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Saanich to ask province for exemption on secondary suites in rural areas

The district doesn’t want to allow secondary and garden suites outside the urban containment boundary

The District of Saanich has been on board with the province’s plans to increase housing supply, but there is one housing hurdle it does not want to cross.

Council passed a series of amendments to align its land-use bylaws with new provincial housing legislation on Monday, but put the province on notice it does not want to allow secondary and garden suites outside the urban containment boundary.

Mayor Dean Murdock is expected to write to Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon and Premier David Eby to request an exemption that would allow Saanich to prohibit secondary and garden suites on rural property.

“Our hope is that we can convey to the minister that Saanich is on board with its aspirations, and that we have the common aspiration of creating more homes for people in our community,” said Murdock, adding, however, that the goal under the Official Community Plan is to keep growth compact.

“We’re going to grow around our centres, corridors and villages and in walking distance to services, high quality transit, schools, parks and shopping,” he said. “And we know that by growing outside the urban containment boundary, that’s not going to be the case.”

Municipalities have been given until the end of June to update their bylaws to accommodate what the province calls small-scale, multi-unit housing requirements.

Those rules require local governments to allow a primary dwelling and a suite or an accessory dwelling on all lots in single-family residential zones.

Local governments are also required to allow denser housing forms such as houseplexes of three to six units, townhomes or small apartment buildings on single-family lots, while allowing taller buildings around transit hubs.

Murdock noted Saanich has passed all the necessary amendments to comply with those requirements, but is holding out hope it will be granted an exemption for lands outside the urban containment boundary, which protects rural land from most forms of development.

Murdock said some of those rural areas cannot handle the added density, without adequate servicing for water and sewage.

“I don’t frame it as a protest, but rather that this is Saanich taking responsibility for how it wishes to grow, acknowledging that we’re on board with what the province wishes to achieve to create more homes, but that our growth is going to be according to these principles which we’ve held to for decades.”

Coun. Susan Brice, who brought forward the motion to ask for an exemption, said the urban containment boundary has been the most successful growth management tool that has allowed Saanich to develop without urban sprawl and protecting agricultural land.

A few members of council were unsure if the request would be worth it.

“I think that our case to the province is quite weak and I can’t see us being very successful other than to say: ‘Well hey, at least we asked,’ ” said Coun. Zac de Vries.

Coun. Colin Plant was the lone voice against writing the letter.

Plant noted he was open to exploring secondary suites outside the boundary a few years ago. He also pointed out that while he values the boundary as a tool to manage growth, he does not believe allowing secondary suites or garden suites on rural land will result in the collapse of the urban containment boundary.

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