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Oak bay secondary suite survey results show varied results

Summary shows split opinions on potential rules around lot sizes, parking, licensing
Table shows district-wide secondary suite scenarios for Oak Bay. (Courtesy District of Oak Bay)

Results from the District of Oak Bay’s June 2021 survey on secondary suites, now publicly available online, reveal the interests of residents to be considerably varied and indecisive.

Questions, selected answers and comments from the survey, which was carried out by Urban Systems, addressed a variety of matters surrounding new and existing secondary suites in Oak Bay, including size, occupancy, parking and licensing.

South Oak Bay residents had the largest say in the survey, accounting for 38 per cent of respondents, while North Oak Bay had the least, accounting for 15 per cent. Additionally, 48 per cent of respondents claimed to live on a street containing secondary suites, 10 per cent said they owned a secondary suite and two per cent said they lived in one.

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A majority of respondents, 65 per cent, wanted secondary suite regulations to apply to both new and existing suites. Another majority, 56 per cent, wanted secondary suites to be permitted in all single family zones, 44 per cent of whom wanted to have no minimum lot size.

A third of respondents wanted there to be no maximum for lot size, with the other two thirds divided between a maximum of 90 and 150 square metres.

Roughly 54 per cent wanted occupancy to be permitted in either the main home or secondary suite, while on another question, 56 per cent of respondents did not want boarding uses and secondary suites to be allowed within the same single attached dwelling.

Half of respondents wanted one extra off-street parking space for both new and existing suites, while 38 per cent wanted no extra space.

Table shows district-wide secondary suite scenarios for Oak Bay. (Courtesy District of Oak Bay)

A majority, 53 per cent, wanted a district-initiated compliance program to be put alongside the current complaint-based approach, while 52 per cent wanted to enforce business licensing for secondary suite registration. On a related question, 53 per cent of respondents said suite operators need only follow basic health and safety regulations, while 47 per cent wanted full compliance with the district’s building code.

Of the district-wide scenarios for secondary suites, 39 per cent of respondents chose Scenario D, the most stringent option, and 31 per cent chose Scenario A, the least stringent. Finally, a majority of respondents, 59 per cent, did not wish to support a local pilot project for secondary suites.

“There was quite a wide discrepancy in terms of how to roll out the program,” said Coun. Tara Ney in reference to the results.

Ney said council’s priorities for secondary suites are accessibility, low costs, fairness and uptake and deciding between a more permissive or regulated program.

“If the idea is … a highly regulatory system that makes it onerous for homeowners to upgrade existing unregulated suites or to renovate their homes to put the suites in, then it will be a very slow uptake,” said Ney.

She also said there is opportunity for council to address parking in relation to creating a carbon-neutral community.

The study on secondary suites in Oak Bay was conducted after consultation with five comparison communities, including Saanich, Chilliwack, West Vancouver, Sidney and Esquimalt. The Township of Esquimalt recently legalized backyard suites for certain property types and was a prime model for the study, according to Urban Systems senior planner Dan Huang.

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While the results showed the community to be noticeably split on things like occupancy and parking, Huang said, there was also strong support for allowing secondary suites and strong compliance with general health and safety.

“Support for suites is growing overall in the community as housing becomes more unaffordable,” he said. “If you make the regulations too challenging, you won’t get compliance.”

Ney said an infill strategy will be the next agenda item for secondary suites when council returns in September.

For more information on secondary suites in Oak Bay, visit