Secondary suites not sweet enough for city council

The Students’ Union’s hope of getting secondary suites on city hall’s agenda was dashed July 19, after council voted against reconsidering the issue. Alderman Joe Connelly brought forward the new proposal drafted by the SU and the Urban Calgary Students’ Association.

SU vice-president external Hardave Birk hoped the motion to reexamine the issue would get the 10 votes needed. It got eight.

“Obviously we’re unhappy that it wasn’t voted to be reconsidered,” said Birk. “We had the support of eight aldermen for reconsideration, but that wasn’t quite enough.”

“I’m a little bit angry,” said UrbanCSA vice-president external Andrew Sedor, adding other major post-secondary institutions also supported the proposal. “It’s a large chunk of the city that a lot of the aldermen didn’t listen to.”

The proposal called for a new zoning condition allowing secondary suites to be developed in areas 400 metres around an LRT station.

Secondary suites are typically redeveloped basements or garages homeowners turn into living space and rent out. Community associations have had issue with the suites, citing fears of changing single family neighbourhoods along with increased congestion and parked cars on the streets. The SU recommendation said nearby C-Trains could replace personal transportation. Ward Six alderman Joe Connelly agreed with the premise and brought the proposal forward to city council to study its potential.

“In the past we’ve had spot zoning,” Connelly said. “We pick one house in the middle of a community and turn it into a secondary suite and that’s not really conducive. You need to have a policy that covers everything, and that’s why I liked this.”

“Most Calgarians are in favour,” said Sedor. “I just don’t think the politicians are getting the right message and if they are, they’re getting them from the wrong people.”

Alderman Ric McIver previously brought the issue of secondary suites to city council on June 7, and voted in favour of discussing the item again. He said while he didn’t completely support the proposal as it had been written by the SU, he was open to rediscussing the topic.

“The reconsideration would have given me the opportunity to do the whole job right, rather than just a piece of it,” said McIver. “We need to talk about the whole city, not just within 400 metres of the LRT stations, so it’s very incomplete in that way.”

Birk disagreed with McIver’s assessment. Previous suite discussion had prompted Birk to look at ways to increase affordable student housing while

see council vote, page 4

limiting the impact to the wider city.

“There are notices of motion that have come before city council before, addressing the whole city and they have consistently failed,” Birk said. “What we were trying to do with this proposal was specifically tailor it towards people who don’t traditionally support secondary suite development so we could get something for students.”

The council meeting went late into the evening and Connelly’s secondary suites motion was not voted on until 9:45 p.m.. Birk thinks that the long meeting may have swayed the vote.

“I think there is the possibility that some aldermen who opposed reconsideration did it simply because it was such a large agenda already,” said Birk. “Since they felt like this would be reconsidering something they had already discussed they didn’t feel like they needed to delve into it.”

Sedor also wondered if a shorter agenda would have led to more discussion.

“If it was the only item on the table, they might have actually talked about it,” said Sedor. “That was the thing I was really hoping for, just some discussion. I would have been happy with that.”

When asked why he thought the motion failed to pass through council McIver noted that Connelly had brought forward several motions including secondary suites.

“It overloaded the agenda, I don’t think that helped frankly,” said McIver. “I think there was a feeling that it was more of a getting ready for a campaign push than serious business.”

“With an election coming up I don’t want to say everything that happens on council has to do with politics,” said Birk. “But a number of [motions] do.”

Ward One alderman Dale Hodges, who represents the university area, voted against reopening the discussion on suites.

“He had told us that he would vote in favour, but unfortunately we didn’t get that support,” said Birk, who hasn’t had the chance to speak with the alderman since. “I’m not really sure why. “

“From my point of view, at least he took the time,” said Sedor on Hodges’ vote. “Unlike some other aldermen who didn’t return our calls and didn’t even hear us out.”

Hodges was unavailable for comment.

Birk said students will have a chance to question Hodges and other Ward One candidates as well as mayoral candidates, about their support of student issues at SU hosted candidate forums this fall.

As the largest student issue of the municipal race in Birk’s eyes, he is satisfied with having raised the profile of secondary suites. After meeting with the majority of mayoral candidates the VP believes the housing problem will be on the city’s agenda after the election.

“I think the fact that this will be an election issue and this is something that a lot of the candidates have been talking about is a good thing,” said Birk. “I think there’s a good chance that when the new council comes in they’ll be willing to take more drastic action.

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