On Sept. 14, city council’s urban planning committee heard presentations from community groups, developers, and construction companies on proposed changes to garden and garage suites.

The proposed regulations will change the size and shape of the suites and remove the ability of neighbours to oppose them.

Proposed changes will increase allowable height and width. Garden and garage suites will have similar maximum dimensions. These new rules will make suites easier to build with conventional building materials and will collapse the two categories into one, now called laneway suites.

Developers and construction companies said they need clear regulations that strictly define what is and is not allowed without a variance. Discretionary uses require the development officer to make interpretations of the bylaw on subjective matters such as neighbourhood character. A discretionary use follows a legal procedure that can include consultation with neighbouring property owners and the community.

This interpretation and consultation is cumbersome to developers, and makes it difficult to give solid answers to their clients. They requested regulations that made these suites permissible, which would mean that as long as the laneway suite was built to proper dimensions, there would be no consultation with neighbouring properties or community leagues.

Representatives from various community leagues and the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) spoke to the matter. Strong argument was put forth to retain the suites as a discretionary use. Concerns were raised about privacy, lighting, pedestrian access, and neighbourhood character.

The garage and suite bylaw was enacted within recent memories and council was accused of a bait and switch, first allowing a contentious form of development as a discretionary use, then making that use permissible. Mike Sacha from EFCL described the change as a “fundamental betrayal of process” and that these suites need community input. The committee disagreed with Sacha.

The committee voted to approve the changes. Though the issue has passed the urban planning committee, it is now headed to full council for a vote.

If city council approves the changes, neighbouring property owners and community leagues will not be able to provide any input.

With these new regulations, infill could be of significantly higher density. This, along with coming changes to the Mature Neighborhood Overlay (MNO), mark a significant departure for the development process.

Featured Image: Garage suite in Parkdale neighbourhood. | Karen Mykietka