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Saanich council wants to ban rural secondary units while adding urban density

New Bill 44 in effect June 30 require allowing rural secondary suites and urban multi-unit housing
This map shows the areas in Saanich where single family and duplex zoning restrictions will be replaced by areas allowing three-, four- or six-unit housing. (Map courtesy District of Saanich)

As Saanich brings itself into compliance with new provincial housing legislation, the district council has fully embraced increased zoning density within urban parts of the district, but wants to put the breaks on growth in rural areas.

The council decided at its Monday (May 13) meeting that in rural areas, even secondary suites are too much. Councillors voted to write to the province and ask for an exception to new rules that require these types of units be allowed on properties outside the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB).

“Our Official Community Plan and land use policies direct growth and density to occur within the urban areas, while protecting the rural and farmlands outside the Urban Containment Boundary from urban encroachment and sprawl,” Mayor Dean Murdock said in an email on Thursday.

At the Monday meeting councillors also gave preliminary approval to broad zoning changes in urban areas of the district to comply with the new provincial legislation mandating small-scale, multi-unit housing be allowed in places previously limited to single family homes and duplexes.

Areas within the UCB will soon be required to allow — depending on lot size and proximity to transit hubs — three-, four- or six-unit buildings. These new rules must be in place by June 30, according to provincial legislation contained in Bill 44, which passed the legislature last fall.

Individual building permits would still need to be applied for before development, and other more localized or lot-specific conditions may also need to be met.

Speaking at the council meeting, Murdock noted that the newly passed Official Community Plan lays out a future in Saanich that aims to “keep our growth compact.”

“We know that by growing outside the Urban Containment Boundary that’s not going to be the case — even if it’s just suites,” he said.

Murdock and several councillors gave reasons for restricting rural growth that included a desire to preserve green space and to make sure the district does not have to spend too much money on spread out infrastructure.

Councillors heard from multiple people at the meeting who want to not only keep their secondary suites, but be allowed to build accessory dwellings as well, arguing that on rural land units in separate building like those above a garage are very common.

They also argued that farmers and others in rural Saanich need the extra income they can earn from renting those units out.

“I don’t think Saanich maybe recognizes the importance of secondary living units on agricultural land today,” said Wayne Hopkins of Prospect Lake Road. “There’s not too many farmers in Saanich who can make a living solely of their farm.”

Coun. Colin Plant was the sole dissenter on the plan to try to ban secondary suites on rural properties, saying these units aren’t really “urban” development, and that considering historic numbers of how many properties actually seek these units, it is clear that the impact is actually minimal.

“The notion that this is going to lead to the absolute collapse of the urban containment boundary — I don’t believe to be the case based on what has happened to date,” he said.

READ MORE: Saanich council adopts new Official Community Plan

About the Author: Mark Page

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