, except in cases where there already are more than one entrance.

Lots containing secondary suites must have at least two off-street parking spaces.

No secondary suite can be smaller than 350 square feet or greater than 600 square feet.

Secondary suites can't be used for home-based businesses or care homes.

Secondary suites will be assigned addresses with an "A" after the street number. For example, a secondary suite within a home at 123 John Smith Ave. will be assigned the address "123A John Smith Ave."


-- source: City of Winnipeg, planning, property and development department.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2012 B1

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