On Wednesday, Toronto City Council expanded housing options by allowing garden suites on residential properties throughout the city. A garden suite is a housing unit, usually located in the backyard of an existing house, but separate and detached from the main house. Garden suites, like laneway suites, are generally smaller than the main house on the lot, and are often a way to create homes for family members — parents, grandparents or adult children — or can be used as rental housing units.

"Garden suites and other initiatives to expand housing options in neighbourhoods are important steps towards accelerating the creation of a diverse range and mix of housing options to accommodate people at all stages of life, and to accommodate the needs of all household sizes and incomes," said Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, Chair, Planning and Housing Committee. "Allowing for more people to live in our low-rise neighbourhoods broadens access to parks, schools, local institutions and our local restaurants and shops and creates more vibrant and equitable neighbourhoods."

Garden suite designed by Fabrication Studio in Toronto

Prior to Council's adoption of this report, secondary suites were permitted city-wide within a detached house, semi-detached house, or row house. However, only properties next to a public lane allowed an additional residential unit, known as a laneway suite, within an ancillary building.

The Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw amendments for garden suites allow for the construction of an additional residential unit on residential properties that are not located on a public lane, in accordance with the requirements of the Planning Act.

While many lots in the city may accommodate a garden suite, not every property is suitable for one. Various factors will influence whether a property can accommodate a garden suite, such as lot width or depth, location and depth of the main house, adequate emergency access, and the location of protected trees. The regulations have been designed so that the size and setbacks of a garden suite are relative to the scale of the property and the size and location of the main house.

As a result of the allowance of garden suites, Toronto's first dedicated garden suite architecture practice has begun practising. Fabrication Studio led by architect François Abbott of Montreal, will not only play a hand in designing new garden homes, but also provide simple advice and guidance to navigate the complexities created by the new by-laws and zoning, and promote the adoption of garden suites to diversify the housing mix in Toronto. 

Garden suite designed by Fabrication Studio in Toronto

“At Fabrication, we fundamentally believe that garden suites can play an important part in diversifying the housing mix in neighbourhoods that have existing amenities yet have become increasingly unaffordable,” said Abbott. “Our goal is to provide beautiful, high-quality housing at a compact scale to improve yards, lanes, neighbourhoods and ultimately our city by efficiently using land already at our disposal."

The studio is already underway with garden suite projects in Toronto, including on Windermere and Lansdowne avenues.

“With garden suites now permitted," continued Abbott, "homeowners are faced with the daunting task of first understanding what is both possible and permissible in their yard — then navigating the required planning approvals — all without existing examples as reference. We’ve spent the past several months analyzing the draft by-law proposals and amendments to ensure we are ready to help Torontonians build garden suites from the very first day of approval by City Council.”

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