Richmond/Knob Hill Community Association finds a solution

backyardresizedResidents of Calgary’s southwest Richmond/Knob Hill community are divided over an approved 71-square-metre above-garage apartment on an oversized lot on 26 Avenue.

Property owners, Reinhard Voelmle and Michele Healey, put the application for a new garage that includes a second floor suite, to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board on Nov. 22, 2012. It was approved on Feb. 7, 2013.

Construction of the structure is currently in preliminary stages.

But the board convened on March 28 to discuss the fate of the dwelling—after an appeal by Doug Roberts, chair of the Development Committee from the Richmond/Knob Hill Community Association.

backyardWhile Voelmle was getting the site ready for the new garage suite, the gas line was under the old garage and had to be moved which tore up the backyard area.

Photo courtesy of Reinhard Voelmle and Michele HealeyRoberts says the suite was appealed for a number of factors:

  • Four bylaw relaxations were part of the approval, including parking, the balcony, square footage and garage size
  • Concerns that the balcony “does not respect neighbours privacy” because it overlooks adjacent properties
  • A lack of sustainable design features like solar panels, recycled materials and solar hot water

The basis for the appeal is a Vancouver-bylaw regarding detached garage suites with balconies. Currently, Calgary doesn’t have its own bylaws regarding balconies on this type of structure.


The main issue for Roberts and the community association is privacy.

They say the balcony off the front of the dwelling could create privacy issues— “spying and prying.”

There has been no formal complaint confirming the issue.

“We’re not opposing a secondary suite, we’re saying design itself isn’t respectful,” Roberts says.

However, despite the association’s view, neighbours on both sides of the home have no concerns about the structure and welcome the project into their neighbourhood.

One neighbor, Amie Osness expressed her approval in a letter to the board, saying that she has no complaints regarding the suite or any concerns of privacy that could come with having the balcony.

Voelmle says: “The community association deciding the community’s take on privacy is somewhat paternalistic. My neighbours are happy with it and people ten blocks away are not my issue.”

The decision

Roberts started off the hearing with the association’s stance on the privacy issue, saying that the suite does little to preserve the privacy of homes not only beside the property, but two houses down on either side.

The community association asked for:

  • A minimum of three coniferous trees higher than four metres to be planted in front of the suite to allow for privacy
  • And/or the removal of the balcony and the addition of a ground-level amenities space

In response, Voelmle used photos from the view of the balcony and windows to show that the balcony has a minimal view of his neighbours’ backyards.

In regards to the coniferous trees proposed by Roberts, Healey and Voelmle say they are opposed to planting them because they block light, solar heating, and destroy the soil beneath.

“I don’t want the community association to do my landscaping for me,” Voelmle added.

During a short break during the hearing, Roberts, Voelmle and Healey discussed compromises to the plan to avoid a final decision from the board that could potentially leave both parties on the losing side.

“I think we’ve hammered out a deal,” Roberts says after five minutes of discussion.
Voelmle told the board after the break that he’ll increase the height of the balcony’s railing to 48 inches (1.2 metres) as well as make the material translucent or solid—which he says will add privacy for all homes. He also agreed to plant three aspens at a height of four metres.

Despite this side deal, the fate of the decision was left in the hands of the board.

“If we withdrew our appeal, there’s nothing approved and there’s no kind of screening at all.”

The board came back with their decision after a short recess. They decided to allow the appeal, in part, agreeing with the new amendments made by Roberts, Voelmle and Healey.

Their decision states that:

  • Five aspen trees must be planted along the property line at a minimum of four metres in height
  • A deciduous tree must be planted in front of the balcony along the east side
  • The 48 inch (1.2 metre) high railing must be made with translucent or permanently obscured material
  • Privacy screens on both sides of the balcony must remain in the plans

Both parties say they are happy with the outcome and say they are glad they were able to reach an amicable conclusion.

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