Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design in the City of Toronto.
We’re approaching the 2-year anniversary since Laneway Housing was approved in the City of Toronto. Here’s our post About Laneway Housing In Toronto By Urbaneer & Sustainable. We’re now awaiting word on when Garden Suites will be officially approved, once all the mitigating factors expressed by stakeholders have been assessed, addressed, and, as required, integrated into the new Garden Suite By-laws. The process is already underway, including an important public consultation process.
Until that is complete, here is the first DRAFT policy – a 52-page report from Toronto’s City Planning Department – delivered to the Planning & Housing Committee which you can access and download here. A final draft still has to be enacted (so you can’t build a Garden Suite yet!), but, in the meantime, here’s a synopsis on the proposal, provided by The Architect Builders Collaborative and my longtime friend and client, Paul Dowsett, of Sustainable. It summarizes our need-to-know details for Garden Suites in Toronto!
“When can I build a Garden Suite?”
The earliest that the new rules will be in place is January 2022. However, once the final version goes to Council this Autumn/Winter, you can initiate the design and applications process under the as-of-right guidelines.
“What’s in the DRAFT set of rules for Garden Suites in Toronto?”
Here’s the short form of the proposed rules published at the end of June:
- DEFINING A Garden Suite:
- The proposed definition of a Garden Suite is as follows:
Garden Suite means: “a self-contained living accommodation for a person or persons living together as a separate single housekeeping unit, in which both food preparation and sanitary facilities are provided for the exclusive use of the occupants of the suite and is in an ancillary building not abutting a lane.”
- NUMBER Of Allowed Apartments:
- Only 1 dwelling unit will be permitted in a stand-alone garden suite building.
- WHERE You Can Buy A Garden Suite:
- All forms of Residential zoning in all Wards, but NOT all properties will meet the various rules
- The regulations recognize that not all lots may be able to support a Garden Suite and acknowledge that where larger lots may accommodate a larger suite, setbacks and step backs should increase proportionately to adequately limit impacts on adjacent properties. In practice, the proposed standards intend that the size and setbacks of a Garden Suite are relative to the lot on which it is located.
- Only in the rear yard, not in the side or front yards
- So far there is no mention of corner lots
- At least 5m away from your main house
- 7.5m apart for 2 storey garden suites
- Minimum 1.5m from the rear lot line
- Minimum 0.6m from the side lot lines (and possibly further away on larger lots)
- Min. 1.5m from side lot lines if you have windows or doors in the side wall
- HOW BIG A Garden Suite Can Be:
- Up to 60m2 [645 sq.ft.] footprint
- Maximum lot coverage of 40% of the rear yard, and
- Maximum 25% lot coverage for all ancillary buildings combined
- All 3 limits apply
- HOW HIGH A Garden Suite Can Be:
- Up to 6m [19′-8″] tall and 2 storeys high (subject to angular plane restrictions – see below)
- About BASEMENTS In Garden Suites:
- Yes, you can build a basement
- BUT – basements can be costly if your site conditions will require shoring.
- All About ANGULAR PLANES:
- These pesky, imaginary lines limit how tall the building can be when it is close to a lot line. If you build further back from the lot lines, then you may be allowed to build straight up to the maximum height.
- Front wall: 45 degrees starting at a height of 4.0m, 7.5m from the rear main wall of the main house. This is the same as the rules for laneway suites.
- Rear wall: 45 degrees starting at a height of 2.0m, from the rear lot line
- Side walls: 45 degrees starting at a height of 4.0m from the required side setback
- LANDSCAPING & Garden Suites:
- The requirements for soft landscaping have bedeviled many laneway suite proposals. The proposed rules for Garden Suites seem a little easier to comply with:
- A minimum of 50% of a rear yard area, including the area covered by a Garden Suite, must be soft landscaping. Lots with a frontage of less than 6.0 metres will require a minimum of 25% soft landscaping.
- GREEN ROOFS As ‘Soft Landscaping’
- The proposed rules recognize that a Green Roof can provide many of the same benefits as soft landscaping at grade.
- As a result, the above soft landscaping requirement may be reduced by 0.5 square metres for every 1.0 square metres of green roof provided on a Garden Suite.
- PARKING Requirements For Garden Suites
- The proposed draft Garden Suites regulations do not require any vehicle parking space for a Garden Suite and maintain the required parking rates for the main house on the lot.
- Watch out for the need to have clear access for fire-fighters that cannot pass through a parking space such as up a narrow driveway.
- About EXISTING Buildings
- In order to facilitate the conversion of existing ancillary structures to provide living space, the conversion of a lawfully existing building to a Garden Suite, such as a garage or shed, is proposed to be permitted if it complies with the maximum footprint (60 m2), setbacks where openings are proposed, and meets the minimum required soft landscaped area.
