The City of Toronto has passed a new bylaw regarding laneway housing; comments made during the drafting are featured at this post (Part 1)

Click here for previous posts about laneway housing >

A bylaw was passed on Dec. 17, 2021 regarding laneway housing in the City of Toronto.

Below is a link to documentation regarding the bylaw:

Click here to access details related to passing of new City of Toronto laneway housing bylaw >

Given my interest in land use decision making, I’ve made it a point to read the comments. It’s much easier to read them once I’ve copied them to my website, rather than trying to read them all online. I’m interested in the content as well as the layout and structure of each of the documents.

Screenshot from Google Maps, posted in March 18, 2021 Daily Hive article entitled: “A brief history of Toronto’s laneway houses and how they came to be.”

At this post I’ve compiled a first batch of the comments (or excerpts from them).

I’ve left out details (which you can find in the original documents) such as names of commenters. I’ve also done minor copy editing, related to formatting and capitalization, for ease in online reading.

Comments regarding Toronto laneway housing bylaw draft: Part 1 of a series

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1. Moore Park Residents Association

I am writing to you on behalf of the Moore Park Residents Association (MPRA) regarding City Staff’s proposals for amendments to Laneway Suites bylaws. MPRA generally favours the introduction of this form of housing into neighbourhoods but is concerned that two of the proposed amendments are bad for the environment and do not respect the rights of adjoining property owners:

The proposal of the development industry to increase the overall height by 1 ft appears to be unreasonable and unnecessary and will further impact neighbouring properties which will already be faced with a substantial 2 story building directly adjacent to their property.

We are very much opposed to any further reduction in green space in the rear yard. A 2 metre wide walkway is totally unnecessary, will significantly reduce an already much reduced rear yard and should not be allowed.

We have no problem with the other proposed amendments.

2. Gladki Planning Associates: Laneway Suites Zoning By-law Amendment Review

An excerpt reads:

Recommendations

150.8.50.10.(1)(B): Reduce the 85% Landscaping Requirement

This review recommends a reduction of the 85% landscaping requirement to facilitate the construction of suites while maintaining a positive relationship to adjacent properties. The 85% landscaping requirement was the most common minor variance with an approval rate of 62%. It consistently arose in interviews with industry experts as a challenge for design and approval. In many cases, existing conditions on the site such as decks, pavers, and patios render sites ineligible to meet this provision.

The zoning by-law has a separation distance provision (150.8.60.30) that requires an ancillary building containing a laneway suite to be no less than 5.0 m/ 7.5 m from a residential building if the height of the ancillary building is no greater than 4.0 m/ greater than 4.0 m, respectively. This provision ensures the separation of the laneway suite from the primary dwelling and ensures a minimum standard envelop for the laneway suite. With this separation standard in place, the 85% landscaping requirement is redundant.

The zoning by-law has a lot coverage for the ancillary building provision (150.8.60.70(B)) that states that the area of the lot covered by all ancillary buildings combined, including the laneway suite, may not exceed 30% of the lot area. If the 85% landscaping requirement is reduced, the 30% maximum lot coverage of ancillary buildings will ensure that the scale of the building remains appropriate.

A 60% requirement is recommended.

150.8.50.10.(1)(B): Remove the 75% Landscaping Requirement at the Rear Lane

This review recommends a removal of the 75% landscaping requirement to facilitate the construction of suites. This requirement was one of the most common minor variances requested with an approval rate of 91% and arose in interviews with industry experts as a challenge and not meeting the city’s intent of the provision, being to green the laneways.

150.8.60.40.(1): Increase the maximum permitted height to 6.75 m

This review recommends increasing the maximum permitted height from 6.0 to 6.75 m to facilitate the construction of suites while maintaining a positive relationship to adjacent properties. This represents a modest increase in height permissions to accommodate current and emerging building methods and design.

This increase will align with the direction of changes to the Ontario Building Code, anticipating future amendments which will further support increased energy efficient standards and practices. Allowing room for increased floor and ceiling thickness is contemplated through this amendment.

Providing for modest increases in height were among the top five most common minor variances associated with laneway suites, with an approval rate of 70% at the Committee of Adjustment.

Industry experts noted that a slightly increased building height could ensure that standard building form could be achieved and consistently allow for opportunities for creative designs that respond to a site, or context and include passive building technologies including passive solar heating.

The by-law includes other provisions which shape and limit the building envelope. We feel the existing form permitted through the by-law as generally being appropriate and therefore only a modest amendment and increase is proposed. The height provision is one of several provisions of the by-law that regulates the mass of a laneway suite, mitigating and resolving the most impacts on adjacent dwelling units. The angular plane requirement is also notable as shaping and limiting the mass of a laneway suite, protecting the privacy and overlook conditions of adjacent properties.

