A proposed change to regulations governing secondary suites in North Saanich could leave a local residents’ association on its own to fight new ones in court.
The District of North Saanich is considering making its secondary suites bylaw cover the entire municipality, allowing homeowners to apply to the District to build one as they would anywhere else, and eliminate small pockets of the community where secondary suites are not allowed.
On Monday, council voted to put the idea to the public at a hearing.
Currently, the District has a few exclusion areas — meaning the District will not consider allowing secondary suites in those residential areas, and responds to complaints about them. The most notable exclusion area is the Dean Park Estates subdivision, representing 782 properties. That ‘Secondary Suite Exclusion Area’ was put into place in 2016, after years of going back and forth on the issue.
Now, District council has voted to consider removing that exclusion area following a request this past summer from another neighbourhood, asking for the same thing. A request by residents of the Sandover subdivision made to council June 26 was denied and council asked District staff to report on implications of existing exclusion areas on municipal staff and resources. In a report to council on Oct. 23, staff stated that since 2015, North Saanich has received nine complaints about secondary suites in Dean Park out of a total of 14 complaints on the same topic throughout the District as a whole.
“Overall the Dean Park Exclusion Area has resulted in an increase in bylaw enforcement efforts and an additional demand on the District’s building department for inspections,” stated the report.
Complicating the matter has been the existence of a covenant on those properties within Dean Park Estates. That covenant restricts what people can do on their properties — including not allowing secondary suites — and is overseen by the Dean Park Estates Community Association (DPECA). According to North Saanich’s Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan, the covenant is private — between landowners and DPECA — and is not registered with the District. That means any dispute over property use is a matter North Saanich as a municipality would not get involved in.
Over the years, however, the District has gotten involved, specifically with its exclusion area bylaw, and contributed to confusion over who has jurisdiction. Buchan said should council vote to drop the exclusion area at Dean Park Estates, “there’d be nothing (for the District) to enforce) other than its own bylaws, which apply across the municipality.
He said such covenants potentially override local government bylaws, adding that would leave any disputes between homeowners in that subdivision and DPECA a matter for civil courts.
Mayor Alice Finall said the issue has gone back and forth over the years, adding she supported putting the exclusion area in place at Dean Park Estates “for a number of reasons.” Now, she said she’s supporting council’s review of the policy and a public hearing on the matter.
“There are other covenanted areas and one recently asked the District to be excluded (from secondary suites) as well,” Finall said, adding one of the District councillors raised the issue recently, and suggested North Saanich lift the Dean Park Estates exclusion area.
Part of the argument, too, is about North Saanich’s strategic plan which, in part, calls for more variety in housing options.
“Secondary suites already do exist there,” continued the mayor., “The number is as low as 40, but it’s still a noticeable number. And if they do exist, there should be health and safety considerations when they are built.”
Existing bylaws within the District already regulate secondary suites and ensure they’re built to code. A concern among staff and council is suites could pop up in exclusion areas and not be reported and their condition unknown.
Both Buchan and Finall noted a legal opinion for the District on the Dean Park Estates covenant stated restrictions on secondary suites under the DPECA covenant (called statutory building schemes) “not definitive.”
Earlier this year, DPECA and the statutory building schemes was challenged by a resident in civil court. That matter was about an outbuilding, but the homeowner won the case, with the court noting generally that some aspects of the covenant were difficult to enforce.
The News Review has emailed DPECA for comment. In a letter emailed to homeowners in Dean Park Estates on Oct. 30, DPECA stated it favours North Saanich keeping the exclusion area in place “thereby preventing confusion and possible legal actions amongst existing and future property owners…”
Buchan said the idea behind council’s debate on the matter is to reduce confusion. Should the exclusion area be removed, he explained, any dispute over land use would between two parties, not three.
In their letter to residents, DPECA said the loss of the exclusion area would lead to more suites, more cars parked in the streets, more people impacting District services, loss of ability to complain to the District’s bylaw enforcement services and even a decrease in property values. They are encouraging concerned residents to let North Saanich council know their feelings.
No date has been set for the public hearing.