Victoria removes rezoning requirements for garden suites

Victoria city councillors decided this week to remove the requirement that a homeowner wanting to build a garden suite has to undergo a rezoning.

Garden suites will be permitted in all of Victoria’s single-family residential areas.

Councillors decided this week to remove the requirement that a homeowner wanting to build a garden suite (also known as a carriage house or laneway house) has to undergo a rezoning.

All of the existing requirements for size, setbacks and height will remain in place, but in order to streamline the process, councillors also agreed to delegate approval of garden suites to city planning staff.

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The changes will mean there will be no notification of neighbours when an application to build a garden suite is made. Nor will there be a public hearing that a rezoning would trigger. That concerned at least two councillors.

Coun. Pam Madoff said the proposal would be supportable if there were an opportunity for affected neighbours to receive notification of the plans.

“What can affect you more as an adjacent neighbour than a residence moving into the backyard of a property where you had absolutely no idea that this could even happen?” she said.

Mayor Lisa Helps said it would be sad if the city had to supply notification between neighbours.

“I trust, or I guess hope, that if a neighbour is going to build something that is going to impact their next-door neighbour, they’ll knock on the door and say: ‘Hey I’m doing this,’ even though there’s no requirement for them to do so.”

Coun. Geoff Young noted that a person could apply to build a garden suite that complied with the letter of the zoning — meeting setback, size and height requirements — and still throw a neighbour’s garden into shade or see the garden suite built immediately adjacent to a neighbouring house.

“I am a little concerned that as we embody these in zoning, we will get situations where neighbours are impacted in a way they don’t feel is reasonable,” he said.

He wondered how staff would adjudicate such situations.

Jonathan Tinney, the city’s director of sustainable planning and community development, said that is what the planning department is for. “We negotiate with developers all the time for design changes to minimize impacts on neighbours, to maintain privacy, decrease shading. … This is no different.

Since 2004, 29 applications for garden suites have been received, with 18 of those submitted completed. That compares poorly to Vancouver (even after the differences in population and laneway access are factored in), where a laneway housing program has been in place since 2009.

In the city of Vancouver, more than 800 permits for laneway housing have been issued and more than 500 built.

While city staff said there are several reasons for the low uptake, they thought it likely Victoria’s process for approval was too “onerous” — something that would be eased by removing the need for rezoning. The change will also eliminate the cost of a rezoning, about $1,500 to $2,000.

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Staff believe delegating authority has the potential to expedite the development-permit process and increase the number of applications.

Before giving final approval to the changes, the city will seek input from community-association land-use committees, members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability and groups that provided input to the task force.

Posted by Stephen Foster on
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