Perpendicular/irregular lot relationship provision

This review recommends adding a provision in the zoning bylaw to account for perpendicular/ irregular lot relationships.

Industry experts highlighted that perpendicular lot relationships with laneway suites have resulted in some impacted neighbouring properties, specifically with regards to the permitted two storey height of a laneway suite on a lot with this relationship.

This recommendation proposes to add the following to the zoning by-law to reduce impact on neighbouring properties:

Where a Laneway Suite is located on an interior lot that is adjacent to a lot fronting a perpendicular street the following setback applies relationship applies. A minimum setback of 1.5 m from the interior lot line that abuts the rear yard of a perpendicular lot applies to the second storey of a laneway suite.

Including the Asquith-Collier, Ramsden Park, and Yorkville neighbourhoods within the Laneway Suites Zoning By-law Framework

We do not find a strong rational for the exclusion of the Asquith- Collier, Ramsden Park, and Yorkville neighbourhoods from the Laneway suite By-law framework.

The Laneway suite by-law amendments provide appropriate provisions to respond to the heterogenous and varied context of all neighbourhoods throughout the City of Toronto. These neighbourhoods do not present entirely distinct typologies, pattern or charter and should permit laneway suites where eligible and within the existing planning and regulatory framework.

Develop how-to guide including building permit and committee of adjustment processes

This review recommends developing and sharing a how-to guide on the building permit and Committee of Adjustment process with interested homeowners and prospective applicants. Interviews with industry experts highlighted that developing a laneway suite is a big undertaking that requires the coordination of various consultants, professionals, and departments and often requires a high tolerance for risk and cost, especially for applicants with a non-building background. Experts highlight that once homeowners learn of the required timeline and costs, they often decide not to move forward.

This approach is taken by other municipalities leading efforts in laneway suites, such as Edmonton and Vancouver. An applicants’ how-to guide on laneway suites would demystify the process and allow interested homeowners and prospective applicants to make informed decisions regarding the development of a laneway suite.

Develop a single window approach for laneway suite applications

This review recommends a single window approach for laneway suites applications including all relevant commenting divisions who are trained in and familiar with the latest laneway suites designs and building technologies. The minor variance review highlighted that of the 185 applications made to the Committee of Adjustment, 65% of them were approved,18 were refused and 2 went to LPAT. Industry experts highlighted challenges with the approval process, noting lengthy or inconsistent timelines, a range in interpretations of the zoning by-law from the building department and disconnection between the various city departments involved in approvals.

Developing a consolidated approach for laneway suite applications with similarly trained staff from all relevant commenting divisions that are trained in, and familiar with, the latest laneway suites designs and building technologies could reduce the applications sent to the Committee of Adjustment that are ultimately approved and may reduce lengthy timelines and high costs associated with various studies and consultants.

[End of excerpt]

3. Kingsway Park Ratepayers Inc.

Please stop crushing nature out of our built environment – NO INCREASE beyond 2 storeys is necessary and NO REDUCTION TO SOFT LANDSCAPING can possibly be a good idea in a city losing tree cover at an ever increasing pace. We are creating paved deserts with no place for rain absorption. Piping it to treatment plants is an asinine cost for a bit more built form inspired mostly by GREED.

Please register our firm complaint against these ill advised recommendations.

4. Confederation of Resident and Ratepayer Associations in Toronto (CORRA)

SUMMARY OF POINTS RAISED IN THIS LETTER

1. The Notice of Meeting was not accompanied by the proposed zoning changes as such the notice is deficient, and the matter should at a minimum be adjourned for one month to meet the Official Policies.

2. Both the Gladki Report and the Changing Lanes Report fail to comply with the requirements of the Official Plan which requires one to balance the need for housing with the policies which encourage tree canopy, green space and sustainable development.

3. Based on the Gladki Report, there have been over 300 building permit applications with 74% being able to comply, and the examples that are referenced in support of the height increase (7) or rear soft landscape provision (10) out of the total number of building permit applications do not provide persuasive evidence to support the need for the proposed amendments.

4. The report should be sent back for a detailed review and consideration of the comments of adjacent neighbours and weighing fully all relevant Official Policies.

DEFICIENCY IN NOTICE – NONCOMPLIANCE WITH THE OFFICIAL PLAN AND THE PLANNING ACT

The Confederation of Resident and Ratepayers Associations in Toronto (CORRA) while commenting on the materials provided wishes to preserve its rights to provide further comments upon seeing the actual draft amendments.

