I look at laneway housing, a broad topic with many facets, from a more general, abstract perspective than was the case when, in 2010, in connection with the former Parkview School in Long Branch, I first became interested in land use decision making
The current post is Part 2 in a series. A previous post is entitled:
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.”
I look at laneway housing, a broad topic with many facets, from a more general, abstract – less personally involved – perspective than was the case when, in 2010, in connection with the story of the former Parkview School in Long Branch, I first became interested in the topic of land use decision making.
Texts of submissions related to draft of Toronto laneway housing bylaw
By way of an introduction to the topic at hand, it’s useful to read a March 18, 2021 Daily Hive article entitled: “A brief history of Toronto’s laneway houses and how they came to be.”
An excerpt reads:
These cozy homes — also called laneway suites — are built without a street frontage behind an existing house. They face a public laneway and are usually smaller and detached from the main house. Because of their limited space, these homes are often interestingly designed to make functional use of every available square inch.
Brigitte Shim, an architect and University of Toronto professor, along with her husband and fellow architect Howard Sutcliffe, designed and built one of the first-ever laneway houses in Toronto in 1992. Shim has since gone on to teach on the subject of laneway houses at U of T.
She says that when she and Sutcliffe set out to build their laneway home, being one of the first to do so meant they had to jump through many hoops and largely figure out on their own how they were going to make it happen. Laneway houses, thankfully, have since become much easier to build.
But long before laneway frontages became housing opportunities, Shim says they served another purpose.
“The laneways are part of a Victorian system of back alleys,” Shim said. “Typically, they would be stables or accessory buildings. In fancier neighbourhoods, there would be a garage with a chauffeurs accommodation over it. In less fancy neighbourhoods, it would have been a contractors roofing supply place or a storage unit — all kinds of small miscellaneous places.”
Many such articles dealing with many jurisdictions are available; they make for fascinating reading.
A bylaw was passed on Dec. 17, 2021 regarding laneway housing in the City of Toronto.
Given my interest in land use decision making, I’ve made it a point to closely read the comments at the link.
At this post I’ve compiled the comments (or excerpts from them) into the second of a series of posts. I’ve left out details (which you can find in the original documents) such as names of commenters. I’ve also made minor changes in formatting and capitalization for ease in online reading.
In general, how the story (whichever story, for whichever audience) is shaped comes down to content, form – by which I refer to story-structure and story-layout -, and the power dynamics at play.
By way of example with regard to story elements: consider column widths and paragraph length, and the tension between succinctness and comprehensiveness. A group’s logo is a key part of its communications; the logos featured in the ongoing series of featured messages are impressive and work well.
A focus on user-friendliness is an expression of human agency. The more intensive the focus, in many cases, the higher the level of agency, in the context of power dynamics at play, in a given situation.
I’ve elaborated on related communications topics in previous posts including one (in this case focusing on linguistics) entitled:
The key variable here concerns whether or not a given person seeks continuous improvement in their writing and communications skills. Such a focus makes good sense.
In a previous era, when print newspapers had a viable business model based on advertising revenue, the topics covered at this series of posts would have been covered in detailed, extensive articles available to newspaper and magazine readers. In my years of university and freelance writing, I much enjoyed working on such articles.
The business model that once drove print newspapers and magazine is now part of history.
In the wider scheme of things, I don’t know whether the business model in place for news reporting, at a particular time in a nation-state like Canada, matters one way or another. If news – whether some version of it that is widely accepted as news or, alternatively, some version that is purported to be news – does not get around in one way, there are other ways, based on workarounds, in which it does gets circulated.
Currently, comments of the kind I’m sharing at this website are available for anyone who wishes to find them (given sufficient time and motivation) on the City of Toronto website. It occurs to me that not that many people, perhaps, would spend their days locating and reading such items.
By way of prompting a few more people to follow the discussion than would otherwise be the case, I’m posting them at the Preserved Stories website. Mainly, however, I’m posting them for me own education given my interest in storytelling and power relations.
The foregoing reflections are shared in this context: I am highly impressed with the contents of the messages. All of the messages warrant a close read.
Comments regarding Toronto laneway housing bylaw draft: Part 2 of a series
5. MHBC Planning, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture
An excerpt reads from the submission reads:
We understand that the City is reviewing the City’s current progress on the Laneway Suites policies and by-laws with the potential to enact changes based on feedback from assessment of the first 100 applications. We also understand these potential changes would be brought forward to City Council before the end of this year.
We have reviewed the findings of the Laneway Suites Zoning By-law Amendment Review prepared by Gladki Panning Associates for the City. While the report is quite comprehensive, one area of concern with the by-law that has not been explored is and continues to remain a challenge for applicants is the conversion of existing structures on laneways into laneway suites.
The current policy and zoning framework is designed to make it easy to construct new laneway suites so long as you follow the by-law. However, should you wish to do something that the framework does not contemplate, these scenarios often go through a lengthy minor variance and/or TLAB process because there is no guidance on how to treat these existing cases.
An example is my client who has two existing buildings at 9 and 15 Peyton Lane with frontage only on a laneway, one of which operates as a residential dwelling today. Both have servicing connections and their own municipal addresses despite being on one property. Both are serviced from the lane. Discussions regarding severing these properties to recognize them distinctly is faced with confusion and obstacles as again, there is no guidance on how to carry forward these existing unique cases that depart from the typical framework.
