If you own a property in Toronto that does not abut a publicly designated laneway, you may soon be able to develop a secondary dwelling. Not to be mistaken with laneway suites, garden suites are detached structures located in the rear yard of a traditional street-facing residence that does not abut a public laneway. They are intended to be modest-scale separate housing units that integrate sensitively within existing residential neighbourhoods.
On June 14th, The City of Toronto’s Preliminary Garden Suites Proposal was released to the public. The document presents preliminary recommendations for a garden suite policy informed by the city’s background research and the public input received through an online survey. The report was presented to the Housing and Planning Committee in late June and was approved for further consultation and refinement with community stakeholders.
Here, we will discuss some of the key recommendations included in the City of Toronto’s report while making suggestions to improve these elements based on the information collected as part of Lanescape’s public survey and our experience in implementing the current laneway suites by-laws across the city.
SUCCESSFUL ITEMS FROM CITY OF TORONTO REPORT
Although we do have suggestions on where the policy can improve, there are several items that we feel are appropriate recommendations that have been successful in the laneway suite policy.
Permitted uses for garden suites are like that of laneway suites where they may be used for living accommodations and home occupations. Note that short term rentals are permitted but only in the accordance with the Short-Term Rental By-law. Like laneway suites, a garden suite must only house one living unit and may be permitted to have a basement to increase available space below grade.
Although required parking rates for the main house must be maintained, only 2 bicycle parking spaces are required with no required additional parking for the garden suite. This will ensure hard landscape is minimized on the lot and promote alternative modes of transportation.
Also, like laneway homes, the garden suite area is excluded from the maximum permitted floor space index (density maximum) on the lot. This is helpful because in many cases, existing houses meet or exceed the density provisions in many residential zones across the City.
PRIVACY AND SHADOW
Privacy and shadow have proven to be a major concern for Torontonians. The feedback from both the City of Toronto and Lanescape’s Garden Suites survey suggests that height and a structures imposition on neighbouring lots should be carefully considered.
The permitted height for garden suites presented in the City of Toronto report aligns with the height and minimum separation requirements for laneway suites, allowing a two-storey structure to a maximum of 6.0m high with a minimum 7.5m separation from the main house. The policy also suggests the incorporation of angular planes on two-storey suites to limit shadowing on neighbouring properties. The extent of the angular plane required on each wall of the Garden Suite is determined by its relation to the main house and the required setbacks from each property line.
Our team took a different approach to the maximum permitted height in Lanescape’s Garden Suites Report. We believe limiting the maximum Garden Suite height to a single storey will ensure privacy for both the garden suite occupants and neighbouring properties. This will also eliminate the angular plane requirement entirely and simplify how the by-law can be applied to a wide variety of lot conditions. The city’s recommended approach to the angular plane is convoluted and will result in awkward building geometries with limited usable space on a second level in most circumstances. It is our belief that a simplified approach to determining the maximum height of the structure relative to setbacks at the side and rear lot lines can make for a more accessible and successful policy that stays true to the intent of the garden suites program.
BUILDING SIZE / LOT COVERAGE
The City of Toronto report suggests mandating a maximum lot coverage and a maximum rear yard coverage for a garden suite. This would mean that the building must not exceed a percentage of the overall lot area and a separate percentage of the rear yard area, whereas laneway suites are only governed by a single maximum of 30% coverage for the entire lot. The report also proposes a maximum building footprint of 60 square metres (645sf), which is smaller than the maximum permitted laneway suite footprint of 80 square metres (810sf).
With over 30 laneway suite permits now secured and many more on the way, our team has yet to encounter a condition where a laneway suite can exceed 30% of the lot area while complying with the other maximum building dimensions, setbacks, and separation requirements. In the interest of simplicity and maximizing the usable square footage within the unit, we believe the policy should echo the current laneway suite bylaws in relation to lot coverage and building footprint. This will also minimize the number of constraints and factors to consider when determining the size, therefore making it more digestible for the average homeowner and flexible for different lot conditions. By restricting the maximum size with two coverage requirements, a maximum footprint size, and minimum setbacks, we feel the recommendations put forth are over-constraining and unnecessarily complicated. The current laneway suite policy is successful in this respect as it adopts a very simple approach that can be applied equitably to many lot sizes and configurations.
Sustainability and tree preservation was also a prominent topic demonstrated in both survey results. It is clearly important to Torontonians that garden suites incorporate sustainable features such as green roofs and other environmentally conscious design techniques to minimize their ecological footprint. Most respondents were also opposed to the removal of any existing mature trees and were concerned with maintaining as much green space as possible.
The City of Toronto prioritized the preservation of greenspace in the development of the policy as the report proposes a minimum of 50% of a rear yard area (including the area covered by a garden suite) must be soft landscaping. On narrow lots with frontage of less than 6.0 metres, a minimum of 25% of a rear yard area must be soft landscaping. However, the report also allows the soft landscaping requirement to be reduced by 0.5 square metres for every 1.0 square metres of green roof provided. This innovative approach ensures the greenspace within the backyard is maintained while also offering flexibility in how the greenspace is achieved.
As sustainability and the preservation of greenspace is a critical issue that needs to be addressed in the policy’s development, we are incredibly supportive of green roofs being employed to offset soft landscaping requirements. This offers great opportunities for some flexibility of additional outdoor living space for both the garden suite and main residence.
It is important to remember that these are only draft recommendations and that a productive policy is always best developed through critical analysis, iteration, and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders. This new housing typology will be a perfect solution to housing loved ones, generating rental income, or gaining additional live-work space, while increasing housing flexibility on your property. As the city’s report may seem daunting to digest, it is a necessary and valuable milestone in the process of seeing Garden Suites in neighbourhoods soon. Our hope is to continue a dialogue with the municipality and communities across the city to ensure the best possible outcome for a by-law that ensures safe, responsible, beautiful, and functional housing options for all.
Please see some additional links below to get involved in the process: