In Summer, 2018, the City of Toronto adopted Official Plan Amendment 403, allowing for laneway suites to be permitted as-of-right. By some estimates, close to 30,000 lots currently qualify for a laneway suite. However, many thousands of properties are excluded from the current planning regime, which requires—among other things—that the property be adjacent to a public laneway.

Enter Garden Suites. The new typology, which does not require laneway access, promises to increase opportunities for adding gentle density to the city’s low-rise residential neighbourhoods.

Where Garden Suites fit into a wider range of housing typologies, image via City of Toronto
On December 8, the City Planning and Housing Committee voted to endorse a staff review of the housing typology, pushing it one step closer to reality. City Staff now begin the next steps of preparing a final report with recommendations, set to be completed by the end of Q2 2021. Councillor Ana Bailão, Chair of the Planning and Housing Committee, is optimistic that all the pieces will be in place for garden housing to become a reality in Toronto by Summer, 2021.

Of course, approval is not guaranteed when the question ultimately comes before City Council. Until then, advocates of garden housing plan on taking an active advocacy role. Lanescape, which was a key player in the push to bring laneway housing to Toronto, is one such group. Co-founder Craig Race sees garden suites as a natural next step, potentially opening hundreds of thousands of properties to the benefits currently afforded to those eligible for laneway suites. Working alongside other advocacy groups, Lanescape will be producing its own report, following in the model of the 2017 report, co-authored by Evergreen, which helped laneway housing become a reality in Toronto.

Garden suite concept, image via @LanescapeCA/Twitter

Garden suites will not single-handedly solve Toronto’s housing crisis; but they do have the potential to introduce thousands of new rental housing units into low-rise neighbourhoods with minimal disruption to the existing urban fabric. Proponents of the initiative emphasize that they will lower the cost of entry into many parts of the city which are currently barred to those unable to afford home ownership.

That, indeed, is the stated goal of the recently initiated Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) work program, which seeks to expand housing options in the city’s so-called “Yellowbelt” of areas zoned as “neighbourhoods.” The work program was adopted by City Council in July 2020, one year after City Staff were directed to study options for filling in Toronto’s “missing middle.” As acknowledged in the November Staff report, its mandate has been made even more urgent by the unequal effects of COVID-19 across the city.

Map showing land use designations including Toronto's vast 'yellowbelt,' image via City of Toronto

It is as yet unclear exactly what garden housing in Toronto will look like when it finally does arrive, but existing regulations for as-of-right laneway housing provide some clues. Those include limits on height and massing in relation to the existing building onsite—both laneway and garden suites being defined as “accessory buildings” on the site of an existing house—as well as specifications for the relative amounts of hard and soft landscaping. As with laneway suites, it is expected that services such as water and hydro will need to be provided by the main building on site.

On the other hand, differences between the two typologies will necessitate some new solutions. In the case of emergency access, garden suites’ lack of public laneway frontage is identified as a critical issue by the November 24 Staff report.

These and other outstanding issues will be the subject of the upcoming review, which will include a consultation process during Q1 2021, with the ultimate aim of recommending by-law and official plan amendments for Council’s consideration.

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