Proposed new standards for backyard suites are set to go before city council Monday, with changes aimed at addressing issues including privacy concerns in neighbouring yards and the impact of building height and size.
The revised standards come after council voted last March to add secondary suites and backyard suites as a discretionary use in the remaining neighbourhoods where the suites were not allowed. Before allowing backyard suites in these areas, council directed staff to come back with restrictive standards for suite design in all land use districts.
A backyard suite, also known as a laneway house, carriage house, garden suite or garage suite, is a second residence located behind or beside a primary residence. In a proposed “how-to guide” on backyard suite design, the residences are described as providing flexibility for homeowners in situations like the need to provide a home for an aging parent, to supplement income with rent, or to house a caregiver.
The guide outlines design principles for aspects including building placement, sunlight and shadowing, height, window and balcony placement, and access.
Inner city Coun. Druh Farrell, long a proponent of alternate housing types, said the standards will help improve the quality of design and take into account “the interface between neighbours.”
“I anticipate that it will help provide direction for people who are seeking laneway units,” she said. “And we’re certainly seeing more and more built in Calgary.”
Coun. George Chahal said backyard suites are a good housing option, particularly where there is a rear lane and sufficient parking.
“It can provide a homeowner who’s been maybe residing on the property for a number of years additional income,” he said. “Also, an opportunity to get somebody to help out on the site as well, whether it be cutting grass or shovelling snow … it’s another form of housing that could allow many in our communities to age in place.”
Staff are proposing a series of amendments to the Land Use Bylaw to: reduce the maximum building height at the side and rear property lines shared with another residential property; specify that balconies be located either facing the lane or the yard shared with the main house and that portions of the balcony that are close to a neighbouring yard be screened for privacy; and to increase building separation distance and yard area.
“The recommended amendments to the Suites Policy, the Backyard Suite How-to Guide and associated Land Use Bylaw amendments will encourage well designed backyard suites that fit better in existing neighbourhoods, increasing support for the form and therefore contributing to increasing housing options and density at a scale that fits with the neighbourhood,” the staff report reads.
The report urges council to hold a public hearing, adopt the bylaw amendments and adopt proposed changes to the backyard suites policy.
The staff recommendations follow a consultation process that involved workshops with representatives from community organizations and an online survey. Considerations identified by participants included parking, a need for clearly defined guidelines, maintaining community character and taking neighbour privacy concerns into account.
When city council approved secondary suite reforms in March, they also adopted a bylaw requiring every suite to be registered with the city to ensure they meet safety code standards, and passed a two-year amnesty period for development permit fees.
According to city staff, the number of applications submitted for secondary suites has increased significantly since the changes were implemented, going from less than 30 development permit applications in April to nearly 60 in October.
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