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Kitchener, Ont. woman says too much red tape around tiny homes

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A Kitchener, Ont. woman wants to install a tiny home in her backyard but she keeps running into red tape.

Wendy Woolcox owns a duplex with her partner and has a tenant renting one side of the building. She also wants to add a tiny home to her backyard for a second tenant to rent.

“Everything is hooked up to the house utilities,” Woolcox said. “So yes, everything is there. It's like living in a 5-star hotel suite.”

She started seeking a building permit at the beginning of May, and that’s when the headaches started.

“We've come up with everything that they've asked for. Now we're back to a zoning problem that should have been done at the very beginning. We've met with Grand River Conservation people. We've got all of these other permits in a row. Everything. Now [the issue is] my driveway is too wide.”

Woolcox said she’s paid for environmental work and nearly $5,000 in Education Development Fees. She’s also sent the same information to different city staff, multiple times.

Now, the city says the concrete at the side of her driveway, where her current and futures tenants will park, is too wide.

The driveway was expanded in the 1980s, well before Woolcox bought the property, to include a pad area for extra parking.

Forty years later, city staff have looked at the building permit process and say the work wasn’t legal. They’ve told her the pad of concrete either needs to be turned into a patio or blocked with bollards or large rocks.

“We have a tenant and his friend who park there all the time,” Woolcox added.

Now she doesn’t know where they’ll park.

“There's no parking on the street,” she explained.

The city also wants her to add a sidewalk extension.

“There's no sidewalk at the road. I'm not going to put a sidewalk out for people to walk directly into traffic. They will come around the front of the house and use our sidewalk like everybody else has," she said.

Despite the back and forth with the City of Kitchener, Woolcox's tiny home has already been built and is sitting at a factory in Brantford. It's been there for three months as she waits for the city to give their approval.

“It was complete the second week of March,” explained Habitat28 partner Aura Poddar. “It has been sitting there April, May, now June, three and a half months. We're just waiting any day, waiting any day for the building permit.”

The tiny home features one bedroom that’s big enough for a queen bed, a toilet and shower, washer, dryer, air conditioning, heat and a living room.

The company said each community handles these applications differently since the introduction of Bill 23.

“The municipalities are really lagging in the legislation and the processes. The officials are not trained on approvals. There's no uniform or bylaws. There's no uniform requirements, and everything is left to the interpretation of the officer,” Poddar said. “Municipalities, like Mississauga, they advertise that they approve additional developments within 10 business days. Others take nine months to approve.”

“Kitchener makes me cry. Everybody else, its smooth sailing,” Woolcox said.

Response from City of Kitchener

CTV News reached out to the City of Kitchener, but they didn't respond to direct questions about Woolcox's situation.

They said the process can take between 10 and 20 business days, depending on complexity.

“City staff have seen a steady uptake in the number of new backyard homes permitted each year, with five in 2021, 15 in 2022, and 27 in 2023. The city’s regulations for backyard homes, tri-plexing, and four-plexing were recently reviewed and updated to permit more units on more lots as part of our enabling four units project,” they said.

Woolcox’s options are to either cut off the driveway and add the sidewalk, or apply for a minor variance approval. That second option, however, might cost her $1,700 and take approximately six more weeks to complete.

Woolcox is fed up.

“To get a tiny home in [this area] is impossible,” she explained.

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