News   May 24, 2024
 8.8K     2 
News   May 24, 2024
 1.3K     0 
News   May 24, 2024
 483     0 

Laneway Housing and Garden Suites



From Globe Real Estate Section:

POSTED ON: 19/10/06

Council snuffs out laneway dream


From Friday's Globe and Mail

The vision of revitalizing Toronto's 311 kilometres of back alleys with tiny, cheap homes that has tantalized architects and city planners appears to have been extinguished by city officials' concerns about the costs of utility servicing and garbage pickup.

A 2003 report by two Toronto architects financed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. touched off a wave of excitement in the media and among architects and urban designers. It pointed to hundreds of potential sites for nifty new laneway dwellings, to replace ramshackle garages and abandoned industrial sheds in the alleys that crisscross the city.

The report by Jeffery Stinson and Terence Van Elslander included designs for four styles of compact homes that would not encroach on neighbours, and called for a loosening of city regulations so that building in laneways would entail a less arduous bureaucratic process.

The owners would pay for the installation of new water, sewage and hydro services, though the city would have to service them in the longer term.

The planning department responded favourably, setting up a working group to investigate the merits and problems of the proposal, and there was talk of a task force and a pilot project.

But the task force was never established and planners now confirm that the idea of large-scale laneway development is dead.

“[Mr. Stinson] felt it should be something the city would legalize essentially; right now laneway homes are not permitted by zoning bylaws or the official plan,†says Lynda Macdonald, a city planning manager. “And the new official plan is much stronger in enforcing the existing pattern of housing ... and not permitting anomalies.â€Â

The new official plan came into effect during the summer, and city council also received a report from its works committee that called for a ban on new homes in laneways if there was any chance of adverse impact on privacy or costs associated with new services.

Council adopted the recommendations with only a slight modification that allows area planners to decide if there are “special circumstances†at an individual site that make a laneway house there appropriate.

“By insisting on ‘special circumstances' as a prerequisite for laneway housing but not defining [them], council has thrown the onus back on to individual area planners without offering them any effective, city-wide policy,†Mr. Stinson says.

According to an inventory prepared for the works committee, the city has 2,433 public laneways totalling 311 km, the vast majority of them in the old city of Toronto and East York.

Some lanes were built to provide access to garages; others predate the automobile and were used for outbuildings or small industrial workshops.

“It's inconceivable there couldn't be some housing possibilities there,†Mr. Stinson says.

Ms. Macdonald says there is still hope for one-off proposals for a laneway house, particularly if they are to be built on an industrial lane, like Croft Street in the Harbord and Bathurst streets area, rather than on a lane of garages.

She acknowledged she doesn't know what the “special circumstances†referred to in the works report passed by council might be.

“We didn't see the works report until it was done,†she says. “I saw it at the last minute.â€Â

But the planning department has developed its own checklist of considerations that must be addressed in any proposal for a laneway house.

These include fire-truck access, utility servicing, garbage pickup and impact on the neighbourhood context.

“Works committees never like anything that isn't the status quo,†Mr. Stinson says.

The report that city council adopted “reflects the traditional public works attitude to laneway housing ... that nothing about laneway housing fits with current practice and therefore everything is a problem.â€Â

The architect says what's needed is “to start with the premise that laneway housing may be a good idea, and ask the experts on piped services and snow and garbage removal to use their skill and imagination and the experience of other cities to see if it might be made feasible.â€Â

Works is notoriously conservative - and guess who was the chair?

This really sucks. Laneway development, if handled properly, could have made for neat little urban environments popping up here and there.
There are two issues that could make a laneway redevelopment plan infeasible. Firstly, the land adjacent to laneways is privately owned. If only 50% of the property owners would develop their land, you would have a mish mash of new housing, dilapidated garages, and nothing at all resembling a normal street. Who would want to live somewhere like that?

Secondly, there are tens of thousands of cars that park in the driveways and garages that are located in laneways. Because that is easily 10 times more cars than could be accomodated by street parking, the city would have to spend tens of millions of dollars buying land and building Green P parking garages. If you don't like the parking lot at McCaul and College, you'd better get used to it!
A very simple way of adding density in Laneways is to allow property owners to put coachhouse suits above lane garages but serviced from the street like the existing house. No complex land severing and servicing issues required.

Say you create a 1 bedroom rented for $900 out of a 20x25 foot or 500 sqft space above a typical garage. Adding one more unit to a triplex or below gives 4 units per property which is below the 5 unit cut off where more rigorous commercial mortgage financing kicks in. Say at 6% interest rate that $900 adds about $140 000 to the worth of your property on an income basis. I read somewhere in a study they envisioned it possible to build laneway housing at around 180,000. I think you can get away with less so you can see with $140 000 to play with in property value it might be feasible to create that coachhouse.
Don't Despair

Though I was not happy to read this article, I try to keep in mind that laneway housing is a concept that will only become more popular as time goes on and that a theoretical ban on them at the city level may not materialise in any fewer than the market wants on the ground. I expect to see many more subtley going up.
Re: Don't Despair

I've seen a few around Danforth and Logan. I especially like the one in the abandoned garage the 1st lane south of Danforth off Logan. It has 2 or 3 units. Really cool. An older multi unit conversion north of Danforth off Logan used to be a household goods warehouse and store. They are both back lane access. I like to see more of these individual projects instead of wholesale clearing and building in back laneways.
Re: Don't Despair

I live in that neighbourhood too. I was so looking forward to having my own mini-OCAD, hovering over the end of my back garden, one day. Drat!
Re: Don't Despair

Tdot: Your logic is good and process is right on. If I could extend it a little further ... If the hypothetical new apartment could generate $900 per month or $10,800 per year of gross income, as you suggest, with utilities (gas and elec.) paid by the tenant, and if you as owner had to pay an additional $1,000 in taxes per year (my estimate), you could net $9,800 per year. Capitalized at 6% per year (your estimate, which I think is reasonable), an indicated increase in property value would be: $9,800 / .06 = $163,000 (rounded). Offsetting this partially, the existing house at the front of the lot would suffer some decrease in value due to lost rear yard space and privacy(hard to quantify, would probably depend largely on the depth of the lot).

