Nova Scotia

Halifax council votes in favour of basement, backyard suites

Halifax regional council has voted unanimously to approve changes to planning rules across the municipality that will allow basement apartments and backyard suites for single-family homes, townhouses and duplexes.

Some opponents raise concerns about parking, traffic and property-line setbacks

Halifax regional council voted in favour of secondary suites following a three-hour virtual public hearing Tuesday. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax regional council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve changes to planning rules across the municipality that will allow basement apartments and backyard suites for single-family homes, townhouses and duplexes.

Councillors were generally convinced the move would help provide more affordable housing, increase the vacancy rate in the municipality and offer homeowners a source of income to help with their mortgages.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who represents Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville, said it could also allow older people to move in with younger relatives and remain in their communities.

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

Coun. Waye Mason, who represents Halifax South Downtown, said, "this is going to provide something that we actually need in Halifax and will actually strengthen our communities."

Council voted on the proposal Tuesday night after a three-hour virtual public hearing.

Concerns raised

Twenty-six people made presentations, and just over half were opposed. One of them was a former planner who said he was representing 130 people who live in the Westmount area of Halifax.

Bill Campbell told council that other Canadian municipalities that allow secondary and backyard suites also have design standards and appeal processes, which are not included in Halifax's new planning rules.

"Basically, you're allowing backyard suites and the secondary suites by right without any involvement of adjacent residents," said Campbell.

Opponents also raised concerns about parking, traffic and setbacks from property lines.

Halifax municipal planners 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.

Affordable housing

Almost a dozen presenters at the public hearing also spoke in favour of the changes.

"Secondary and backyard suites do offer a glimmer of hope with which to address issues of affordable housing," said Kevin Hooper.

"In my community, there are no negatives," said Mary Lynn Satterley, who lives in Terrence Bay. "I live in an area where there are few, if any rental options … it allows people to stay here."

Concerns were also raised about secondary and backyard suites being used as short-term rentals, or Airbnbs. But planners said a report on regulating short-term rentals will be presented to council on Sept. 22.

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