Go-time or no time for campus-area granny flats

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It’s a new kind of affordable housing to some, a potential menace to other homeowners who live near Western University and Fanshawe College.

City council will vote Tuesday on whether “secondary dwelling units,” also known as granny flats, should be allowed near the two schools in an area the city calls the “near-campus neighbourhood.”

Some homeowners don’t want the units in homes where owners don’t live, saying they will give rise to more student ghettos and renters who don’t care about the neighbourhood.

But others see secondary units as a fast, affordable way to expand London’s low-income housing stock, disputing they will hurt neighbourhoods near Western and Fanshawe.

“People here are very disappointed,” said Coun. Phil Squire, who represents a north-end ward that includes neighbourhoods near Western. “They don’t want non-owner occupied secondary units, they are adamant about that.”

The city’s planning staff and politicians have struggled for years with the issue of whether secondary units should be allowed in homes near Western and Fanshawe.

In a report last week to council’s planning and environment committee, planning staff recommended the city continue to prohibit the units near the schools.

But the committee voted to recommend the ban be lifted. City council will have the final say ­Tuesday.

Resident Susan Bentley, who lives on Mayfair Drive in Old North, wrote the committee saying the area already is overrun by rental units, and allowing secondary units will make it worse.

“It really is high time that neighbour­hoods that accommodate an enormous number of Western and Fanshawe’s students were given some real relief,” she wrote.

“There is now a majority of streets here that have 85 to 95 per cent landlord-owned student rental properties . . . Is it worth protecting the remaining streets where there is a better mix of occupants?” Bentley wrote.

But the city’s vacancy rate for one-bedroom apartments is about one per cent, and giving owners the option to create secondary units would help to increase affordable, inexpensive quality housing, the committee heard.

“The problem we have now in Old North with student housing and absentee landlords, I don’t think this will make that worse,” Coun. Maureen Cassidy said.

“Someone on fixed income who sets up an apartment in their home, this will help with mortgage payments. They can rent it out. There are so many positives with this.”

Cassidy points to the practice of homes bought by landlords as the real issue, not granny flats. Renovating and converting one floor of a home will not add many renters and may prove too costly for much more intensification, she argued.

A secondary unit would have a kitchen, bathroom and a separate entry. It could be located on one floor of a home or above a garage.

The city set out policies for the units in the London Plan that was approved by council in June 2016. The guidelines said the owner must live in the primary unit and limited the number of bedrooms in the secondary unit.

But the province ordered changes to the policies when it reviewed the London Plan. The province removed the policy requiring that owners must live in the primary unit. But it said the city can continue to restrict locating them near campuses.

For those opposed in Old North, the area could live with granny flats as long as they are owner-occupied, Squire said.

“There could be a single-family home divided into separate units and neither occupied by an owner. There is potential for intensification of rental units in that part of the city where it is already the most intense in the city.”

The flats would be allowed in a detached home, semi-detached or street townhouse.

Squire praised city planning staff, Western University and London police for steps they’ve taken to reduce rowdy student behaviour. Allowing secondary units may mean a step back, he warned.

“It may undo a lot of good work that has been done. We are happy with what has been done on this, let’s keep it as it is.”

Colborne United Church also weighed in on the issue, saying the change would mean they could rent out two units in its vacant manse where the church minister used to live.

That would offer the church some additional income, said Jim Lodge, chairperson of the church board.



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