Kitchener bill legalizing accessory dwelling units advances
Kitchener may see more “granny flats” in historic buildings soon.
A bill that allows these “secondary housing units” (ADUs) on historically designated properties was approved by the city’s planning commission on Tuesday. The nod drove a change in policy that supporters hope could help ease the burden of maintaining creaky old houses while meeting the growing demand for affordable housing and housing suitable for aging are.
“ADUs are not a new concept, my dad actually grew up in one, but they have grown in popularity across the country lately as an extra income for families who might otherwise be displaced in gentrifying neighborhoods,” said Mason Austin, a planner commissioner.
As legislation moves forward and homes in historic buildings become legal, Kitchener will join a growing number of US cities that have welcomed them as a tool in the fight against displacement.
The ADU bill was one of three proposed by City Councilor Mark Squilla on the final day of the city council’s spring meeting. Another bill aims to remove the parking requirements for historic buildings. The third enables a greater variety of uses in protected buildings in some residential areas. The planning committee approved all three. All invoices apply only to real estate classified as Historic by the Kitchener Historical Commission or to buildings located in a historic neighborhood and designated by the commission to add to the character of the historic neighborhood.
Granny flat, suite-in-law, ancillary apartment – all of these terms refer to a separate residential unit created to allow people to live on the same property, often in a back yard, attic or garage, without compromising privacy or autonomy .
The Kitchener zone code does not currently allow these structures in any part of the city. Nevertheless, ADUs are defined and measurement standards are provided in the code. This is because in 2012, when the city’s legislature reformed zoning regulation, apartments were used as a tool to meet the needs of older residents and homeowners. The pushback from community groups in the northeast prevented them from being legalized in every corner of the city, despite being included in the code.
The Kitchener zone code does not currently allow these structures in any part of the city. Nevertheless, ADUs defined and provided measurement standards in the code. That’s because in 2012, when city lawmakers reformed zoning regulation, ADUs emerged as a tool to address the needs of older residents and homeowners. The backlash from community groups in the northeast prevented them from being legalized in every corner of the city, despite being included in the code.
“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” councilor Brian O’Neill, who represents half of the Northeast, told PlanKitchener at the time.
The bill now under consideration removes an 800 square foot size limit for ADUs as long as the structures are built on historic land. However, unlike standard version multi-family houses, the owner must live in one of the two units.
The proposed accessory housing unit directive was the only piece of legislation that avoided criticism at Tuesday’s planning committee meeting.
A step towards ending the minimum parking period for historic buildings
Paul Boni, a local land use attorney who often criticizes the city’s approach to zoning and conservation, has pushed back a bill to remove minimum parking fees for historic buildings. The bill would also cut parking requirements in half for additions or extensions to historic buildings,
“I think this bill is widespread and shouldn’t be passed in its current form,” said Boni, who argued that the city’s parking regulations are already quite generous.
He noted that the code allows buildings to offer parking up to 1,000 feet off-site, so the requirement to provide parking space isn’t as onerous as it may seem on historic properties. Two different buildings can also share the same parking lot.
In most residential areas in Kitchener, the city only requires three parking spaces for every 10 units, which some city council members and neighborhood groups have criticized for not requiring enough new parking space.
“Lots [historically designated buildings] are in areas where street parking is already a nightmare, ”said Boni. “With the 10-year tax reduction, we already have tax cuts for the rich, and we don’t need excessive deregulation.”
Despite the objections, the planning commission clearly recommended the park legislation.
Zoning for flexibility
Boni found more support for his criticism of the final bill, which would allow greater flexibility for historic buildings in areas intended for residential or neighborhood commercial use. Property owners could pretend their buildings were covered by one of the city’s most permissive zoning districts – CMX-3, which would allow for a variety of options.
Planning commission official Marty Gregorski said the bill is designed to give owners a variety of options for reusing their buildings, making demolition less attractive.
He said the bill would also help prevent situations like a recent case in which a 12,000-square-foot church was zoned for single family use – requiring a trip to the Zoning Board of Adjustment and room for lengthy legal challenges to accomplish.
That is exactly what happened to St. Lawrence in Fishtown, where a proposal for a home renovation was put on trial for years after a neighborhood group challenged the zone deviation.
To destroy a historically protected building, property owners must demonstrate that the structure is in financial distress. Gregorski said the legislation would make it difficult for owners to represent this case.
“This will make it harder to demolish one of these buildings because there are so many new uses that would be allowed,” Gregorski said.
The CMX-3 zone area is so permissive that it can be used for such purposes as body shops.
Boni said the bill would undermine the neighborhood zoning plans that civic groups have carefully worked out with the planning commission.
Several members of the planning commission agreed to bonuses, including Pat Eiding, president of the local AFL-CIO union federation, who said the bill “really needs to be narrowed down”.
The planning committee recommended it for adoption, but only in the words of city planning and development manager Anne Fadullon, “with the understanding that discussions about possible changes will take place in order to clarify which uses are permissible.”
The first day of the city council’s autumn session is September 12, and Gregorski said he didn’t expect a city council hearing on the bills until October. That said, they wouldn’t land on Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk until the end of the month.
Squilla unveiled the three bills at the end of the spring session with the assistance of the mayor, who was under pressure to look into preserving history since the city’s iconic jewelry line was threatened with partial demolition early in his tenure.
The bills are seen as part of a strategy to promote historic preservation in the city, although they do not meet the demolition delay laws called for by many preservation advocates.
“We want to keep the structures that we have, but if we don’t give and give incentives [property owners] Options, they will fight it, ”Squilla said on June 20, the day he introduced the bills. When that happens, “we’ll end up losing much of what Kitchener is Kitchener.”