Secondary Dwelling Units (SDUs) appear to be on the verge of approval in Pelham following a June 14 Council Committee of the Whole meeting.
The virtual gathering wasn’t without critique by councillors of the most recent staff report however, including Ward 2’s John Wink pointing out a potential loophole that could allow landowners to build higher structures than the existing primary dwelling on a given property.
“My concern is you’ve got a bungalow, and you can put a two-storey second dwelling unit behind it, and it will detract from the look of the neighbourhood,” Wink said.
Such a design could be viewed as optically poor in the “urban zone” of Fonthill.
Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens acknowledged that the verbiage of the proposed bylaw could be cleaned up, saying that allowances have been built in to permit someone to construct an SDU over a garage.
However, as Wink pointed out, the majority of garages in Fonthill are attached to primary residences, whereas separate garage structures tend to be more common in rural areas on bigger lots.
Wink’s fellow Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore agreed with him.
“It just wouldn’t make sense, especially if you walk [Strathcona Drive] where you have these single-level dwellings and all of sudden you come upon in the backyard you see a two-level building,” Kore said. “It just wouldn’t suit the neighbourhood.”
Wiens said she heard the concerns “loud and clear” and would make adjustments.
Earlier, however, Kore seemed to almost voice suspicion over the basic idea of SDUs after being told by Wiens that a property owner is not legally required to live on their property that would have an SDU.
“So then, we’re just creating duplex and triplex units … so there’s a possibility of entrepreneurs buying these residences and flipping them over to duplex or triplexes?” the longtime businessman asked.
Wiens explained that zoning bylaws cannot control who lives in a house.
Kore briefly considered tabling an amendment, but then answered his own question.
“Could we amend the policy … I’m sorry you answered the question, so we cannot force the principal owner to be a resident?”
Correct, Wiens replied.
“Through zoning that’s not something we’re able to do,” the director said. “It’s actually a Charter right.”
Meanwhile, Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt took issue with staff for not including density targets in revised SDU forecasts.
“I guess I didn’t make myself clear at the last meeting on February 8th, because I thought I specifically stated that I wanted the SDU counted as density and intensification, and I see there is no comments with regards to that,” he said.
Wiens replied that while intensification targets were incorporated in the report, it is virtually impossible to count density targets because the Town has no way of predicting how many SDUs may be constructed.
“If we do allow this to happen … we would then have to calculate the density on a theoretical basis, whereas in the intensification we can track it through the building permits,” she said.
“We should include, even if you have to do a calculation,” Hildebrandt retorted.
Wiens said staff would “look at it” but again stressed it wasn’t normal.
“When we’re developing new subdivisions … it’s not something we have at that point in time,” she said.
When we’re developing new subdivisions … it’s not something we have at that point in time
Wiens later said that staff expected about two to three percent of eligible property owners to apply to build SDUs. “We don’t expect over time that a large number of people would do this,” she said.
Still, support remains strong among many residents considering where to house either aging or just-starting-out family members, or even those interested in creating revenue streams by renting out apartments. The only two members of the public to appear at last Monday’s meeting —Tim Nohara (also chair of the Town’s Cannabis Control Committee) and John Cappa (owner of an Emmett Street home illegally turned into a duplex)—both spoke in favour of SDUs. Mayor Marvin Junkin said several of his neighbours have asked him how the SDU matter is progressing.
“I think initially we’ll see … quite a few people take advantage of this,” the Mayor said. “I think it’s a great thing for affordable housing, and great for the community.”
Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson went a step farther, suggesting that the SDU size allowances in the rural/agricultural area be made bigger. They are currently proposed at a maximum of 1,000 square feet.
“I think they could be 1,250 to 1,500,” he said.
While it goes without saying that secondary structures could be bigger on larger land lots, Wiens said the proposed cap was related to water and sewage infrastructure. She added that an affordability balance was also trying to be struck.
“Once you get to 1,200 to 1,500 square feet, you’re getting another house and it’s not necessarily going to hit an affordable target,” she said.
Olson also brought up a program offered through Niagara Regional Housing (NRH), which provides forgivable loans of up to $25,000 for property owners who meet certain criteria to build SDUs. However, according to NRH’s website—which incorrectly lists “Fonthill” in its list of Niagara municipalities — those in the Town who wish to qualify need to have an existing property valued at $737,108, the highest of any in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake lists a qualification value of $686,000, and Welland at $419,563).
Ward 3 Councillor Lisa Haun brought up Pelham’s long-awaited parking study, which she previously sought to have released before council made a decision on SDUs.
However, Wiens said the ongoing pandemic has delayed the parking study because traffic has been at lower levels — something she expected to begin changing as restrictions are lifted.
Haun said that her concern regarded SDU residents parking on streets, given that the Planning Act requires just one parking space per unit.
Wiens said that as matters currently stand, that’s perfectly legal. “On-street parking is something we do allow in the Town of Pelham, except during winter snow events,” she said.
Haun suggested that once the study was complete, perhaps parking and non-parking zones could be investigated further. One thing that apparently won’t be permitted is increasing the driveway size of townhomes, which are also set to be allowed to build SDUs under the proposed bylaw.
Ward 1 Councillor Marianne Stewart voiced concern about this, saying townhouse yards are “notoriously small … and have inadequate parking to begin with.”
Wiens said these aesthetics have been addressed.
“We were quite deliberate in putting in the maximum width of driveways,” the director said. “We don’t want to see front yards being taken up and turned into parking lots.”
When asked if an applicant could take such a request to the Committee of Adjustment for a variance, Wiens said they could, but would need to adequately demonstrate a hardship and need.
Staff is expected to make revisions and bring the report back to Council in July. It’s conceivable the policy could come into effect by the end of summer.