Hi all,

I’ve been asked to explain the difference between a basement suite and a backyard or over-the-garage suite in terms of what would be allowed if secondary suites in Wards 7,8,9 and 11 are approved. If your neighbor wanted to build a suite, what would be allowed?

I think the question may have been prompted by the results of a poll that were released on June 16, 2015. From the Calgary Herald: “The new Mainstreet poll showing a near-tie asked a question modelled closely on a plebiscite question city planners themselves proposed: Should Calgary city council change zoning rules to allow secondary or basement suites in all neighbourhoods of the city?”

I found it interesting that the question itself asked about “secondary or basement suites”, implying that all secondary suites would be basement suites, when in fact, garden suites and over-the-garage suites would also be allowed. I wonder if the answer to the poll would have been the same had the question asked about other forms of suites?

So, a condensed explanation of the terms and how the process works:

We commonly refer to “rezoning”, when technically it is a “land use redesignation”.

o R-1 homes (most are RC-1) as “single family homes”, whereas I learned last week that City planners refer to them as “single detached dwellings”.

Right now, if you live in an area with only RC-1 homes, secondary suites are not a permitted use, so they are illegal under those rules. The exception would be if a property had applied for and received a land use redesignation to allow for a secondary suite: it would have an ‘s’ behind the land use, as in RC-1s. You can look up the “zoning” on any property at this site:

Assuming a property only has an RC-1 designation, it cannot have a suite. There is no restriction on whether a house can be rented out, or on how many people live in the home, but it cannot have 2 separate units within the home. If there is an illegal suite, Bylaw operates on a complaint basis only: they respond to complaints about suites, but they do not proactively try to find them or monitor them. The onus is on neighbors to report a suite if they want it checked out.

If your neighbor has an RC-1 home and wants to create a suite, right now, he would have to apply for a land use redesignation, which means appearing before City Council and presenting the case. This is a Public Hearing, open to everyone. Notification is through a sign posted on the property, an advertisement in the Herald on Thursdays, and a letter to immediate neighbors. Neighbors and the Community Association would have the right to submit their opinion, either in favor or against the proposed suite, and City Council then votes on whether to allow it or not.

Under the proposal for Wards 7,8,9 and 11, all homes would automatically be “zoned” for suites, and this step would no longer be included in the process. There would be no Public Hearing or forum. Basement suites would be a permitted use, which means they would be allowed and neighbors could not oppose them. (They would have to meet the minimal required standards, but you could not oppose their creation.)

Because backyard suites and over-the-garage suites have more potential to be disruptive to the neighboring properties, they would be a “discretionary use” rather than a permitted use. Basically, this allows you to submit your input on the plan. If you are opposed to an over-the-garage suite, for example, you could submit a letter to the Planning Department outlining your objections. The Planning Departments will look at the planning merits of the project and determine what should or shouldn’t be allowed. The onus is on you to object, otherwise the project can go ahead if there is no opposition. Even if you do object, planners may decide the project can go ahead with some minor revisions (for example, maybe there can’t be large windows directly overlooking your property, and if this condition is met, they see no reason to not allow it).

The problem with a “rezoned” property is that you cannot be sure what your neighbor plans to build. You might be okay with a basement suite, but you might oppose a backyard suite. He can apply for either one. You might also be okay with your current neighbor building a suite within his property, but since there is no requirement for a homeowner to live there, the property could be sold, and you could have an absentee landlord renting out the house to one party and the backyard suite or garage suite to another set of tenants. You might not be as happy with that situation.

We need to be fully aware of all the implications when we consider whether or not we are in favor of secondary suite land use redesignations.

This is a simplified version, but I hope this helps explain how the process works.

Melanie Swailes
on behalf of NOT4RZ

Return to main page.