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Secondary and backyard suites approved by Halifax council

Halifax City Hall is seen on June 8, 2018. Alexander Quon/Global News

Secondary and backyard suites are now legal throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality after councillors unanimously approved bylaw amendments following a public hearing on Tuesday evening.

The decision dates back to a March 2018 request from regional council that tasked municipal staff with looking at methods of simplifying bylaws in order to allow suites that are an accessory to the principal building on the lot.

Backyard suites and secondary suites have been a hotly debated item in the municipality and supporters have pitched the idea as a fix to low rental vacancy rates and the lack of affordable housing.

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Coun. Lisa Blackburn, the representative for Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville, said secondary suites would give older people the opportunity to move in with younger relatives and remain in their communities.

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“This gives families all over HRM the opportunity to age in place,” she said.

A presentation from municipal staff, who recommended that council pass the amendments to existing bylaws, said that allowing secondary and backyard suites would create more density and a more consistent approach throughout the municipality.

Halifax municipal planners also told council that an online survey was done in 2017, and of the 2,500 responses, 94 per cent were in favour of secondary suites and 84 per cent were in favour of backyard suites.

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But the move was not without its detractors. At the hearing on Tuesday, approximately half of the 26 residents who spoke on the issue raised concerns about the proposal.

The complaints included increased parking and traffic on residential streets.

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Others noted that municipalities have design standards and an appeal process, which were not included in the bylaw amendments that were up for a vote.

“You’re allowing backyard suites and the secondary suites by right without any involvement of adjacent residents,” said Bill Campbell, who said he represented more than 130 residents in the community of Westmount.

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Residents also voiced concerns about secondary and backyard suites being used as short-term rentals, such as through the app Airbnb.

Staff told council that a report on regulating short-term rentals would be presented to council on Sept. 22.

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