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Zoning Reform Ideas

jje1000

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Interesting concept that the Globe and Mail explores, acompanied by some gorgeous renderings:

How to remake Toronto’s old neighbourhoods: low but dense


It’s got a brick façade. It has a sloped roof. And it has space for five families – in comfortable spaces – instead of two narrow houses. This is what the future of Toronto’s house neighbourhoods could look like.

This vision comes from Batay-Csorba Architects, a young and talented Toronto firm. Recently, I wrote about how planning regulations in Toronto are limiting new housing in the city. BCA responded to my request to come up with an architectural solution.
The most efficient way to add more housing would be with low-rise apartment buildings, what’s often called the “missing middle.” But that would be opposed by city planners and, almost certainly, neighbours and their city councillors. So I asked BCA to try something that might be more palatable. We chose at random a site near Bloor and Christie Streets that’s currently occupied by two semi-detached houses. The challenge: to add more good-quality housing units here, while roughly maintaining the visual rhythm and scale of the street.
“We began by wanting to challenge the spatial organization that you find in these neighbourhoods,” said Andrew Batay-Csorba, who runs the firm with his partner and wife, Jodi. “The basic structure of this part of Toronto is in these long and narrow lots. But what happens if the units are back-to-back, instead of side-to-side?”

The BCA proposal challenges a hypocrisy in Toronto planning, which defends the “prevailing character” of areas such as this. In short, as long as a new building is a house for one family, it usually ends up getting approved, no matter how big it is or what it looks like. If it has two, three, or four units, people tend to complain much more loudly – and in most of the postwar city, three or more units is totally forbidden. All that has to change.
People in these neighbourhoods are very interested in the idea of context,” Mr. Batay-Csorba said. “But we want to challenge what it means to be contextual, to think about how people actually live now. And the architecture of these houses is ripe for reinterpretation.”
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/art-and-architecture/article-how-to-remake-torontos-old-neighbourhoods-low-but-dense/
 
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SunriseChampion

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I've now worked on a number of homes that were designed back-to-back in order to maximise space and number of units.
Didn't think it was a no-no....it made sense, was efficient use of space, and I fully agree with it.

Hope to do many more and the bureaucrats can catch up at their leisure.
 

Northern Light

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Interesting concept that the Globe and Mail explores, acompanied by some gorgeous renderings:













https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/art-and-architecture/article-how-to-remake-torontos-old-neighbourhoods-low-but-dense/
At the risk of contravening UT orthodoxy, I'm not overly keen on this.

I'm all in favour of leving the current, often non-descript, single-family housing on main streets in inner-suburbia, and part of Bloor, Danforth, and Eglinton etc.

I wouldn't cry over leveling bigger holes in many subdivisions, for instance, plowing a new 'main street' E-W between Eglinton and Lawrence throughout much of Scarborough, with that new street being for more intense uses.

But to me, this home still detracts from what can make an area like that likeable. I think back yards are perhaps the single biggest selling feature of the single-family home.

The big shade tree or the space for patio large enough to entertain, or a vegetable garden.

My concern in this type of development is not the house itself, in that it would presumably suit the needs of a prospective buyer, but rather in how it changes the character of an adjacent back yard by way of shading/shadows, reduced privacy, creating a sense of being closed in.

Once you allow one, in theory they could spring on both sides of your home.

If you have a yard that's only 14-18ft wide to begin with, that could turn into a desolate space where many trees will not grow, where anything that needs sun would be challenged, and where one would feel on display in one's own yard, as well. (not that the latter isn't the case already, but its different if someone's side window is directly into your yard.

The other challenge here is an environmental one. How do you maintain permeability on a site like this? Where's the water going?

There is a need to intensify, despite a valiant effort, this does not strike me as the right way to achieve that goal.

I think taking out corner lots and adjoining properties (say 5) , and building a simple, low-rise, 4-storey rental that affords a modest green buffer to adjacent properties has much more appeal, particularly if the architecture can blend w/the look of the area.

That and attacking the main streets and by all means looking at laneway housing or more and better basement apartments.

I've never understood why we don't capitalize on the last bit more, at a cost of in/around $40,000 for many city homes, underpinning and let's say another $45,000 for basic fit-out makes for $85,000 per unit for construction, that's much cheaper than most new builds per unit; but I am digressing!
 