- About EMERGENCY Access:
- Similar to the rules for Laneway Suites, Toronto Fire Services will have a policy that the Building Department can use to determine if a proposed Garden Suite will meet their standards for access in an emergency.
- The draft rules require a maximum 45m path of travel from the street to the door of the Garden Suite. That path must be free of obstructions for the full length at 1.0m wide and 2.1m high.
- We expect that similar to Laneway Suites, this access may be able to be shared with a neighbour subject to a Limiting Distance Agreement.
- TREES, TREES, TREES:
- We expect that Council will follow the path they blazed with Laneway Suites and encourage Urban Forestry to refuse applications to remove healthy mature trees for the sake of building a Garden Suite.
- GREEN DESIGN
- This is a stand alone topic in the report. Although the report mentions the City’s goals of sustainability, there are no concrete recommendations to help achieve them. The City is limited in the tools at their disposal as the Ontario Building Code sets the minimum standards for energy efficiency and makes no mention whatsoever about the really important thing – the amount of carbon it takes to make any particular building. We’re engaging the City to mandate that Net Zero Energy ready homes are the way to go to fight climate change! Here’s Urbaneer’s post –> Hello Toronto, Ontario, Canada! Make Your Home A ‘Net Zero’ Hero.
… And that’s our summary!
“Are there any pre-approved designs for Garden Suites?”
This is really exciting! City staff are taking a serious look at the example of cities like Seattle and Santa Clara who have held design competitions to have a series of pre-approved designs for Garden Suites available through a City website. We fully support this idea to make building a beautiful Garden Suite easier provided that all such designs be ‘Net Zero Energy’ and low-carbon design.
Of course, you don’t need to wait for the City to figure this out – The Architect Builders Collaborative has some beautiful ready-to-build Garden Suite designs for when the bylaws come into effect in 2022!
We’re proud that our City continues to adapt, evolve, and better itself, thanks to the vision and hard work of Torontonians. Our journey toward better land use is a long one, but well underway! Read more here: Garden Suites & Expanding Housing Options In Neighbourhoods Initiative.
Pretty fantastic, right?
Once approved, homeowners will then have to determine whether they qualify to can build a Garden Suite on their property. **Spoiler Alert: a lot of properties in the original City of Toronto won’t qualify because the side lots between properties don’t meet the minimum one-metre wide requirement necessary for fire access (even when entering into a Limiting Distance Agreement with the adjoining neighbour)**
The question Sellers will want to know is “How much more is my property now worth?”
The answer really depends on how large your Garden Suite is, the quality of its construction, fixtures, and finishes, and if building it comes at the expense of demolishing existing property features already considered desirable. For example, a Garden Suite might not be as value-added if it requires tearing down a new concrete block garage and workshop because it doesn’t comply with the Garden Suite setbacks, or removing an elegant inground swimming pool surrounded by a stone terrace, or razing an established heirloom garden with fruit trees. I caution readers to not underestimate the value of their existing mature landscape nor the environmental expense of cutting down a century-old tree which is enormously important for our collective health and well-being. Here’s my post called For The Love Of Trees.
However, when it comes to valuing a property, there are three approaches realtors and appraisers use – beingthe Market Value Approach, the Income Approach and the Land + Development Cost Approach which I break down in my postExploring Toronto Real Estate Property Values. When it comes to valuing a Garden Suite, I’duse the Income Approach to see how much additional income the Garden Suite would generate annually after deducting the construction, maintenance. and operating costs of the dwelling, after taking into account any possible loss of income or value,like opting to build a Garden Suite at the cost of losing your onsite parking spaces. (which, incidentally, will depreciate as Self-Driving Cars and their proposed central hub systems become commonplace – apparently as soon as 15 years). If you’re taking the Income Approach you might also determine how much your current dwelling would earn as-is, or divided into more than one unit to establish how much an Investor might pay for the site, knowing that cap rates are shifting (and impacted by The Other Side Of Rent Control And Toronto Real Estate ).
Personally, I see this as-of-right accessory dwelling being really helpful for multi-generational families (explored in more detail in Dear Urbaneer: What Are The Important Considerations Surrounding Multi-Generational Housing? as well as existing owners who opt to build a laneway house for their own personal occupancy while turning their current dwelling into an income supplement.
And here are a few of my recent blogs related to Toronto real estate and development:
At Urbaneer, we favour research, patience and data when on a house hunt. We are here to advise you on the best property purchase for your needs today and in the context of the future as well. We’re here to help!
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Thanks for reading!
-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
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