The notice in the Star indicating that writing to City Planning would provide one with the background material and the Zoning Amendments. The response provided to CORRA did not include the proposed amendments or the report supporting the same contrary to what the advertisement implied. CORRA was advised the amendments would be available less than 10 days before the statutory public meeting.

Official Plan in Chapter 5.5 The Planning Process and more specifically Policy 5.5.1 c) iv, stipulates that Council will endeavour to have such amendments available for review at least 10 days prior to the statutory public meeting.

The Planning Act sets out minimum standards for notice but indicates where the Official Plan sets out higher standards, these must be met. Respectfully the notice in this case does not meet the requirements of the Official Plan.

While the present policy of Council is that a planning report will not be released to the public before it is released to the Committee, this does not in regard to statutory public meetings meet the test set out to endeavour to provide at least 10 days notice.

The former City of Toronto resolved this by having a report requesting a public statutory meeting which included the draft zoning and supporting material go to the Committee for consideration at one meeting and then holding the Public Statutory Meeting at the next or such other committee meeting the Councillors felt was needed, thus meeting both requirements. There is no reason Council cannot adopt such a policy in regard to all zoning amendments thereby ensuring Councillors have input re notice and timing of the public statutory meeting and meeting the requirement of the Official Plan policy of
giving at least ten days notice .

CORRA therefore requests this matter be adjourned to permit compliance with the Official Plan and Planning Act to provide adequate notice.

What follows is CORRA’s commentary in regard to the recommendations in the Changing Lanes Report.

COMMENTARY ON THE CHANGING LANES REPORT

While there are references to Official Plan policies that support the thrust of the Report’s recommendations, CORRA notes there are no references to 2.3.1 Healthy Neighbourhoods Policy. Policy 2.3.1.1 makes reference to stability and open space character as important considerations in regard to Neighbourhoods. Similarly Built Form Policy 3.1.1.16 stipulates the protection, provision and maintenance of trees and their growing spaces above and below ground. It appears the report focus on the need for housing without considering the other policies, contrary to Policy 5.6.1 that directs the plan should be read as a whole to understand its comprehensive and integrative intent. The report by only focusing on certain policies is not a proper reading of the Official Plan.

Further the thrust of the report seems to focus solely upon limitations on building laneway housing with scant regard to the impacts of the same on adjacent properties.

The Planning Department appears to find the need to provide many types of built forms is more important then other Official Plan policies. These policies are reflected in the City’s desire to increase canopy growth, to discourage the paving over of green space with the resultant impacts on drainage and the creation of heat islands that impact on climate change.

The Provincial Policy framework also references the need to provide sustainable development.

The failure to reflect an appropriate balance between the need for housing and other policies, runs throughout the report. The Gladki Report has some of the same deficiencies in its review which will be touched on later in this letter. CORRA’s position is that the report should be sent back for further review.

COMMENTARY ON THE ZONING AMENDMENT RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE
CHANGING LANES REPORT

Landscape Requirement Changes

When CORRA looked at the proposed standard exempting a pedestrian walkway up to a maximum width of 2.1 m, CORRA thought this must be a typo and the exemption should have been 1.2 m.( or 4 feet), not almost 7 feet.

Given the impacts such a hard surface would have on tree roots and infiltration of water, this amendment does not seem to comply with the Official Plan policies let alone any common concept of sustainable development.

This proposed amendment is repeated for soft landscaping in the front adjacent to the lane.

CORRA’s review of 569-2012 notes the following:

The side yard setback for the principal building in R Districts under 10.10.40.70 (s) is 0.9 m and if there are no side windows 0.45 m.

In RD districts under 10.20.40.70 (3) (A) the setback for principal buildings, if less than 6 metres then 0.6 and under (B) if the lot is between 6 metres and 12 metres then the setback is 0.9 metres. Given access from the front of the principal building to the rear of the lot, assuming no mutual walkway would at the most be 0.9.

Under 10.5.100.1 (2) for parking that is not in the front yard on a lot with a frontage of 6 to 23 metres the maximum width is 2.6 metres or only 0.5 metres more then the proposed amendment of 2.1 m.

Thus looking at 569-213 as a whole setting the maximum at 2.1 for the hard surface is excessive, given there is already for a provision of up to 15% for hard surfaces.

In addition, if the normal path along the side of a house, unless there is a mutual right of way, would be 0.9 m then CORRA fails to understand why once you pass the main building the “walkway” needs to be 2.1 metres.