SunriseChampion

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At the risk of contravening UT orthodoxy....
UT orthodoxy should be challenged and contravened regularly. :)


If you have a yard that's only 14-18ft wide to begin with, that could turn into a desolate space where many trees will not grow, where anything that needs sun would be challenged, and where one would feel on display in one's own yard, as well. (not that the latter isn't the case already, but its different if someone's side window is directly into your yard.
So, all the back-to-back houses I've worked on had no windows on the sides of the rear extension. Only windows facing the laneway behind. They also all included backyards of varying sizes, some big enough to easily park four cars. That'd be thanks to the depth of lots in older parts of the city. This also means that adjacent backyards are not entirely lorded over. In fact, in some cases, the adjacent house has actually extended farther back into the lot than the back-to-back house.

The other challenge here is an environmental one. How do you maintain permeability on a site like this? Where's the water going?
So, on the ones I've worked on, all water run-off has been directed to garden features in front or in the rear. No problems thus far, I'm assuming. I'm probably assuming correctly because in cases of water ingress, I'm usually the first to be called in.


...more and better basement apartments.

I've never understood why we don't capitalize on the last bit more, at a cost of in/around $40,000 for many city homes, underpinning and let's say another $45,000 for basic fit-out makes for $85,000 per unit for construction, that's much cheaper than most new builds per unit; but I am digressing!
Hell no, thanks. Have you ever lived in a basement? In these older Toronto homes it's shit. Straight up. Terrible, dark, cramped, claustrophobic. Something no amount of renovation can mend.
They have their place, and they are useful, but damn, let's do anything and everything else first to ameliorate the situation.
 

Ottawan

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The Globe and Mail published an editorial that bemoans the fact that affordability of housing is not a bigger election issue:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-globe-editorial-ontario-and-toronto-politicians-need-to-get-serious/

Pertinent to this thread (and consistent with my own beliefs) is the recommendation that loosening zoning in yellow belt areas, particularly near transit, is an idea whose time has arrived:

The problem is a lack of stock compounded by outdated zoning laws and development rules.

In the case of affordable housing for low-income earners, it’s up to governments at all levels to work with partners, both for- and non-profit, to build the needed units.

But when it comes to market-based stock, Toronto and its overlords at Queen’s Park need to make way for mid-rise developments in city neighbourhoods that are zoned for low density and single-family homes, especially along streets that follow the subway system.

Toronto cannot put off this transformation any longer. It is growing too rapidly and has lately become a magnet for the tech industry.
 

Ottawan

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Globe & Mail columnist and occasional forum poster @AlexBozikovic wrote an excellent piece dissecting Doug Ford's plan for increased density in midtown and downtown. He highlights not only what is wrong with it, but also where it might do some good, as well as where it is not ambitious enough (ie the yellowbelt). He also takes to task one of the more hypocritical counsellors, Josh Matlow. Definitely worth a read:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/toronto/article-more-condos-in-north-toronto-its-not-the-end-of-the-world/
 

jje1000

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Would still argue that moving towards a Japanese-style right-to-build zoning is the key, as I could see a dilemma like the avenues midrises occurring- where the product developed is still unaffordable for most Torontonians.

Regardless, breaking the yellow-belt is a good start, and perhaps a key to mentally preparing Torontonians for more radical local changes (the same way the 60-70s suburban tower blocks prepared Torontonians for the widespread condo boom since).

The secret to lower housing prices? It’s all in the zoning
EDITORIAL
PUBLISHED 1 DAY AGO
The bulk of municipal land zoned for housing – at least two-thirds of it in many cities – is reserved for detached homes, while multiunit housing is restricted to small designated areas, generally in the city core but often far beyond or on abandoned industrial lands. That leaves the supply of housing artificially limited, particularly in areas near transit lines and city centres.

Meanwhile, owners of detached homes, who have the ear of elected officials, argue the so-called character of their neighbourhoods must not be disturbed. The long-standing status quo serves them well, effectively enriching them through government policy.

