There was diversity of opinions expressed Tuesday night (Sept. 12) by residents of Canmore on proposed changes to the community’s land use bylaw intended to make it easier for secondary suites to be developed in the community.
Canmore town council heard submissions at a public hearing on changes proposed to the Land Use Bylaw that included the green building section, rezoning of nine parcels of municipally owned land and omnibus amendments in addition to suite regulations.
For some, they challenged the bylaw on its technical advertising requirements, while others felt it is not appropriate for this council to consider such a major change just a month out from a municipal election. There were those concerned about how changes could increase illegal vacation rentals and some spoke out for increased affordable housing options in the community.
The community won’t have to wait long, however, for council to consider second and third reading to approve the bylaw with the intention to consider the changes before the Oct. 16 election.
Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association (BOWDA) executive director Ron Remple said while members of his organization support making it easier to create accessory dwelling units in the community, the regulations as proposed don’t take the community in that direction as currently written.
“Our designer members have tried working with the new regulations … and have indicated the new regulations are too restrictive to provide useful living space,” Remple said. “While we appreciate council wants to get this done during this term of council, BOWDA recommends council not approve second reading of the bylaw in October.
“This will allow more community input in the upcoming election, but it will also provide time for discussion and for administration to present regulations that provide reasonable living spaces, while not negatively impacting neighbourhoods.”
Miranda Rosin and Caylee LaBranche with the Canmore Young Adult Network spoke out in favour of suites as opportunities for housing the community’s younger generation.
Rosin said it isn’t buildings and structures that make Canmore a community, it is the people who live and work in it and that includes all ages and demographics.
“I know lots of young people who want to live here,” said the 22-year-old. “We want to grow up here and live here, but we cannot afford to live here.
“Perhaps these changes are the answer, or not the answer, maybe they are part of the answer, but something needs to be done.”
LaBranche said a future without young people living in the community is possible if elected officials don’t take action to address the issue of housing affordability and availability.
“Canmore is following the same path as other more mature resort communities where issues like housing costs have caused young adults, families to leave,” she said.
Canmore resident Megan Dalrymple spoke in support of changes to the bylaw which would make accessory dwelling units in single-family home and duplex neighbourhoods a permitted use.
It is a significant change and one that would open up many residential neighbourhoods to attached and detached secondary suites.
Dalrymple said she understands how those who oppose suites in their neighbourhoods feel threatened and have concerns with the change, but urged council to think about those who need housing and need it now.
“When we moved here, we all needed a place to live,” she said. “Something that didn’t break the bank, based on our lower wages, and a place to call home as we went out into our amazing surroundings and that is when we first fell in love with this town and started to see it as our home.
“Change is scary and change is unknown, but change doesn’t have to be negative. We all moved to this place to be part of this amazing community.”
Dalrymple said residents are fighting harder and harder to call Canmore home and finding affordable accommodation is more of a dream than a reality.
But revenue potential from suites being used as illegal vacation rentals was a concern for residents attending the public hearing as well. The community of Canmore is struggling with the effects of unauthorized nightly rentals on websites like Airbnb and VRBO.
That use is not permitted in residentially zoned neighbourhoods, but has been increasing and residents expressed frustration the municipality is not enforcing its own bylaws.
This week, the municipality announced it is beginning to undertake actual enforcement actions against property owners illegally renting their homes out on a nightly basis.
South Canmore resident Wayne Felesky argued against changes that would allow suites in single family neighbourhoods like his.
He said his family made an economic decision to purchase their home and feel their rights are being infringed upon by the proposed change.
Felesky said he has spent time with members of the planning department to try and understand the changes and he has concerns with how the bylaw sets out maximum unit size at 75 square metres, compared to the current 50 square metres allowed.
He said allowing bigger suites does nothing to achieve affordability, but could, in fact, increase the chances of illegal vacation homes instead.
“If you keep garden suites smaller, perhaps you could accomplish the mandate of affordable housing,” he said.
Felesky, like many others, questioned the proposed reduction in parking requirements for suites that are located near the downtown core or within 450 metres. He said accessory dwelling units should have parking required.
Mark Eckerly took a neutral stance on the bylaw. He said suites fill a need, but he has concerns around the potential for abuse, and parking.
“I think we really do need parking to be included,” he said.
Former town councillor John Kende argued against the bylaw and told council he considers the change being proposed to be a complete rezoning of all single family and duplex properties in the community.
“This is not the agenda for council’s last three weeks to do,” Kende said.
Gary Dudinsky echoed the concerns of residents who feel the change is an unwanted increase in density for their neighbourhoods.
“I bought there because I wanted the look, feel and character of an R1 neighbourhood, not the multi-density look and feel of an R2 or R3 neighbourhood,” Dudinsky said. “If the current bylaw goes ahead, it will be rare for a true R1 neighbourhood to exist.
“This (bylaw) changes the look, feel and character of my neighbourhood in a negative way and it is not the intent of the R1 neighbourhood.”