Council voices reservations about the number of micro suites in Kelowna development

Small suites, big issue

Despite the housing crisis Kelowna finds itself entrenched in, the construction of and use of small, seemingly more affordable micro suites raised concerns around the city council table Monday.

Council approved a development permit for a 240 unit apartment building on Sutherland Avenue, but expressed concerns over the fact 147 (60 per cent) of those units are micro suites.

Billed as affordable accommodations, micro suites are typically listed as zero bedroom units, generally between 300 and 350 square feet.

"There were some questions and concerns brought forward as far as the configuration of the unit, but it does fit within city bylaws and the applicant has identified a market for the units they have proposed," planner Dean Strachan said about the number of micro suites being offered.

And while the makeup of units was not up for debate as part of the "form and character" application, council took the time to raise several concerns about the number of small units were being offered and whether they would actually be used by the buyers.

"There were conversations because we do have concerns with significant numbers of micro suites, however the conversation was more around ensuring they have identified the market to absorb these units and that there is a demand for the number of micro suites within the development," said Strachan in response to questions from Mayor Tom Dyas.

Strachan said staff were assured the marketplace would be able to absorb the number of units being offered.

"The price point allows for additional people to enter the marketplace."

However, council was not swayed.

Coun. Luke Stack said he was torn. On one hand, he said the building design is attractive and the amenities being offered are beneficial, but on the other hand is concerned about the number of micro suites being offered.

"I would have been much more comfortable if 70 or 80 per cent were one, two and three bedroom units and a smaller percentage micro suites...and I am personally dead opposed to these becoming short-term rentals," said Stack hitting on another concern of council.

"Because they are primary residences, if someone buys these as a primary residence they can use them for short-term rentals.

"A part of my gut makes me think a lot of the buyers lining up to buy these have every intention of using them for short-term rentals."

Council will have a chance to close that possibility in the coming weeks when staff return with recommendations on further restricting where short-term rentals can be offered in the city.

City council could also restrict the number of micro suites allowed within certain neighbourhoods or urban centres through zoning regulations which govern the number of units within specific areas of the city.

In defence of the Sutherland development, Strachan says amenity space is critical for smaller units to function. In this case he says the developer is providing 125 per cent of the required amount of amenity space including a gym and indoor common area.

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