After much anticipation, a draft zoning bylaw amendment for as-of-right garden suites is now available to the public. The requirements set forth have been refined from the City Planning recommendations published in June of 2021 following consultation with community groups and municipal stakeholders.
While this draft is not a final binding policy, it is a major step towards the completed bylaw. The draft still requires council approval and ratification before garden suite projects can move forward in the city, however we are optimistic that there will not be any substantial modifications made as part of that process.
Those familiar with the laneway suite zoning by-laws will recognize some of the requirements set forth. The garden suite policy is loosely based on the laneway suite framework, though there are several fundamental differences in response to a non-laneway-oriented condition.
Our team has summarized the draft bylaw requirements here:
Maximum Building Footprint
The maximum footprint (otherwise known as lot coverage) of the garden suite may not exceed the smallest of:
- 40% of the rear yard area. This is measured from all rear walls of the main house, spanning lot line to lot line, extending to the rear of the property.
- 20% of the entire lot area (combined with all other ancillary buildings). This limits all ancillary structures to cover less than 20% of the lot area, which includes garages, sheds, and other buildings housing functions serving the main house.
- 60m². This can effectively be considered a cap on the building size. Whereas option 1 or 2 may exceed 60m², the building must then not exceed this hard maximum.
Therefore, the largest possible as-of-right garden suite has a maximum footprint of 645sf (60m²), regardless of the available lot area and conditions, which is slightly less than the laneway suite permissions currently in place.
One key item to note is that while the laneway suite policy sets forth maximum dimensions for the building width and length, a garden suite footprint is not capped by dimensional restrictions, so long as the maximum area is not exceeded.
Setbacks & Separations
Rear Yard Setback:
In nearly all cases, the garden suite must be set back a minimum of 1.5m from the rear lot line. Several atypical conditions are also outlined by the bylaw as follows:
- If the lot depth is greater than 45.0 metres, the rear yard setback is equal to the greater of half the height of the garden suite, or 1.5m.
- If the property is a through lot (meaning there is a street at the rear lot line) and the garden suite will be beside other residences fronting onto said street, it is subject to the same set back as those residences.
- If the ancillary building containing a garden suite on a through lot contains a parking space accessed from the rear street, the garden suite must be setback by at least 6m.
The general principle here is that the garden suite will always be setback at least 1.5m from the rear lot line, limiting the buildings’ imposition on rear neighbouring lots. The bylaw does a great job to acknowledge through lots, ensuring that a garden suite would not negatively impact the existing street face in these conditions.
Side Yard Setbacks:
Where a garden suite does not have windows or doors on a side wall, the side yard setback is equal to 10% of the lot frontage from a minimum of 0.6m to a maximum of 3.0m. For example, a lot with a 5.0m frontage would still be subject to a 0.6m minimum setback despite the 10% allocation being 0.5m. A lot with a 35m frontage, would be subject to a 3.0m setback despite the 10% allocation being 3.5m.
Where openings such as doors and windows are located on a side wall, the 0.6m minimum increases to 1.5m.
There are two other atypical conditions to consider:
- If the property is a corner lot, the minimum side yard setback is the greater of 1.5m and the required minimum side yard setback for the residential building on the lot.
- If the garden suite on a corner lot as described above contains a parking space which is accessed from the side street, 6m is the minimum setback.
Similar to the laneway suites bylaw, there is a minimum separation distance required between the main house and a garden suite. For a structure that is equal to or less than 4.0m in height, the minimum separation between the main house and the garden suite is 5.0m. Where the garden suite is taller than 4.0m, the minimum separation is 7.5m.
Height & Angular Planes
Maximum Building Height:
The maximum height of a garden suite is 6.0m, measured from average grade. The building height measurement is taken to the highest point of the roof structure. Note that the building may not be higher than 4.0m if it is closer than 7.5m to the main house as described above.
Angular Plane Requirements:
The angular plane dictates the geometry of a garden suite at all sides except for where the structure abuts a street.
Beginning from a height of 4.0m, a garden suite may not penetrate a 45-degree angular plane located as follows:
- 7.5m from the rear main wall of a residential building on the same lot, projected towards the rear lot line.
- From the minimum rear yard setback, projected towards the front lot line
- From the minimum side yard setback, projected towards opposite side lot line
Like laneway suites, a dormer or vertical extension of the front main wall of a garden suite may project into the angular plane facing the main house. This projection may be up to a maximum 30% of the total front wall width.
Although not mentioned in the draft zoning bylaw amendment, providing sufficient access for emergency personnel remains a critical priority. In order to meet the principles of the building code, the property must provide a minimum 1.0m wide by 2.1m high unobstructed access route from the front street to the garden suite entrance at the rear yard. The access route must not exceed 45m in length from the street. A fire hydrant must also be within a maximum travel distance of 90m from the garden suite entrance.
This is not a zoning bylaw requirement, but rather a life safety provision. As such, the emergency access requirement is not an item that a minor variance can be sought for at Committee of Adjustment.
In exchange for permitting additional density on the property, the bylaw sets rigid criteria for soft landscaping. Soft landscaping refers to ground cover such as sod, mulch, soil, and other organic, permeable surfaces. Decks, patios, gravel, and paving are not considered soft landscaping.
The soft landscaping requirement is expressed as a percentage of the rear yard area depending on the lot’s frontage:
- Where a lot frontage is greater than 6.0m, a minimum 50% of the rear yard area must be soft landscaping.
- Where a lot frontage is equal to or less than 6.0m, a minimum 25% of the rear yard area must be soft landscaping
Unlike the laneway suite bylaw, the garden suite footprint is included in this calculation and of course is not considered to be soft landscaping.
Platforms & Encroachments
A raised platform (balcony or terrace) is permitted so long as it does not encroach into the required minimum setbacks and separations and is no higher than 4.0m above grade. The platform also must not exceed 10% of the garden suite’s interior floor area. Where a platform is situated on a side or at the rear of the garden suite, a 1.5m high opaque privacy screen must be provided.
A platform at grade is permitted to encroach into the required rear yard separation up to a maximum of 1.5m, so long as it does not exceed 0.3m in height above grade. The size and orientation of this platform would of course be subject to the landscaping requirements described above.
Number of structures/units: A maximum of one garden suite is permitted on a lot and a lot may not have both a garden and a laneway suite. A garden suite must be a single self-contained residential unit.
Height Encroachments: Skylights may exceed the building height and angular plane restrictions by 0.3m. Equipment used for the functional operation of the building may exceed the building height by 1.0m, subject to setbacks from the roof perimeter.
Area Relative to Main House: The interior floor area of the garden suite must be less than the gross floor area of the primary residence.
Parking: No additional parking space is required for the garden suite, however parking allocations for the primary dwelling would still apply. Two bicycle parking spaces must be provided with the garden suite.
While our team remains cautiously optimistic, we are very pleased to see how this framework has evolved from the early recommendations made in June. The draft policy here has been refined to be more concise while accounting for many diverse lot conditions across our beloved city.
We anticipate this draft to be presented before council early in 2022, with the hope of having a final ratified bylaw by the late Spring or early Summer. In the meantime, be sure to follow our social media and newsletter for ongoing updates on the policy’s final stages of development. For more information direct from the municipality, you can visit the official garden suites webpage here.
Our team is now officially preparing free Garden Suite Property Reports based on this most recent zoning bylaw amendment. To receive your complimentary report, send your address and/or survey to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team will respond with a complete review within a single business day.
We remain anxiously, but patiently in wait for what promises to be a whole new frontier in urban infill housing for our city.