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Calgary couple hopes their secondary suite experience can prompt change

WATCH ABOVE: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is hopeful a new city council will find consensus to solve the city's secondary suite application process. Right now, it's the only Canadian city that doesn't have a dedicated police. As Reid Fiest reports, it means almost every application must be heard by city council.

A Calgary couple who has spent months fighting to have their home rezoned for a secondary suite has had their application approved by the new city council, and they are hoping their story can spark change.

In their application to the city Danny and Nha Wong said they recently purchased a home in the northwest community of Collingwood after Nha had both of her legs amputated. The Wong’s said the double-amputation was due to complications from Nha’s Lupus.

The couple said they purchased the bungalow in hopes of adding a secondary suite so their parents could continue to be the primary caregivers to Nha, and also so they could be within close proximity to the Foothills Hospital.

The new city council was set to hear 20 applications for secondary suites Monday in a process that is unique to Calgary, and something Mayor Naheed Nenshi would like to see changed.

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“Especially after today I think council is being reminded of how awful this is; what a waste of time it is, how expensive it is,” Nenshi said.

“How ludicrous it is for us to be pitting neighbor against neighbor in this way in such a public forum.”

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Calgarians wishing to apply for secondary suites must first apply to the planning commission where they receive a recommendation, and then every application appears before city council.

The mayor told reporters Monday he is hopeful the new council will be able to come up with a better process.

“This is not rocket science. It’s what every other city in the country has already done.”

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READ MORE: Councillor Jyoti Gondek suggests secondary suite reform could be on its way

One of the challenges with the current process in Calgary is that applicants can put personal information into their applications, which council must then look at when reviewing each individual case.

Councillor Sean Chu said Monday that is one rule that is often misunderstood, accusing the media and others on social media of “telling the world that city council is bad.”

He said there is a misconception about the process and what information council is requesting within the applications.

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“I just want to say that no, council never asks for [that information] – because we’re not allowed,” Chu said.

Nha Wong told reporters she was confused about Chu’s comments.

“I don’t think that that’s the case. I think what we’ve been saying all along is that the process is bad. Not city council themselves.”

Wong also said she does not know how anyone would be able to explain their reasons for wanting to re-zone a property without being subjective.

“It’s hard not to make it personal… because it is personal.”

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She told reporters whether the reason for the application is a secondary income or a health issue like hers, you do have to give some personal information.

Chu said any personal information on applications is erroneous.

“Council only listens to what are planning issues. Because we’re not allowed to look at personal information.”

READ MORE: Calgary councillors say approval for secondary suites is flawed

Nha Wong believes applicants are not used to communicating in the same objective language officials use.

“I would have never thought to say some of the things that some of the councilors were saying,” she said.

One solution that came up in the council debate was to have all personal information redacted from applications before council sees it. But Danny Wong believes there is a better option.

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“Council is busy. They have other things to deal with.”

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He would like to see all applications go through the Calgary Planning Commission, adding that “If anything, they would be better able to determine what is best for each community.”

The Wong’s expressed relief they can move forward with their project now that they have city approval.

“If our story can help push reform, then we’re all for it,” Danny Wong said.

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