The Guelph Mercury Tribune reported earlier this month that Guelph is looking at strategies to help with affordable housing. As noted in the article, a staff report was presented to City Council on July 11, which stated that “Affordable small rental units in particular are not being developed and may require financial incentives”. Given the historically low vacancy rates in the city, this is certainly a positive development, but unfortunately the staff recommendations fail to meaningfully address the most pressing limitation on the development of more affordable housing – Guelph’s outdated Zoning By-law.
While the report does mention that consideration should be given to allowing accessory apartments in townhouses, it fails to note that as of January 2012, Guelph was required to update its Official Plan and zoning to permit such units in townhouses, and has so far neglected to do so.
In 2012, the Province made changes to Provincial planning law that required every municipality to revise its Official Plan and zoning to permit accessory apartments (also known as secondary suites, granny flats, or basement apartments) in single-detached, semi-detached, and townhouses. While ambitious, there is no provincial enforcement mechanism and many cities, Guelph included, have yet to update their policies and zoning in accordance with provincial law.
As many people who have attempted to create an accessory apartment in Guelph can likely attest to, there are significant barriers that make development of accessory apartments in Guelph either unworkable or cost-prohibitive. This is in large part why there are so few apartments being created, which in turn has a direct and significant effect on the number of affordable housing options in the city.
Although the recent report to Council recommends “consideration of regulations for accessory apartments in townhouse units”, they are still prohibited, and there is no specific timeline for when the zoning restrictions will be reviewed.
While accessory apartments are technically permitted in semi-detached dwellings, Guelph’s requirement for three off-street parking spaces (the highest in the Province), effectively bans accessory apartments in that type of dwelling. This is because the Zoning By-law also limits the width of a driveway in zones that permit semi-detached dwellings, which means that it is impossible to actually legalize an accessory apartment within a semi-detached dwelling without applying for a minor variance (at a non-refundable fee of $765.00 with no guarantee of approval). The result is that accessory apartments are not being developed, or are developed illegally, which has its own host of problems.
If you’re interested in developing an accessory apartment within your home, to provide extra income or to house family-members, speak with one of the lawyers in our Municipal Practice Group, who can assist you with navigating the process.