Demand building for years for “granny suites”
Pelham Town Council held a public meeting on second dwelling units Feb. 8, and while the majority of councillor and resident feedback on the matter seemed supportive of the idea, a move appears afoot to delay any such passage until after the Town’s long-awaited parking study is released.
Under the provincial Planning Act, municipalities are required to address housing needs by permitting landowners to construct second dwelling units (SDUs), either on their property or within their existing homes. Pelham can be expected to see a proliferation of “granny suites” or secondary structures once the bylaw is passed, and Town staff said demand has been building for years.
Policy planner Tara Lynn O’Toole told council that staff fields an average of two-to-three inquiries per month on the issue, mostly from residents wishing to construct units for loved ones — often senior citizens.
O’Toole ran down the list of proposed regulations, which would permit such units in all zoned areas, but with variances. Rules would stipulate one SDU per property, that a separate SDU structure could not exceed the size of the existing primary residence, and that SDUs within an existing house would be limited to just 700 square feet.
The latter detail concerned resident Anne Matthews, who told council the SDU proposal would allow her father — who suffers from dementia — to live onsite with her family.
“My parents, they’ve been married for over 50 years, and I don’t know if they could survive even pre-dementia in 700 square feet together,” Matthews said.
Director of Planning and Community Development Barb Wiens addressed that question later, saying staff was trying to find some balance in the proposed act.
“We’ve been tossing that around, Wiens said. “We’re trying to achieve the affordability targets.”
As such, the SDUs could also be rentable income property for landowners, something that addresses the province’s widespread housing affordability issue. That drew the concern of noted rental property opponents Marianne Stewart and Ron Kore.
Stewart didn’t like idea of the proposed bylaw not requiring the primary residence to be owner-occupied, while Kore asked Wiens several questions—including whether an SDU could be used as a short-term rental.
“No,” Wiens replied, reminding Kore of the bylaw banning short-term rentals that he helped spearhead last year. Wiens also added that any attempt to sell an SDU as a separate real estate entity would require property severance and relevant zoning amendments.
The matter of parking, however, provided the most logical pushback.
The staff report proposes one parking “stall” per SDU, something that Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt said wasn’t enough.
“We already know one parking space per unit doesn’t work,” he said. “When you look at some of the streets in East Fonthill, you can hardly drive down them. It’s almost as if this parking study is needed before we pass the second dwelling policy.”
Pelham’s municipal parking study is expected in April after a COVID-related delay.
Councillor Lisa Haun agreed with Hildebrandt, citing condo life in larger cities as proof that just one car per household may not be an adequate presumption for a smaller unit.
Hildebrandt also asked that SDUs be included in municipal intensification targets, something that they are currently not, because of the shifting nature of usage.
The majority of feedback was supportive of SDUs, and one resident urged council to not waste time.
“I’m not sure we have to reinvent the wheel here,” resident John Cappa said. “Other municipalities have done this per provincial rules. We really need to get going on this. Not everybody ended up with a big retirement bank account. To me, if a senior can live the last 10-15 years of their life in their own community, going to their own stores, talking to their own friends, what better to way to reward a citizen of our community.”
Cappa and his wife, Jill, were the target of local ire throughout 2019 when the couple divided an investment property—a single-family residence on Emmett St., in Fonthill— into an illegal duplex. The Town eventually directed that the added unit be vacated after a sustained lobbying effort spearheaded by adjacent and nearby neighbours.
To deny that there’s a need for this, is just not socially responsible
Mayor Marvin Junkin and Ward 1 councillor Wayne Olson echoed Cappa’s thinking.
“My two cents on this item is it’s long overdue for this town,” Junkin said. “There’s so many elderly people out there that do not have enough money saved up to afford what it takes to live in a seniors’ building, and the fact they can stay with their loved ones is just compelling for us to get this done as soon as we can, and as least-disruptive to neighbourhoods as we can. To deny that there’s a need for this, is just not socially responsible.”
Olson added that constituents have also pointed out to him it would be a benefit for disabled residents as well.
“The idea that this will aid so many family situations, I find attractive,” he said.
Emmett St. resident Mike Jones, however, provided resistance. Jones accused the Town of “a lack of transparency” on the matter, decrying the Town’s two notices in The Voice and public information on the municipal website.
“Too many citizens don’t have the knowledge of how to maneuver the website or have a computer,” he said. “This is a major attempt to change the town’s identity and lifestyle.”
Jones asked for an in-person public meeting on the matter when the pandemic is over. (Jones lives next to the home that the Cappas attempted to turn into a duplex.)
Later, Junkin asked staff about the feasibility of mailing out information to all residents, addressing the concern about lack of a computer.
CAO David Cribbs replied it would not be practical, costing the Town approximately $15,000 in stationery and postage alone. Cribbs also took issue with the notion that residents would be in the dark regarding any planning matters.
“We’ve been functioning really well in COVID shutdown for months now,” the CAO said. “The reality is that during lockdown we have a far higher rate of civic engagement because people are reading the newspaper, because people do watch us on Zoom, et cetera. That engagement’s up, not down. The sentiment is reversed from the reality.”
Council voted to receive the report.
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