Building 2 homes on 1 property: A look inside an unusual Calgary backyard suite

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WATCH: Backyard suites are popping up all over Calgary neighbourhoods, helping family members live close by and giving homeowners extra income. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports on how a new group is making it easier for homeowners to build backyard suites – Oct 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said Cornelius Koster’s backyard suite was 6,300 square feet when it was actually 630 square feet. This story has been updated to reflect that. Global News regrets the error.

Cornelius Koster has a house on a corner lot in the southeast Calgary community of Ramsay.

In 2014, the single dad decided to make better use of the big backyard so he built another house on it. Koster now rents his 630-square-foot backyard suite for over $1,000 a month. He predicts that income will help him pay off the $250,000 eco-friendly home in nine years.

“If we ever want to sell in the future, we have basically two houses on our lot — a bit of a no-brainer for me,” Koster said.

Backyard suites are part of a growing movement in Calgary: building homes in backyards or on top of garages. On Saturday, a group that advocates for homeowners with backyard suites held a tour of laneway homes.

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Koster’s property was among them.

“Backyard suites fulfill a larger purpose. It’s adding more people to your neighbourhood. It’s adding more diverse people to your neighbourhood and it’s allowing your neighbour’s grandmother to age in place,” said Ashley Salvador, founder of Calgary Backyard Suites.

READ MORE: Secondary suites no longer Calgary City Council’s problem as administration takes over process

There has been opposition to backyard suites in some cases. Neighbours have appealed backyard suites over concerns about height or shading.

But Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said backyard suites and secondary suites are ways to keep inner-city neighbourhoods affordable.

“You need to deliver a whole variety of different housing types to meet the needs of different people at different stages of life,” Carra said.

The City of Calgary has come a long way in how it deals with backyard suites and secondary suites. A simplified process for getting approval in single-detached homes was given the green light in 2018.

READ MORE: Calgary looking to allow secondary suites in semi-detached homes

But many duplexes are still part of a regulatory loophole. City council will hold a public hearing in November to allow secondary suites in semi-detached dwellings without a land-use change.

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“That absolutely ties a bow on the whole secondary suite side of the equation for this council and for the city,” Carra said.

Salvador is pleased with the progress Calgary has made but hopes Calgary rules will one day be more like those in Edmonton.

“Backyard suites in Edmonton are permitted-use, so there is no process around neighbourhood consultation. If you are within the rules and regulations, it is just your right to build,” Salvador said.

“Whereas with the discretionary process in Calgary, there’s a little more risk involved and more uncertainty in that you can have this design ready to go, and then someone could appeal it.”

Calgary Backyard Suites formed two months ago, but its Edmonton division, YEGarden Suites, has been in operation for three years, and has successfully advocated for more favourable backyard suite policies while educating over 3,500 homeowners and industry members, according to Salvador.

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