But the argument about character is a smokescreen. Where there is a neighbourhood of single-family homes, there was once a forest or a field. No one mourns the lost character of what had been there before. Character is wielded as a weapon against change. As Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic put it in June, “'Character’ means exclusion.”
There is an answer. It’s called the missing middle: small-scale, multiunit housing, from duplexes and triplexes to mid-rise apartment buildings. The missing middle is not a fix-all, but it is an essential step forward.
Minneapolis is a beacon of possible change. Last December, city council passed a plan that ended the dominion of single-family zoning. It is regarded as the first of its kind in the United States, but it’s hardly radical. Where a single house was previously permitted, a building with three units, a triplex, is now allowed. The rallying cry has been “Neighbors for More Neighbors.”

Oregon was the next to move. State legislators in late June passed a bill that will remake single-family zoning to allow fourplexes in cities of more than 25,000 people, and throughout the Portland region.
In Toronto, the story isn’t much better. The province in June approved new rules for downtown and midtown Toronto, after reworking plans the city had submitted, but the geographic reach of change is limited. There is no serious talk of rezoning what’s dubbed the “yellow belt” – the 70 per cent of available land limited to single-family homes.



Some prior context, a collection of notes on planning and affordability:

- A Theory-

  1. In the past, cities have naturally intensified on their own due to a limited travel range, while individuals and small investors were the ones primarily driving this development. Large developments were the exception, rather than the rule.
  2. This allowed cities to rapidly adapt to demands for space (with fewer rules and standards, smaller buildings could be erected relatively quickly and cheaply)- where there was demand, there was growth (an extreme example are the gold rush towns that quickly produced entire wooden cities out of nothing).
  3. As cities entered the era of zoning and the regional plan, planners could still get away with the affordability problem by encouraging the cheap outward growth of a city- something aided by improvements in vehicular transit.
  4. However, we are now reaching the outer limits of sprawl, where current modes of transportation are insufficient for the distances needed to reach greenfield developments, so urban policy-making is instead encouraging a return to densification- yet we reach a dilemma where the accumulated planning practices also now actively make it harder for individuals and small investors to redevelop their lots. This means that we're essentially back at the first stage, but without the ability for fast, small-scale intensification.
  5. This results in a polarization of development- for the larger developers who can afford to navigate through the process, rather than densifying to a smaller degree (the missing middle), it simply makes more sense to go full-out and toss a highrise onto the assembled site. This results in rigid adaptation to demand, due to the multi-year development period for these larger structures + higher financing needs (see Keesmaat's comments on the large number of approved units still unbuilt), and even smaller structures still take a while to navigate the system. Would promoting laneway houses and unlocking the Yellow Belt truly help? Or would it result in the same issues seen before (the redeveloped properties remain unaffordable)?


Japanese zoning
Another interesting note:


Those all have some grains of truth, but the bigger reality is much more complicated. It relates to our whole, modern understanding of cities and development. For about 100 years, cities all over the world have implemented an entirely new ideology that runs counter to how cities developed more naturally for centuries. This stark change was made on-purpose, based in thinking of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that was responding to the shockwaves of industrialization. Part of that approach was the adoption of a model that commerce should be separated from residences, and part of it is a larger idea that cities and economies can and should be controlled from centralized agencies that are professionally managed. The latter sounds very common-sensical to us today, but it’s important to understand how radical of a shift that was, and what the actual results have been on the ground. Every choice or approach has consequences, and we tend to overlook the negative consequences to how we manage cities today.
These combined forces have effectively created the dilemma that missing middle housing describes: with systems so complex, uncertain and expensive to navigate, the logical development response is either a single-family house (which never gets denied) or a very large apartment or mixed-use building that is bull-dogged through the system by a team of lawyers and consultants. All of the buildings in the middle were typically built by small investors, families or individuals, and in most cases the return isn’t worth the expense or risk today. Missing middle buildings may tick a lot of boxes noted by planners and architects, but it’s just too hard to get them built profitably in our modern systems. This is all without mentioning how our society has become so brainwashed as to the virtues of the single family detached house, that residents even in urban communities tend to oppose just about any project or code change that doesn’t protect single-family areas from change.
Builders in Toronto are facing something of a dilemna: Residents want fewer high-rises and planners are making available more sites suitable for more compact buildings, but costs are making mid-rise residential properties exceptionally expensive to construct.
 
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