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Rural-area regs coming for secondary suites in Regional District of Nanaimo

RDN staff say new policy will encourage more affordable housing in places like Coombs, Errington, Nanoose Bay and Bowser


If you're living in a secondary suite or renting one to tenants, you could be breaking the law.

According to current zoning regulations, most existing secondary suites are not permitted in various electoral areas. The City of Parksville and Town of Qualicum Beach do allow secondary suites, however, rural outlying areas are not currently afforded the same approval.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," said RDN urban planner Greg Keller. "We're just trying to develop a model that works for our communities."

The Regional District of Nanaimo has put forward a proposal to enact a secondary suite policy it says will encourage affordable housing, standardize building permits and construction and regulate health and safety issues.

The secondary suite policy would affect the RDN's electoral areas, including the communities of Coombs, Errington, Nanoose Bay, Hilliers, Whiskey Creek, Deep Bay and Bowser.

Secondary suites are considered any type of additional unit located on a property that would ordinarily only have one dwelling, such as basement suites, carriage houses or garden suites. Secondary suites are generally ‘accessory’ to the primary residence on the parcel and include their own external entrance, toilet, bathroom, sleeping and living areas and cooking facilities.

In an effort to raise awareness and gauge public opinion about the issue of secondary suites, the RDN conducted region-wide public consultation this past summer and fall.

“We engaged with communities and individuals, hosted information sessions and put out an online questionnaire,” said Keller. “We know there is definitely a need for affordable housing in the area and secondary suites are the easiest way local governments can provide housing without stressing other resources.”

Based on responses from the questionnaire, a majority of residents support the project with open arms, but others don’t share the same sense of optimism.

According to the data, 93 percent of respondents answered ‘yes’ to the following question: “Do you think the RDN’s electoral area would benefit from secondary suites?”

Keller said the primary reasons residents cited for supporting the project were a need for affordable housing, economic opportunity, diversification and the option of housing aging family members close by.

“Not only will it provide affordable housing for the people renting, it enables the homeowner to generate income and help with mortgage and maintenance expenses,” said one written response.

However, not everybody was onboard.

Opponents of the project fear implementing a secondary suite policy could actually hinder economic opportunity and end up being a tax grab at the expense of residents.

“A lot of people are struggling to meet expenses. My concern is that the RDN looks at this as another taxation opportunity,” read one comment.

Another concerned resident wrote: “Low-cost housing brings with it many problems. There are no jobs in rural areas compared to municipalities. There are no social support organizations necessary. No medical services that may be necessary. There is no public transit service to support the needy. How can you possibly justify this in a rural area? It would be far more appropriate in a municipality.”

Furthermore, residents expressed concerns in regards to off-street parking, water and sewage capacity, user fees and suite occupancy.

RDN staff will present the draft secondary suites proposal to the RDN Board for first and second reading at its January meeting. Should the board grant first and second reading, RDN staff say they will host information sessions to obtain community feedback prior to holding public hearings.