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Council considering new secondary dwelling unit policies

- a decision will be made on the matter at the April 19 Essex Council meeting -


by Sylene Argent

Photo courtesy of the Town of Essex

Essex Council hosted a special Council meeting on the evening of Tuesday, April 6, to explore possible changes to Second Dwelling Unit (SDU) policies and regulations for the municipality.

  A Secondary Dwelling Unit is a self-contained residential unit within a main dwelling or detached structure.

  The statutory meeting was held so members of Council could hear public feedback regarding new Official Plan Policies and Zoning By-law Regulations surrounding the possible allowance of Secondary Dwelling Units.

  Director of Development Services, Lori Chadwick, said the “More Homes, More Choice Act” of 2019 was implemented at the Provincial-level to increase the opportunities for a wider-range of available housing. At that time, the Province amended the Planning Act to require municipalities to have Official Plan policies, authorizing the use of two residential units in a dwelling (single, semi, or townhouse) in addition to a residential unit in a building ancillary to a dwelling.

  The Act, she said, was intended to increase the supply of housing and make housing more affordable.

  Knowing our housing prices continue to climb in Essex, and that grown children or aging parents may struggle to find affordable housing, Chadwick said the Planning Department was proposing Council give residents more housing options.

  She said the Planning Department team, under the leadership of Manager of Planning, Rita Jabbour, has embarked on around three-months worth of research, collaboration, consultation, and evaluation on the matter.

  Jabbour explained it is up to the Town on how to regulate these dwelling units, such as to where they will be accommodated in Essex’s Zoning By-Law, the levels of service need, parking requirements, size, and overall appearance.

  SDUs include a private kitchen, bathroom facilities, sleeping areas, with an entrance, Jabbour explained. “They are essentially, additional dwellings for people to live in on a long-term basis.”

Examples of SDUs include in the basement, second floor, or attached to the primary unit. They can also be detached from the primary dwelling.

  There are many benefits to SDUs, Jabbour said, adding they support the Town’s Official Plan and Strategic Plan in increasing the supply and range of affordable rental accommodations, they also support changing demographics by providing more housing options for extended family, and make efficient use of existing infrastructure and the existing housing stock.

  SDUs are not to be used for short-term rentals, Jabbour noted.

The Town was mandated to include SDU policies in its Official Plan in 2012, Jabbour noted. Further amendments were made in 2014. The option at the time was either within the main dwelling or an ancillary building, in terms of where they could be placed. Unlike today, both options can be in the policy.

  Currently, SDUs are permitted within a single, semi, or townhome dwelling unit in select residential districts. They are not permitted in a detached building on the same lot as a main dwelling in select residential districts, without a site-specific zoning amendment, Jabbour explained.

  In addition, currently, SDUs are not permitted within a dwelling unit or detached building within agricultural districts, without the added steps of a site-specific amendment or an Official Plan Amendment, respectively.

  “We are requesting amendments to make life a little bit easier for those wishing to install a second dwelling unit, whether you are in a residential or agricultural district,” Jabbour said.

  In order to permit SDUs in an accessory building in an Agricultural Zoning Dstrict, there needs to be an amendment to the Official Plan. Because Essex is a lower-tier municipality within the County of Essex, an amendment to an Official Plan must be approved at the County-level, after the Town approves the change.

  Jabbour said the Planning Department has been in contact with the County, which indicated there would be support for such an amendment.

    In order to permit an SDU in a main dwelling in the Agricultural District and within a detached ancillary structure on the same lot as a main dwelling in the Agricultural District and select Residential districts, an amendment to the Zoning By-Law is necessary.

  A Zoning By-Law Amendment is also necessary in order to implement regulations respecting the location and number of SDU, and maximum floor area, height, parking and setback regulations between property lines and existing structure, Jabbour explained.

  Only Council needs to approve Zoning By-Law Amendments.

