Secondary Suites Well Received at Special Council Meeting

While we had expected a big potentially vocal crowd at the September 14 Special Council Meeting on Secondary Suites, the majority of 20 or so residents who did attend enthusiastically embraced the idea of secondary suites in North Saanich. So has the City of Victoria and Mayor Dean Fortin. Mayor Fortin and his senior planner also attended our meeting to make a presentation to Mayor and Council on their experiences with the city's secondary suite program.

While the differences between our two communities are obvious (urban vs. rural), Mayor Fortin confirmed that secondary suites have stabilized neighbourhoods, preserved their integrity and character, improved rental housing stock in a market where there is a nearly zero per cent vacancy rate, re-populated neighbourhoods with young people and families and provided new and older homeowners with opportunities to supplement a mortgage or age in place.

As it should be, I believe that North Saanich is taking a slow and cautious approach to secondary suites, remaining conscious of our commitment to our OCP and our Regional Growth Strategy (see open letter to Council written by resident Wendy Bjornsfeldt and posted on But the Sept. 15th meeting indicated that there is solid support for the idea.

Of the residents who attended the meeting, all but one or two expressed their unqualified support, both for secondary suites and for an opportunity to be part of a pilot program in the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ), (excluding Dean Park where properties are protected by covenants that prohibit rental suites but where it is interesting to note that about 49% of all existing "illegal" suites in North Saanich are located in the SEQ, which includes Dean Park).

Over the past year, I have had dozens of residents approach me and tell me that they support secondary suites. Among other advantages, they see secondary suites as a real alternative to high density development in North Saanich; they consider suites as generally unobtrusive, blending well with existing housing and neighbourhood character.

Critical to the success of any secondary suite program in my view will be the results of the one-year pilot evaluation based on specific criteria, including regular and ongoing communication with residents inside and outside of the pilot area. It is my understanding (and I will continue to press for this) that concerns related to increased traffic, congestion, parking, density, owner-occupation, impact on local services and property values will be closely tracked and monitored by the District of North Saanich during the evaluation phase.

I heard Mayor Finall state clearly at the meeting that she, Council and staff will be looking to residents, during the pilot phase, to let us know of any and all issues related to secondary suites.

Investigating the desirability of secondary suites in North Saanich also fulfills, I think, a commitment reflected in our Official Community Plan and housing strategy. There are still a variety of issues and details that must be addressed in consultation with our community and neighbourhoods before we proceed but I believe that we are heading in the right direction.

As Mayor Fortin aptly put it, before we leap, we first sleep, then creep. In other words, North Saanich will tread carefully during the next few months to ensure that we have sufficient community support and have ironed out all the details. One comment by Mayor Fortin last night stayed with me -- before he ran for Victoria City Council, he was warned by people that legitimizing secondary suites could spell political disaster. But what happened in the end when the secondary suite program was launched in Victoria was surprising to him and to other Council members -- Victoria residents asked, "What took you so long?"

Please contact me or other Council members with comments or questions on this article or topic.