Thursday, January 28, 2010

Suites are not sweet for all

After pondering the garden/garage suite issue I now understand the NIMBY stance. It doesn't surprise me that only 25% of people surveyed supported the concept without reservation. My bet would be that 25% included landlords and/or residents of new high-end neighbourhoods that would, in all likelihood, feel immune from the development. Nor does it surprise me that several Community Associations, particularly Nutana and Varsity View, oppose this zoning change. These areas have already felt the impact of absentee landlords and suites, both legal and illegal, in their residential areas. They know this is not a sweet deal.

All neighbourhoods have a mix of zoning that include residential, multiple dwelling and commercial. If you buy a home next to a commercial property or multiple dwelling complex, you should not expect to change the surrounding existing zoning. When you buy a home with a residential zoning in place you expect it to remain residential. For the city to arbitrarily consider changing that zoning without consent of the residents is at best high-handed.

When a residential neighbourhood starts to increase its rental component, families start to leave. When families leave and student populations decline, schools are at risk of closure. The decline begins.

I know there is a rental housing shortage, but I am not convinced this is the way to solve it. I am unclear as to whether these garden/garage suites will be subject to the Rentalsman. What I would bet money on is that these suites, if located on property where the homeowner is resident, will not be renting to Grover's former tenants.

The demonstration suites being proposed will no doubt be glitzed up. They will not look like the illegal ones that will spring up. And the city will not enforce its bylaws against illegal suites because the need for housing would be impacted. And if there are problems with noise or unacceptable behaviour you will find out how far down on the priority list those calls are to the police. This is like a bad movie playing over and over again.

I can see from council's perspective why this would be a sweet deal. It solves some of the affordable housing problem and properties with suites would garner a higher assessment and thus pay more property tax.

Why am I so concerned? I live in Nutana and I suspect my future is not going to 'shine.'


  1. On the flip side, it is an excellent way of increasing the density of our neighbourhoods, providing accomodations for a range of people (not just "low income" or rentals), and alleviating (though probably only slightly) the negative impacts of our ever expanding suburbs.

  2. That whole article interests me...mostly how the stats were presented. It lists the 25% that would be in favor without any restrictions and the 25% that oppose it all together and neglects to mention that the other 50% support them with restrictions for parking and site coverage etc......and well, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't every zoning district include regulations on parking and house size etc????

    So wouldn't that mean that 75% of people support garage suites if they are regulated the way that all development is regulated?? That is a great result from a public consultation.

    Personally I agree with Sean, it is a great way to increase density without having a significant impact on the aesthetic character of the neighbourhood and as a homeowner with a suite on the main floor of my house, I'd rather have that same suite above my garage. I really can't see how that would have more of an impact on the neighourhood than my current suite.

    In regards to the Mistress' note about these not being rented to former Grover tenants, well...being that you someone admittedly with more right wing political bent, I'd assume you would believe in the trickle down effect and I think these would have that effect. It wouldn't be the people renting from grover that would move in, but because someone moves into a nice garage suite with the owner living next door, it would free up other rental properties, etc, etc, with there finally be less people who have to rent from a slimebag like grover.

  3. I can see both sides to this argument. The rents in this city are unreasonable considering all factors.

    However, as a homeowner I do admit I have a not in my backyard thought with this. As much as I would love to help alleviate the stress of renters, when my wife and I purchased our current home priority one was finding a neighborhood that would be safe and suitable for raising our children, picking a house in the appropriate neighborhood became secondary. We ended up choosing a neighborhood with several families in it and not of lot of transient dwellers. Personally, with two small children running around I would not be in favour of my specific street allowing multiple garage suites to begin springing up. I apologize if that sounds like I'm associating renters and problems (that isn't my intention), but anyone with young children would understand where I am coming from.

  4. Sean S "On the flip side, it is an excellent way of increasing the density of our neighborhoods...."??? So would be mandating each family have 5 kids. I don't see that happening any time soon. I don't need or want higher density in our existing neighborhoods.

    What assurance is there that the "granny" suite would indeed be rented to a family member in need of housing? And what happens when the house is put up for sale? This is indeed the beginning of a decline in the quality of many of our existing neighborhoods.

    The City should have kept their hands out of the rental housing business from day one. The millions they have spent building social housing in this city could have been put to a better use of cleaning my street before the spring. Social housing is a Provincial matter and not something I want to see my property taxes paying for. Sorry a bit off topic.

    Back on track..
    Here's my issue with the City's rationale..