  Proposed policies and regulations include that Second Dwelling Units be allowed for an option in a main dwelling or a detached structure in Agricultural and select Residential District, but not in both to limit adverse impacts to infrastructure, mitigate parking issues and impacts to the Town’s Development Charges reserves. To allow a two-storey SDU, if not located within a required yard. And, the maximum floor area is to be dictated by maximum lot coverage regulation for respective zoning district, but not greater than the floor area of primary dwelling.

  Through a Provincial regulation, Jabbour said, each additional unit must have one parking space for the sole-use of the occupant in the additional unit, an additional residential unit may be occupied by any person, regardless to relationship with the owner, and an additional unit is permitted, regardless of the date of construction of the primary residential unit.

  The Planning Department created a survey on SDUs to receive public feedback on the matter, and received 157 responses.

  Eight questions were posed in the survey, and solicited information as to where the respondents lived, if the idea of having SDU options were supported, and if they wished they could add a SDU.

  Jabbour noted the majority of respondents considered themselves from an urban area, and were mostly from Wards 1 and 3. The majority of respondents did support SDUs in a main dwelling or detached building in residential and agriculture areas.

  Sixty-three percent of respondents were considering constructing an SDU, with a majority wishing to construct a SDU in a detached structure.

  “You can see there is appetite for these types of units, especially in detached structures,” Jabbour added.

  The majority of respondents, she added, do not support limiting the size of a SDU in a detached building to 750 square-feet or limiting the height to one-storey.

  Highlights of the public comments, Jabbour relayed, is that this is a viable and necessary option for those seeking extra income through rental property or those seeking affordable housing options, especially for parents and aging family members and young individuals.

  Respondents also showed support for options of having a two-storey unit or a unit on the upper floor of an unattached building.

  The Department of Infrastructure Services noted SDUs would not be permitted their own separate service connection, which may have an impact on servicing areas with limited capacity. The County does recommended policies that no severances of second dwelling units will be permitted.  

  Essex Mayor Larry Snively said he likes the idea, and noted that this is much needed in the municipality. He wondered how the Town could enforce such additions to not become short-term rentals.

  Jabbour said Planning Services, the Clerk’s Department, and Infrastructure Services are working on Zoning By-Law amendments that are going to regulate short-term rentals. It is hoped a public meeting will be held on the issue in the near future. The Town, she said, is also working on a business licensing By-Law as well.

  Councillor Joe Garon said he likes the idea presented, but did have concerns with the second-unit SDU and possible second-storey units. He said some places may become cramped, but there may be areas where greater lots could accommodate that. He is also concerned with street-parking being taken up by the rentals.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman liked the idea of keeping SDUs one-storey and did not want to see the SDUs the same size as the principal residence.

  Jabbour noted that in urban areas, as lots are smaller than rural areas, it is not likely the SDU would exceed the size of the main dwelling. In the ag or rural areas, there is that opportunity, but would not exceed the size of that main dwelling.    

  Snively wondered if there would be a minimum lot size before an SDU is added. Jabbour said it is up to Council, but that regulations should not be too restricted.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen, agrees with the changes, but worries it will be too complex. He said there will be some bumps along the way, but this needs to be done. He wondered what other towns are doing.

  Jabbour said Amherstburg is the most recent to allow SDUs. Other municipalities are also in the process.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche wondered if there were concerns with sewer capacity. Jabbour said there is anticipation of possible concerns with an increase in density. At the Building Permit stage, there has to be efficient capacity to service the dwelling.

  Jabbour added Development Charges are waived through the Act for a SDU that does not exceed the size of the main dwelling, just because a Development Charge is waived, the Town still needs be to refunded into the Development Charges reserve.  

Chadwick added regulations in the Zoning Bylaw would be explored at the building permit stage, as well as building code requirements. When satisfied at that level, applications would be sent to the Chief Building Official for plan review. When reviewed, and there is an issue with an application, it can be sent to the Committee of Adjustment for review or the application can be revised.

  Council received the presentation and will make a decision on the matter at the April 19 Essex Council meeting.