Dysart et al council has initiated a review of its bylaws covering secondary housing units, with mayor Murray Fearrey saying it’s time for the township to “loosen up” its rules and regulations.

The file was discussed at a May 23 meeting, following a presentation from Haliburton resident Gary Burtch. He asked council why, with the community suffering from a lack of housing, the municipality wasn’t doing more to bring much-needed additional units online.

“This is something that needs looking at… the lack of housing is impacting everyone in this community,” Burtch said, feeling secondary units form part of the answer.

Planner, Jeff Iles, said secondary dwellings are permitted in Dysart, pointing to duplexes, semi-detached homes, and basement apartments. Other structures, such as garden suites, are considered on a case-by-case basis, and only on properties in Haliburton village hooked up to the town’s sewer line.

Burtch feels that allowance needs to be extended further.

“I think people should be allowed to put a secondary residence on a property if it’s large enough. It could be for an aging parent, a kid who wants [more independence], or a working professional looking for somewhere to live,” Burtch said.

He accepts that new units can’t be created on waterfront lots but said there are plenty of properties across Dysart that could be ripe for this sort of development.

“I’m thinking something small, between 800 and 1,200 sq. ft.,” he said, adding that he thinks these units should be allowed to have their own septic and well systems installed, and not tap into the main property’s lines. Iles noted this wouldn’t be allowed under existing policy

Discussions around secondary units have been rife in recent months. Last November, the Ontario government passed Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act. One of many sweeping changes to the province’s housing rules was extending the number of units allowed on a single residential lot to three.

While this rule doesn’t apply to Dysart, given it only extends to communities with town-supplied water and sewer, Iles said the message from Queen’s Park has been clear.

“There is support for this kind of thing. It seems to be the trend things are going in,” Iles said.

He further informed council any potential change to allow more secondary units to be developed would require amendments to Dysart’s official plan and zoning bylaw.

Fearrey said he could get behind the idea but wanted clarity on a few issues. He feels it’s important that any additional units be owned and operated by the primary landowner, while reiterating units won’t be considered on waterfront properties. He also asked what the township can do to stop people applying for a new secondary unit and then shopping them as short-term rentals.

“If we’re going to do this, it’s because we want to increase the supply of rental units, or units for seniors. That has to be the main focus,” the mayor said.

Coun. Pat Casey said he wouldn’t be opposed to stretching the boundaries even further and having the bylaw cover potential full-time living spaces above garages or workshops. Right now, those spaces are designated as private cabins, according to Iles, and aren’t permitted to serve as a permanent dwelling area.

Fearrey said he expects an amended bylaw to be brought back to council for further discussion on June 13 or 27.

“We will pursue this… I think it’s the right and necessary thing to do,” he said.