    On one hand the city is looking at lowering the height restrictions on Broadway because it "doesn't fit the historical aspect" thus lowering the density in this vibrant area, one which is within walking distance to the downtown

    And then turns around and says my quiet neighborhood, (which BTW is the reason I bought in the first place) can now house a myriad of rental properties, . NO THANK YOU!!!

    This is just the type of question that should be put forth to the electorate at the next civic election.

    So now we have 3 questions for the next vote.
    1. Should candidates have to reside in the ward they run in (I would add for their entire term of office)
    2. Should elections be held every 4 years instead of 3
    3. Should zoning changes be required to be voted on by the electorate?

    I'm up with that!

    before the liberal back lash I didn't say there isn't a need for social housing. I just don't believe this is the best way to go about the problem.

  5. Like the mistress – I live in a historic character neighbourhood. Unlike the mistress I have declined to adopt the NIMBY mentality and would welcome the introduction of garage suites.

    I am not about to say that there are not concerns with the proposal but I will emphatically state that the pros by far outweigh the cons.

    I look at the number of existing garages and am confident that most of them would not be knocked down to construct a new garage with a suite - therefore eliminating the fear of a garage suite on every lot.

    We have personally been waiting two years for this to pass so that we can build our garage and include a small suite for a University student. We currently have a suite in our basement and would like to reclaim that space for our growing family so that we can remain in our home.

    This is simple economics – supply and demand. Certain areas around city centre, U of S and Kelsey are going to be far more conducive for garage suites than others for their own reasons. Other areas like some newer developments would be attractive for young families purchasing a new home and wanting to consider living arrangements for aging parents or the opportunity to have a revenue generating space to help with that first mortgage> Later in life they would have teh ability to convert it to a home office or additional family space when the revenue may not be as critical or the need for family accommodation no longer exist.

    Just imagine the pedestrian corridors that would develop in the alley ways of neighbourhoods if renters started to live there. More eyes on the street – less crime, vandalism, and other undesirable activity!

    There should be some clear guidelines on these suites such as height restrictions, no side windows looking into neighbouring yards, one designated off street parking spot for the suite, and maybe even a stipulation that for the first 5 years the homeowner must reside in the primary dwelling (or even the suite) to avoid some of Saskatoon’s less reputable landlords from simply constructing new units for the simple purpose of an additional rent cheque.

    As a person that also choose an established neighbourhood to raise our young children in I would welcome the introduction of more “eyes on the street(alley)” and the opportunity to further diversify the cultural fabric of our neighbourhood by the introduction of students from across Saskatchewan, Canada and the world.

    The cynicism and uninformed views expressed by many NIMBY elitist can be easily challenged by reviewing the resounding success of this exact same strategy in the City of Edmonton.

    And for the record – I voted for Wall and Harper – so save your comments about any political affiliation to my views!

  6. I'm with the last commenter. Let's open up the neighbourhoods to more variety in their housing options. This city needs less NIMBYs and more IMBYs.

  7. So Anon 2:21
    You don't think windows on the side of the buildings should be allowed "to save the neighbours the agony of having a neighbour peering into their back yard. I would say the same condition exists for rear facing windows. As for your assertions that the lanes could become "friendlier places" I guess now that we have to place our filthy smelly garbage out on the front streets I would have to agree they may become more desirable than the front of our homes. Would there not be additional costs for street lighting and maintenance?

  8. Elaine makes a good point that the demonstration units will do more to deceive the public than anything else. While the demonstration units will be made to look the best they can possibly look, the viewers will be mislead into believing all future units will be governed by adequate regulations and will look equally as good. Alan Wallace and others within the planning department have reiterated over and over that the city currently has no power to control the look and shape of these new suites, or any future in-fill development for that matter beyond a few very broad controls over height, size, and position on the lot. This is where we differ greatly from other cities. Most other cities have changed their legislation many years ago to develop better character shaping tools that go beyond height, position, and size. This is largely why most other cities have much better quality development that we do. Once the public buys into this, and council pushes go, there is very little stopping me from dragging in my 1971 trailer, kicking out the wheels, doing a little insulating, etc, hooking up the water and sewer to push go. Where do you live Grizz, I think I'll put one next door!

    Here is the problem. While most other provinces have realized that improving the quality of design in their cities is a good investment that over time creates better public image, less static from the public, more security for those that have invested in a neighborhood, and better investment stability for developers about to invest in a neighborhood. Our provincial government has recently determined that giving these rights to our cities to govern will stand in the way of progress and stifle investment. our planning department has been asking for these rights from the government for the last year and a half and have been shut down. Until our city comes of age and acquires these rights from the province, I don't think we should be filling our lanes with a bunch of shanties.


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