By Kate Irwin
Public consultation is complete and a new bylaw amendment is moving forward that will allow rural residents north of Invermere to create rentable secondary suites on their property.
Unless amended at Regional District of East Kootenay meetings on Friday, August 3rd, the new bylaw will only permit auxiliary suites in single family dwellings and garages within Electoral Area G.
The current bylaw draft does not permit suites in much of Area F, including Athalmer, Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere, and Columere Park. However, a small number of single family dwellings in the rural areas and at Panorama Mountain Village will be permitted to construct suites.
Almost 30 homeowners stepped forward to give their views on the proposed bylaw amendment, some by letter to the Regional District, the rest at a public hearing on July 24th at the Edgewater Community Hall.
Of those, 19 residents were in favour of suites in their community or for the entire valley, two were neutral, and seven individuals and community associations spoke out against allowing suites in their area.
“I think over time people will understand that [secondary suites] are an important component of affordable housing in the area,” said Gerry Wilkie, Area G director. “Most people at the hearing supported the concept in general … some Area F residents expressed disappointment they would not have the opportunity to set up secondary suites.”
The exclusion of all communities within the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan and Fairmont Hot Springs Official community plan areas, came at the request of Area F director, Wendy Booth. The request was due to strong opposition from community associations in Columere Park, Columbia Ridge, Spirits Reach and Timber Ridge, and no residents stepping forward by mid-July to speak in favour of the move, she said.
“The electorate is my boss; I take direction from them and can’t go ahead without that,” Ms. Booth told The Pioneer. “Lots of people are against this just as some are for it … it was a pretty even split of opinion at the public hearing.”
Of the residents of Area F, nine contacted the Regional District to speak in favour of granting permission for suites in their area.
Two individuals, plus the Columere Park, Columbia Ridge, Spirits Reach and Timber Ridge community associations went on record against secondary suites.
“To say the reaction on the part of Timber Ridge property owners was negative would be an understatement,” said Terri Adair, of the Timber Ridge Property Owners’ Association in a letter to the Regional District; citing lack of parking, community congestion, increased duress on septic systems and overcrowded common areas as key concerns residents brought forward.
“I was somewhat overwhelmed by the degree of concern and the emotions the proposal generated, particularly among the permanent and near-permanent residents.”
Windermere’s Bram Rossman has been a vocal opponent of excluding Area F from the new bylaw.
“Excluding Area F from these great changes is a shortsighted and backwards move,” he said, in a letter to the Regional District. “I believe the proposed secondary suites zoning bylaw should be implemented across the entire Columbia Valley.
“The proposed bylaw is a fantastic way to deal with a whole host of issues including everything from affordable housing to grant application criteria and many more.”
Secondary suites are currently permitted in Radium Hot Springs and Invermere, and limited portions of Fairmont and Panorama, but none of the valley’s other towns and villages.
If the bylaw amendment is adopted by the Regional District board of directors on Friday, August 3rd, all Area G residents will be able to build a secondary suite on their property, provided it meets the Regional District requirements.
Area F residents can apply on a case-by-case basis to the Regional District to request rezoning of their property to allow a secondary suite or legalize an existing suite, said Jean Terpsma, planner. There is no guarantee an application will be approved, she added.
Limited areas of Fairmont and Panorama currently zoned R-1(C), where suites are already permitted, will be unaffected.