I'm no construction expert, but would be surpirsed if this structure could not be built at $175 per square foot, maybe less, including cost of extending gas and sewer lines. That cost could be written off against your income tax (not all at once, it would be depreciated year by year). The mortgage interest could also be written off.

Economically it seems to make good sense. I could see a lot of people in the older parts of the city going for it, if it were to be permitted.
^That is why I wonder why the discussion always revolves around lot severing. A severed lot in many instances creates an isolated unservicable property. The precedent for coach houses on the other hand is already set, they exist in various states of legality in laneways all over the city. I can't see fire regulation as being prohibitive here either so long as structures are limited to 2-storeys and banned on row house properties.
These two images accompanied the article. Does anybody recognize these? Can you tell me where they are?


My scans came out funny so they look like drawings, but I believe they're actually photos.
I believe the second one was pointed out to UT members by Ed007 during the last Doors Open. Trefann Street, by Queen and Parliament IIRC.

There is a good possibility that I'm thinking of the wrong building.
Hume's take on this...

Why T.O. isn't on road to better future
Nov. 2, 2006. 07:10 AM

If Toronto is on the road to a better future, it's not because of its streets.

Despite years of debate about how to make the city more pedestrian oriented, in these parts the car remains king. Though most would agree Toronto must move toward a more urban model, the fact is that we have become increasingly suburban.

What makes the situation so frustrating is that the failure goes beyond lack of political or social will — there's no shortage of either. Instead the problem lies within the very organization of the city, its bureaucracy and administration. It can be found in rules and regulations as well as attitudes and assumptions that lie so deep they can be hard to recognize and harder still to change.

"It's all the little things we do on a daily basis," says Toronto architect Joe Lobko, who served as chair of the city standards, processes and procedures subcommittee of the Mayor's City Beautiful Roundtable. "We rarely think about them but they are incredibly important. The city functions very efficiently in its own way. It's not that people there are stupid. But it's set up to achieve specific goals; the mantra at city hall is `state of good repair.' That's not enough. What kind of a place would we have if the city could get beyond that?"

Toronto's streetscape is a perfect example; though we talk endlessly about how to improve it, it's not getting better.

As Lobko explains, however, what we loosely refer to as the streetscape can involve a large number of municipal players — public works, the TTC, the parks department, economic development and (occasionally) urban design. Then there's emergency services, which also has input. Each of these divisions, working largely in isolation, has a say. The watered-down, lowest-common-denominator, risk-managed outcomes are precisely the kind of development the city no longer wants.

There was an excellent example several weeks ago when the city refused to change its policy against laneway housing. The argument was that lanes are unsafe because they're too narrow for fire trucks and garbage trucks. Unbeknownst to Toronto officials it seems, smaller vehicles are used throughout Europe and Asia, where as far as one knows, the rates of death by fire are no higher than ours.

It's exactly this kind of thinking that keeps Toronto from realizing its potential, and, if not changed, will lead to its decline. It's also the approach that has kept our streets from becoming more suitable for pedestrians.

In their recently released study called Making Toronto's Streets, Paul Hess from University of Toronto and Beth Moore Milroy from Ryerson University point out that high-density cities such as Tokyo manage to accommodate emergency vehicles despite the streets that are as narrow as four metres.

"In Canada and the U.S.," they write, "access by large emergency and service trucks remains a criterion for establishing street widths."

This is just one example of the kind of thinking that predominates at city hall and constitutes a system of governance that lies outside of political or citizen control.

"The main finding of this study," write Hess and Milroy, "is that Toronto is talking about a new vision for its streets but the tools to achieve it are missing. The new vision wants more people out of their cars, on public transit, on foot and bikes. But almost all the institutional mechanisms for making and changing streets in light of those ideals are geared to an older vision, one primarily oriented toward moving cars...."

As Lobko argues, "You have to change a culture. But I think it's a culture that's ready for change. There will be institutional resistance — that's inevitable — but people are beginning to realize that it's not just about making the city prettier. It's not just about planting flowers, though flowers are terrific. It's about making the city more sustainable, accommodating and cared for."

But as Lobko reluctantly points out, even when the city does make a special effort to improve the streetscape, it doesn't provide the operating funds needed for maintenance.

Check out what's happened on St. George St., which was redesigned in the late 1990s thanks in part to an unprecedented $1-million donation from the Matthews family of Toronto. Since then, the street has been dug up for any number of reasons and each time has been left in worse shape. The paving, for instance, has been asphalted over and the new trees left to fend for themselves.

"We need to create a culture at the city where it would be inconceivable for this kind of thing to occur," Lobko insists. "We need more than making sure there's no liability and covering your ass.

"It's like moving a mountain. It won't be easy but it can be done."

Let's hope Lobko's optimism is justified.