Council uses bylaw to halt bunkhouses in six neighbourhoods

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Mayor says substandard housing aimed at students creates problems for residential neighbourhoods

Jennifer McIntosh, Ottawa Community News

Parking and trash are just some of the headaches councillors whose wards are home to the multi-bedroom residences deal with.

On July 12 council did something about it.

In a rare move, council approved an interim control bylaw that will put a one-year freeze on multiple bedroom residences — more popularly known as bunkhouses.
“I don’t support these lightly,” Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said of bylaw. “It’s meant to target extreme cases. We are talking about four to six units on one floor of a building.”

Chernushenko said the high number of units in a building meant as a single family home or a small low-rise apartment building puts a burden on the city, because there isn’t the set up to store the waste that the number of residents create.

He said residents don’t know each other and are often unfamiliar with the city’s trash pick up schedule — which could create a real mess for the surrounding neighbours.

The bylaw will coincide with a review of the zoning for multi-unit dwellings in residential neighbourhoods. The interim bylaw buys council and city staff more time for that review.

The so-called bunkhouses, or illegal rooming houses, are often single-family homes split into several units.

The bylaw will concentrate on Sandy Hill, Heron Park, Old Ottawa East, Old Ottawa South, Centretown and Overbrook.

River Coun. Riley Brockington asked city staff how the areas were selected as targets for the bylaw.

The answer, from John Smit, manager of economic development and planning, said staff concentrated on areas of the city that have demonstrated problems with bunkhouses.

Developers can appeal the bylaw at the Ontario Municipal Board, but the bylaw would remain in effect until the outcome of the appeal is determined, staff told council.

The city’s planning boss Stephen Willis said staff would need a year to work with the public on a new policy. Staff will report to planning twice in the year.

Perhaps the most vocal of the neighbourhoods to deal with the bunkhouse issue is Sandy Hill.

Just the day before, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury held back delegated authority for a site plan on a densely populated building proposed for 70 Russell Ave. in Sandy Hill.

Members of Action Sandy Hill spoke to the city’s planning committee about the project, condemning bunkhouses and their impact on the neighbourhood.

The development would see a single-family home replaced with a four-unit 21-bedroom building. The developer is TC United.

Willis said the application checked all the boxes, and the building plan has been reviewed, but Fleury said it “smells like a rooming house.”

Mayor Jim Watson said he thinks the bunkhouse issue is an important one.

“It diminishes the quality of life in a neighbourhood,” he said. “Taking a property that houses a single home and turning into 30 bedrooms isn’t reasonable in residential neighbourhoods,” he said.

Watson said with the advent of light rail, there isn’t the same pressure for university and college students to live in the neighbourhood immediately adjacent to their school. He said with more options, students wouldn’t feel compelled to rent in buildings that are substandard.