No second chance for second dwellings

·3 min read

St. Clair Township has struck down the idea of detached second dwellings in residential areas.

Southside Construction was attempting to pull off this new move in a planned housing development in Courtright. The London based developer, who has never completed a project like this before, requested three bylaw changes during a presentation to council in July, most notably allowing for second dwellings to be separate from a property’s main house.

Currently the township only allows for second units to be attached to the main residence, such as a suite above a garage.

There was little enthusiasm for the proposal back in the summer. No residents showed up in support while more than 50 neighbours wrote or showed up to voice their opposition. Concerns included privacy and increased traffic.

Council and staff had their own questions too, mainly about a lack of information in the design plans. They sent Southside back to the drawing board to flesh out their proposal.

But after multiple meetings between county staff and developers and an assessment of new information provided, St. Clair staff still weren’t sold.

One area of concern involved rules around lot coverage. Southside had asked for a pair of bylaw changes to boost total lot coverage from 35 to 40 per cent and exempt the detached second units from a 10 per cent accessory lot rule.

“The applicant has not demonstrated a justifiable rational to support increasing the lot coverage for the independent additional unit,” staff say.

“Bylaws are not intended to provide a range but are intended to be specific… The conceptual plans clearly show that a principal building and any accessory buildings could be designed to meet existing bylaw requirements. Therefore, the necessity for the requested zoning bylaw amendments for either of the requested lot coverage changes is not apparent.”

As for the idea of detached second dwellings themselves, staff acknowledged “providing adequate housing is a constant challenge and ongoing concern for municipalities.” Southside stressed recent changes to the provincial Planning Act which says municipalities need to allow more additional units on properties.

But St. Clair wasn’t convinced these additional units must be detached. “It is also important to recognize that despite the provincial changes, the expectation is that each municipality facilitate these changes in a manner that they deem appropriate,” reads the staff report.

“The Township has achieved its requirement and is not obligated to further expand this form on a site or township wide basis, if insufficient rationale is provided and given that the provincial expectations are already achieved.”

Staff also said allowing such a change would cause “a shift of the community character.”

They recommended all bylaw change requests be refused “given the deficiency of justification of the proposed requests and conformance of existing township policies and zoning bylaw regulations to the provincial requirements for additional units.”

If Southside still wants to proceed with second dwellings staff recommended they build them in the garage.

Staff did say another public meeting could be held given the new information but council had heard enough. “A second dwelling that exists in residential areas is just not conducive to good planning in my books,” says Councillor Pat Brown.

“If we decide to go ahead and allow the second dwelling it becomes a separate standalone dwelling which has no relationship at all to the existing house or garage,” says Mayor Steve Arnold.

“That’s the main principle at stake here because that’s a total change and shift from our existing bylaw… It’s a relationship issue.”

The vote to refuse Southside’s requested bylaw changes passed 4-1.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent

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