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Secondary suites causing parking congestion in Sooke

Committee recommending parking permits in problem areas
A new municipal report suggests parking congestion is the biggest obstacle facing secondary suites in Sooke. (File - Sooke News Mirror)

Parking congestion is the biggest obstacle facing secondary suites in Sooke, district council recently heard from its land use and development committee.

There are 349 secondary legal suites in the district, but the number of illegal suites has proved harder to count.

Coun. Tony St-Pierre said secondary suites are needed, including the illegal ones. Without them, he said there would be a crisis of available rentals.

But the glut of vehicles has become a danger for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles to reach an emergency scene.

So instead of cracking down on illegal suites, the land use and development committee recommended parking permits or restricted parking zones — such as one side of the street only — in the problem areas.

City planners allow for a certain number of parking spaces per home, usually including the garage for two vehicles and space on the driveway for two more.

In practice, though, garages are used for storage. A household with three vehicles fills up its driveway and takes a spot on the street. If they have a boat, it might fit beside the house. An RV parked on the road puts them over the top.

Add a secondary suite, and at best, it’s an annoyance to neighbours and tenants. At worst, it’s a hazard.

“If someone wants income from a secondary suite, they need to be able to provide parking and not export that problem to their neighbours,” St-Pierre said.

Staff are also looking at new secondary suite allowance bylaws for small lots that would require yard space for parking.

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There are also concerns about equitable water usage charges. On properties with extra people, it’s assumed that water use is higher. But are the costs fair? Staff are asking for data from the Capital Regional District that deals with drinking water. The information will help the operations team evaluate charges for wastewater, which Sooke manages.

Director of Planning Matthew Pawlow said the data wouldn’t help identify illegal suites, as has been suggested in the past since there are too many other reasons a household could use more than average water.

Identifying illegal suites, therefore, will remain a complaint-driven process. Staff advised that creating an inventory was more labour intensive than anticipated.

The priority instead will be on addressing life-safety concerns rather than strict legal compliance.

St-Pierre said it is essential to get illegal suites under the legal umbrella, not just for property tax and infrastructure reasons. It’s because tenants living in illegal suites don’t get any protection. They can’t complain about safety issues or unfair treatment from a landlord.

“When people are desperate for housing, they are precarious. One person told me they couldn’t come forward because they could be homeless,” St-Pierre said.

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