Months of debate in Calgary over secondary suites might culminate at city hall on Monday with council expected to vote on whether to liberalize the rules governing them.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi blasted council opponents last week, suggesting they are blind to overwhelming public support for legalizing thousands of basement suites.
Nenshi campaigned on the issue in last fall's civic election. But it's not clear if the mayor has enough votes on council to pass his proposal.
Close vote expected
Long-time council watchers have predicted Nenshi could lose the vote seven to six.
Ald. John Mar and Ald. Shane Keating are required to abstain on the proposal because of their plans to build secondary suites at their homes.
Leor Rotchild, who owns a home in Crescent Heights in the city's southwest, wants to fix up the vacant one-bedroom suite in his basement and rent it to a student. But it's not just about economics, he said.
'Zoning is a contract with citizens.'—Peter Bulkowski
"The whole idea of secondary suites really resonates with me," he said.
"I live a lifestyle where I actually walk to work. I don't own a car ... the idea of denser living, the idea of having neighbours from diverse socio-economic backgrounds is really consistent with what I feel makes a city great and interesting."
An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 illegal secondary suites exist in Calgary. And many of them do not meet safety and health standards.
But renters are reluctant to complain to the city about sub-standard accommodation for fear that the city will simply order the suite closed, reform advocates argue.
However Charleswood resident Peter Bulkowski bristles at legalizing secondary suites in areas currently zoned as R1, where only one family per dwelling is allowed.
"Zoning is a contract with citizens," said Bulkowski.
"The city has a contract, in effect, with people that live in R1 communities. To unilaterally change that contract — and I recognize it's not a legal contract, it's city bylaws, but it is a contract between the city and the citizens — to unilaterally change that, basically says there is no reason to trust the city's word on anything."
Bulkowski said he also resents what he calls central planning by city hall.
"They're saying, you know, people who live in single home homes and like their quiet, single family communities are wrong. We need to re-zone this, we need to 'densify,' we need to urbanize. That to me is social engineering."
Nenshi has hinted that he might compromise, settling for amendments, when the matter comes to a vote at council later Monday.