Kamloops renter Zonia Hadym listened with interest to residents’ input on Tuesday night in the Valley First Lounge at Sandman Centre.
The 57-year-old has been looking for affordable rental accommodations to no avail and thinks loosening city rules around suites could improve supply.
“I’ve been looking for housing for over two years now,” Hadym said. “People with disabilities, low-income, someone who has pets, you need storage space — it’s really hard for people with disabilities to find anything in Kamloops. There’s just nothing available.”
About 75 people gathered to learn more and provide feedback about proposed zoning changes to allow suites in more areas of the city. Homeowners, landlords and neighbours posed question after question to city staff about legal suite incentives, illegal suite enforcement and that dreaded seven-letter word that adds to congestion on some streets with suites.
“My main thing is just parking,” landlord and resident Vicki Stoppler told KTW.
The city is seeking public feedback on whether to allow suites in more urban residential areas of the city. As of now, secondary suites — basement or above-ground dwellings in a house — are zoned for only some areas of the city, primarily in North Kamloops. Garden suites (self-contained one-storey units) and carriage suites (self-contained two-storey dwellings sometimes on top of a garage) are typically the result of rezoning.
The city is proposing to allow secondary suites and garden suites in single-family dwellings in all urban neighbourhoods, which would impact about 93 per cent of the population from Aberdeen to Juniper to Westsyde. Carriage suites would remain status quo to protect neighbourhood character and privacy. Suites would still be regulated via building and development permits, but land use would be permitted, eliminating the barrier of a public hearing.
City planner Carmin Mazzotta explained changes would encourage sensitive infill, promote sustainability by making use of existing services and infrastructure and increasing cycling, transit and walking and improve tenant health and safety by making it easier to abide by the rules and thereby discouraging illegal suites, which are rampant throughout the city.
The rental supply would also likely increase, he said, which would help people like Hadym, who are faced with a one per cent rental vacancy market and increased housing prices.
“Housing is a key piece here,” Mazzotta said.
Homeowners, however, want reassurances. On the matter of parking, the city’s planning and development supervisor, Erik Beach, said legal suites require three unstacked parking spaces. Three cars must fit in a row, not lined up one behind another, for a suite to be legal. Cul-de-sacs are also off limits because frontages must be 15 metres and homes on cul-de-sacs typically have nine-metre frontages.
To avoid what Beach called a “sea of parking”, the city also requires 40 per cent front yard landscaping.
“We’re trying to maintain the look that there’s not just cars, parking lots everywhere, so you soften that street image,” he told KTW.
One resident noted limited incentive to rip up their front yard and spend money on additional parking, with ample space across the street and when other homes have several vehicles resulting from large families or boarders.
Single-family homes in Kamloops are allowed two boarders without added parking. That means one house with two parking spaces could serve a family and two renters. In addition, housing values and, by extension, property taxes would increase if B.C. Assessment got wind of a secondary suite.
The city’s lone property inspector Brad Batter, said Kamloops has taken a “passive approach” to illegal suites, targeting ones with the most problems. With all that said, residents posed the question: Why not just put in a suite illegally?
“Peace of mind,” Beach replied, emphasizing tenant health and safety. Mazzotta reminded residents the city is taking suggestions for possible incentives to homeowners.
Residents can give feedback online and complete a survey at letstalk.kamloops.ca/suites. The survey closes Feb. 24. Next steps include bringing the feedback to council before suggested zoning amendments are considered, in addition to a public-awareness campaign.