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Canmore Land Use Bylaw approved with incentives to develop accessory dwelling units

"We are building our neighbourhoods and our community for all time and we need to have the foresight and forethought to ask homeowners the same as we ask of large scale developers." 
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Canmore council unanimously approved third and final reading of the new Land Use Bylaw at its Dec. 10 regular business meeting. RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – Canmore town council voted unanimously at the beginning of December to pass third and final reading of a new Land Use Bylaw and with its approval have laid the policy groundwork to maximize the development of accessory dwelling units in the community.

While the bylaw includes numerous policies and direction our the development of the community into the future, changes introduced by Councillor Joanna McCallum at third reading made it clear that anyone looking to build a single-family home in Canmore would be expected to consider how a suite would be included before construction begins.

McCallum put forward a successful motion that sets out that all single-detached dwelling units that include an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or suite, is a permitted use. 

While homes proposed without a suite or ADU, would be a discretionary use and would require a development permit.

The change puts emphasis upon developers and homeowners to consider suites as they plan out what they build, and creates an additional step in the process for those who choose not to include one in their new home. 

“I think it behooves us to ask homeowners when building or rebuilding, to rough in that suite at the front end [of the development process],” Coun. McCallum said. 

“We ask developers with an area structure plan or an area redevelopment plan to look forward 25, 50 or even 75 years into the future and to build neighbourhoods ... but we are not asking the same of [individual landowners in the community].

“We are building our neighbourhoods and our community for all time and we need to have the foresight and forethought to ask homeowners the same as we ask of large scale developers.”

Coun. Vi Sandford noted that by requiring more steps be taken by those choosing to not include an accessory dwelling unit, it creates an incentive for those building new homes to include them upfront. 

“We incentivize that way of thinking by making it more expedient to do that,” Sandford said. 

“I will support that motion to get that done at the front end of the building process.” 

Coun. Jeff Hilstad expressed concerns about unintended consequences of the change in the bylaw, but in the end voted in favour of the motion along with the rest of council.

“I think it is a good idea in some ways, but I think some things may come of it that might not be as good as we hoped,” he said. 

At first reading, the proposed Land Use Bylaw set out that accessory dwelling units would be a permitted use for all single family home and duplex districts throughout the community. 

Prior to the change, only specific districts and single family homes in areas that had access through a back alley allowed ADUs as a permitted use. 

There were also changes to the amount of parking that would be required for an accessory dwelling unit under the bylaw – which lead to debate at the council table on what that should look like. 

At third reading, administration brought forward a proposal to eliminate the requirement for any parking related to the development of accessory dwelling units, thus reducing barriers to creating more suites in the community. 

McCallum brought forward a motion to require one parking stall for an ADU unless it was within 450 metres of a transit stop or 1 kilometre from downtown. 

However, that motion was defeated. 

A successful followup motion from Coun. Jeff Hilstad set out that all ADUs under the bylaw would require a minimum of one parking stall. 

Fellow council members noted the community spoke up about concerns around parking and increased suites in established neighbourhoods at the two public hearings held for the bylaw.

“Since we are proposing to increase the number and opportunities for accessory dwelling units in the community, I think we should address some of the concerns that have arisen as well,” Coun. Sandford said.  

Coun. Karen Marra successfully put forward reductions to the amount of bike parking required under the new bylaw for commercial developments and visitor accommodation. 

“In talking with a few different groups ... the higher number [of required bike parking] could be an obstacle to some developments moving forward,” Marra said, adding that if there is more demand for bike parking at businesses or hotels, the owners will adjust accordingly. 

McCallum argued that bike parking should be considered not just for visitors, but also employees of those businesses that expressed concerns with the increased requirements at the public hearing. 

“Unfortunately this is short on vision from the business community,”she said. 

Manager of planning and development Lauren Miller cautioned against considering the Land Use Bylaw as something that “gets to a point where we are done with it."

“This bylaw is not perfect, nor will it ever be,” Miller said. 

“As the issues this bylaw attempts to regulate are deeply rooted in community values, which are ever changing. So matters that were previously met with resistance at the time, become the norm and in some cases become the pride and joy of the community.

“In cases where a matter continues to be contentious after implementation, these can, and typically do, get revisited in order to determine the appropriateness of the measures implemented at the time and the alternative, or new approaches, developed that could more comprehensively effect the concerns of the day.”

Whether it is innovation in construction practices, the emergence of new technologies, or the way people live their every day lives – Miller said there are a variety of ways that the Land Use Bylaw would need to be updated into the future on a regular basis. 

“This document will not be static and the fact that it is not static is not the fault of council or administration – it is just the nature of this particular beast,” she said. 

Council also debated the idea of keeping language in the bylaw that sets out a maximum size for new single-family homes in the community at 325 square metres, or 3,500 square feet. 

Development planner Marcus Henry said there are other mechanisms at the disposal of the development authority to reach the same objective. 

“There are other ways to do it that are arguably more effective and that would be through the subdivision process,” Henry said. 

“Through subdivision, we can restrict lot size and setbacks to reduce the actual footprint allowable.” 

Residential land use districts in the valley bottom for Canmore already had this restriction in place prior to the new bylaw, noted administration. 

Henry said development under those restrictions typically looks to maximize the square footage allowable without requiring variances, or a development permit approval process. 

“What we do see is the maximum house size is being fully used up,” he said, adding a detached garage, deck, mechanical room or basement below grade are not included in the size calculations either. 

Council debated the merits of the proposed policy. 

The Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association objected to the restriction in its feedback on the new bylaw.

Coun. Rob Seeley putting forward an unsuccessful motion to remove the restriction on house size from the bylaw.

“I think there are unintended consequences of this,” Seeley said. 

“I am not sure a limitation like this is something that is best for the community.” 

Afterwards, language was added to the bylaw to ensure that already existing homes exceeding the new maximum size would conform with the bylaw and could be rebuilt as originally approved if destroyed. 

Mayor Borrowman spoke to the fact these types of homes take up a larger footprint and use more resources. 

He also pointed out that over time, many of the original family homes in town have been demolished in order to build something bigger, thus changing the character of many neighbourhoods in the community. 

“A part of this is, I would say, environmentally informed,” said the mayor. 

“The other is to try and address the importance of building a community that has homes where more people can imagine or envision themselves as a homeowner."”

Tanya Foubert

About the Author: Tanya Foubert

Tanya Foubert started as a news reporter at the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2006. She won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best news story for her coverage of the 2013 flood. In December 2018, she became editor of the Outlook.
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