An aerial image of the Copper Ridge subdivision taken in 2011. Whitehorse city council is being asked to approve a zoning amendment to allow living suites at two adjacent Copper Ridge addresses. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

How suite it is: Whitehorse council mulls amendment to allow suites where they’re currently banned

Coun. Dan Boyd fears move a slippery slope to more affordable housing

Coun. Dan Boyd said it could be “the tip of the iceberg” if council approves a zoning amendment to allow living suites at two adjacent Copper Ridge addresses.

“You start with two, and then two more and two more and then under what grounds would you start saying no?” he asked during the Feb. 19 standing committees meeting. “I’m wondering if we should refer this to the (Official Community Plan) review rather than starting down what could be a slippery slope.”

The houses, both on North Star Drive, are zoned restricted residential detached (RR). Of the 966 single-detached lots in Copper Ridge, 120 are zoned RR, a designation that doesn’t allow suites. The zoning was created, according to a city report presented to council, “prior to the concept of promoting denser development and instead places emphasis on larger, more exclusive estate lots.”

Both applications are asking for living suites, which are separate, self-contained units in the existing house. This differs from a garden suite, which is a separate structure on the lot.

In 2016, an online survey was issued to all RR property owners in Whitehorse. According to Ben Campbell, planner with the City of Whitehorse, there are roughly 200 RR-zoned properties located in areas of Copper Ridge, Logan, Porter Creek and Whistle Bend. Twenty-five per cent of property owners responded. Of those, 55 per cent were supportive of the idea of allowing suites in the RR zone.

Those opposed worried an increase in residents would lead to parking issues. They also worried it would negatively impact property values. Some said they had purchased homes there specifically because of the restrictions around suites.

Those in support said the large lots made the properties good locations for suites. They also felt suites would help address affordable housing issues in the city while promoting higher density.

The city didn’t pursue this designation at the time.

“We didn’t have a huge amount of, I guess, confidence in that response rate so we weren’t entirely comfortable bringing forward more of a global change based on that response rate,” Campbell told the News over the phone.

Because of that, administration decided to leave it.

“I’m wondering if it would have merit to actually send (RR property owners) another survey saying ‘you know in your restricted residential zoning, we’re considering an application to change two to allow living suites,’” said Boyd during the standing committees meeting. “Because if I was one of them, I’m not, but if I was one, it’s the tip of an iceberg, I might have a viewpoint now that things might be changing for the zoning I’m in.”

Mike Ellis, senior planner with the City of Whitehorse, told Boyd he would caution against that.

“We should be careful of expanding notification into areas that are not directly affected and not specified in our bylaws as it could be seen as looking for opposition for specific application,” he said.

Ellis said such a survey would be appropriate if the zoning was changing for everyone who owned an RR property. The fact that the applications have come directly from the property owners means the zoning would only change for those two houses.

As for Boyd’s suggestion that the city look at the amendment as part of a review of the OCP, Campbell said that’s a possibility.

“That’s certainly something council can direct administration to do as part of the next official plan,” he said. “That’s a topic that’s definitely appropriate for the OCP, you know, about density within existing neighbourhoods and meeting growth within our existing neighbourhods.”

In the report presented to council by Ellis, staff analysis found the amendments in line with the OCP, as well as with the City’s Strategic Plan Update 2017, which lists affordable housing and planning for growth as priorities.

If council approves the applications as they are, it will be the first time an RR-zoned property has been allowed a living suite.

There have been two previous applications, both for living suites.

One was in the Logan subdivision in 2001 and one was in Porter Creek in 2014. Both were defeated.

In the case of the Porter Creek lot, Campbell said the lot in question was one that had been created during the 2011 infill planning process. At the time, the public asked for the lots to be zoned RR, in order to maintain consistent large lot size in the area.

Council defeated the 2014 application to avoid being contrary to the infill process.

“These are past decisions that don’t bind council on whether they could approve or deny or amend a bylaw,” said Campbell. “So they do it on a case by case basis.”

Campbell also said the majority of residential zones allow for living suites.

He said most Copper Ridge properties allow for both living and garden suites, as do a number of downtown properties.

Newer single detached homes, such as those in Whistle Bend, also allow for both living and garden suites.

Campbell said the RR zoned properties include larger, denser lots (such as townhouses) or those in primarily low-density zones.

First reading will take place at the Feb. 26 council meeting.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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