Taking the need to preserve tree canopy, green house effects of paved areas and impacts on the ability of soil to drain, this proposal will undermine all those goals.

It is as though Planning deems the provision of housing as trumping tree canopy, drainage and reduction of hard surfaces and the consequent impacts on [unclear]

CORRA does not support the proposed change for the aforesaid and other reasons to follow and finds 2.1 m to be excessive to say the least and fails to understand why the walkway cannot be accommodated within the existing 15 % permission for hard landscaping.

Abutting Rear Yard and Side Yards

CORRA notes that limiting the setback to the area above 4 m. and given the concerns raised by neighbours on the impact of such structures to the adjacent building and yards combined with the proposed increase in the height is not supportable.

Proposed Changes to Rooftop Equipment

CORRA notes the change from 1 m setback to 1.5 as potentially desirable but undermined by the decision to increase the height of such equipment to1.5 m from 1 m and so CORRA can not support the same.

Laneway Suite Height Changes

There is no justification for this change given the few number of applications that seek it as set out in the commentary in regard to the Gladki Report. CORRA notes and supports the comments made by other groups opposed to this change.

Other Proposed Changes

CORRA finds the report lacks sufficient information for CORRA to comment at this time.

Technical Changes

CORRA is not sure that these changes are technical and will need to see the specific by-law wording to comment on the same.

GENERAL COMMENTS OF THE CHANGING LANES REPORT

CORRA notes that there are 239 applications between 2018 and 2021 [CORRA notes that the Gladki Report has a different number].The report then notes of those 239,185 went to the Committee of Adjustment and of those 42 were withdrawn or refused; however it is not clear how that relates to those filed in 2021.

The amendments appear to be based on the Committee of Adjustment applications. The variances are few in number in the totality of building permit applications.

CORRA questions why such few exceptions to each specific regulation are being used to undermine the existing regulations when the vast number of building permit applications can comply. CORRA does not consider this to be an appropriate test. Further CORRA notes no consideration has been given to the impacts of the change on adjacent properties.

The Other Observations Chapter notes that the average size is 900 sq ft and the median is 800 sq ft . If this was a full review why would not the maximum permitted size of a laneway suite have not been considered as part of the review. Again, little weight appears to be given to the impacts on adjacent properties while a great deal of time is spent with considering the opinion of those seeking changes.

COMMENTARY ON THE GLADKI REPORT

The Gladki report seems to spend time looking at the challenges faced by persons building laneway housing but like the Changing Lanes Report spends scant time considering the concerns of adjacent neighbours or resident associations.

Here are some thoughts in regard to the report.

It is of interest the concerns of builders of laneway suites are reviewed over several pages (30-34), while the concerns of residents gets two pages and a cursory summary of the same. It is clear more weight and consideration was given to the industry then the community.

An examination of the data supporting these changes appears to have elements of the “tail wagging the dog” scenario.

Page 6 of the report notes 74% of building permit applications do not need to seek variances. This appears to be out of 306 applications (page 5). There were 185 variance applications.(page 6), These two numbers do not gel for some reason.

On page 30 there is a useful summary of the actual number of applications versus percentages. So the justification for increasing the height is based on 7 applications that were approved. So 7 properties are considered sufficient evidence to justify this change. That is 7 out of the presumed 306 building permit requests or 2% of all building permits. Rear landscape was 10 out of the 306 or 3%. For the 85% soft landscaping request for variance, the number approved was 23 out of 306 or 7%.

In addition the analysis doe not indicate the range in the size of each variance request was from the regulation in each case nor the prevailing mean of those requests.

The only conclusion CORRA can reach is that the analysis was to justify “cutting red tape” not a full review of the impacts and whether the present regulations strike an appropriate balance between encouraging development and other public polices and the impacts on adjacent properties.

CONCLUSIONS

Given there is a 15% permission for hard landscaping which should be sufficient to accommodate a walkway . There is a lack of sufficient information to support exempting walkways in addition to the 15% already allowed. In any event CORRA finds 2.1 m excessive and indicative of the permissive nature of the proposed amendments.

There is insufficient justification for height increases or rear landscape buffer or the rear yard setback other than to satiate the demands of the industry based on the limited number of examples provided.

Therefore:

CORRA recommends that a full review be done examining such matters as tree canopy, drainage and impacts non adjacent properties.

Such review should involve direct communications with those impacted not just those who seek the variances.

In the event the Committee declines to send the report back for further study CARRA requests that this matter be adjourned at a minimum for proper notice as required by the Official Plan.

CORRA further requests that the proposed amendments not be approved in their present form.

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