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Comox seeking public input on coach houses, side-by-side secondary suites

COMOX, B.C. – The Town of Comox wants to hear from you about secondary suites and coach houses.

The town is hosting a public hearing on April 3 to consider an amendment to its Official Community Plan to:

  • Amend the zoning definition of a secondary suite to allow a side-by-side secondary suite, i.e. secondary suite, to be located beside the principal dwelling unit;
  • create a new development permit area for side-by-side secondary suites; and
  • allow coach houses in most single-family zones as an outright use, as opposed to requiring site by site rezoning.

Town councillor Alex Bissinger explains: “A couple years ago, the Town of Comox amended their OCP and zoning bylaw to make sure that we can have secondary suites basically in all single family homes. So basically, people just have to go to the planning department, get a building permit, and then they can put a suite in without having to go through rezoning.”

Bissinger said this was well suited for split level homes because the suites had to be contained within the home.

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The town is now looking at legalizing side-by-side secondary suites, so that owners of rancher-style homes can get a building permit without having to go through the rezoning process, in order to have a secondary suite.

As well, the town is considering legalizing coach houses.

Currently, residents who want to add a coach house have to apply for rezoning, regardless of the size of their lots.

According to Bissinger, this is usually a six-month process.

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“We’re going to amend the OCP and amend the zoning bylaw so that anyone that has a property that’s over 500 square metres can go to the planning department, get your building permit, and put in a coach house in your backyard,” Bissinger said.

There are concerns among residents about parking issues, if the bylaw is amended. Bissinger noted that residents with secondary suites or a coach houses must provide one additional off-street parking spot.

“You have to have an extra parking spot in your driveway,” Bissinger said.

Overall, the intention is to add housing supply to the town, according to Bissinger.

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“And also have the multi-generational households, having people with parents in their coach house or even having retirees move into their coach house and rent out their main house to a young family or something like that,” she added.

Bissinger noted that one of the units must be occupied by the home owner.

“By having it that way, we keep the owner pride to the property and to make sure things are in check,” Bissinger explained. “We want to make sure that if we are adding housing and ‘densifying,’ that it’s built in a controlled manner that way, as well.”

There is also concern about the coach houses being rented out as Airbnbs.

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Council is looking at regulating Airbnbs so that coach houses don’t become short term rentals, and are used as long-term housing stocks.

Bissinger said this “is a great way to go.”

“It opens up a lot of doors for younger people who want to get into the housing market because that way they could put in a coach house as a rental or even have their parents move in. There’s a huge push for the age-in-place concept. Instead of selling your house because there’s stairs, you can build a coach house, live in the back, stay at your home and get all of the services that you want without having to move into a condo. I’m really excited about it, for sure.”

After the public hearing, staff will gather public comments, and the bylaw will go to a fourth hearing and then, possibly, bylaw adoption.

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