Another example is 24 Sorauren Avenue, which sought to convert an existing garage on a lane that was larger than the principal dwelling. That application was ultimately approved, but not without significant cost and effort of the owner as the matter had to go to TLAB for approval.
I am asking that the City look to modifying the by-law to provide a provision that recognizes legally existing structures or dwellings on a lane, regardless of size of building, shape of lot, orientation of built form or street frontage, and allow these legally existing structures or dwellings to be recognized and/or used as laneway houses, subject to applicable variances. This would acknowledge the intent to promote laneway housing, even in existing dwellings, while still capturing the obligation of zoning compliance. Such a provision would guide the internal review of the application and help limit refusals by the Committee of Adjustment and appeals to the TLAB.
We ask that the City consider this change, and provide a response at the meeting on October 27th, 2021, or in advance of any recommendation to Planning and Housing Committee / Council. Thank-you in advance.
6. Bedford-Wanless Ratepayers Association
On behalf of the BWRA I am writing to object to by-law amendments affecting the height of laneway suites and the percentage of soft landscaping required.
NO INCREASE TO HEIGHT BEYOND 2-STOREYS
The industry has asked for a height increase to 6.3m (20.67 ft) to allow for “opportunities for creative designs and to accommodate improvements of foundation and ceiling insulation to improve the heat envelope.” Creative design should not be a considered criteria. Using higher R-value foam insulation, an insulated concrete floor assembly and other height saving measures that could improve the heat envelope can all be accommodated within the permitted 6 metres. There should be NO INCREASE to the height, as it is NOT REQUIRED to accommodate energy saving and will negatively impact adjacent neighbours.
NO REDUCTION TO SOFT LANDSCAPING
City Reports acknowledge that Neighbourhoods are losing pervious ground area at the highest rate in the City and that innovative and consistent approaches to growing green space and facilitating tree planting and protection are necessary moving forward. Yet, despite this concern, staff are recommending three reductions to soft landscaping requirements. The most serious one is between the house and the suite by EXCLUDING from the calculation a 1.5 metre (5 foot ) walkway. A permeable 1 metre walkway can easily be provided between the house and the laneway suite within the 15% hardscaping allocation. There should be NO EXCEPTION to the 85% soft landscaping for a walkway as it will negatively impact the environment and is unjustified. A 1 metre walkway can be accommodated within the existing 15% hardscaping.
I am writing on behalf of the Upper Avenue Community Association. We represent approximately 2700 homes in the Bedford Park-Nortown City of Toronto neighbourhood and do have laneways in our catchment area.
I participated in the public consultation review with City Planning and representatives from Gladki Consulting presenting the results of the laneway monitoring report. As a resident and homeowner, it was very disappointing to hear the extent to which discussion took place with Developers versus a complete lack of discussion with neighbours adjacent to existing laneway projects. During the meeting it was mentioned that C of A letters of objection were reviewed versus speaking directly with people. The City followed up in October with a mailing to neighbours requesting feedback. Mail in response was, not surprisingly, low. A distinctly different process afforded to adjacent neighbours versus Developers. The initial presentation on Laneway Suites to City Council identified key concerns– one being “possible privacy, overlook and shadowing issues.” With implementation underway, that no longer seems to be a City concern.
We submit the following objections to the proposed amendments to the zoning bylaws.
HEIGHT – one of the biggest impacts on adjacent residents/neighbours is height – specifically the 6M height allowance currently in the zoning bylaws. At 6M, a laneway suite looks directly into adjacent backyards resulting in 100% loss of privacy. The proposal to increase this limit to 6.3M is unacceptable. The additional extension of rooftop equipment from 1.0M to 1.5M will further exacerbate the height issue for adjacent neighbours. We have evidence that laneway suites are currently being built within the 6M height allowance indicating that a further increase in height is not required. Also, height has been a variance noted in many C of A applications. Increasing the height will not change this. Developers will now just go higher- that is, higher than the proposed amendment of 6.3M. The impact on adjacent neighbours is being grossly underestimated and will have a significant impact on adjacent properties as you move north from the City core where overall heights are much lower.
SOFTSCAPING – The Gladki report recommended a reduction in softscaping from 85% to 60%. It would appear the primary objective in the proposed reduction was to alleviate C of A variances. This recommendation seems to be based on the approval rate of C of A applications for this zoning element. The thinking being – if it got approved, we should be able to amend the zoning bylaw. To quote the Gladki report –
We find that variances to this provision are common and are frequently approved and the issue has been highlighted as a challenge to industry experts. Variances typically seek a reduction to 60% soft landscaping in this area.
This statement in the report would confirm to me that the intent of the report was to examine C of A variances and amend the zoning so that they would be eliminated. It would strike me that what is needed is further training of the C of A Hearing panel members so they understand the impact of their decisions. Softscaping should not be reduced and in doing so does not align to the Climate Change objectives of the City.
The City approach to the Gladki recommendation was to not propose a reduction in softscaping directly, but to do so disingenuously by proposing a “sidewalk” between the main house and the laneway suite that would be excluded from the softscaping calculation. What this suggests is that it is a backhanded way of reducing softscaping requirements while appearing to not alter the current 85% requirement. In addition, further reductions are being made on the laneway setback requirements.
There does not seem to be consideration for the impact on drainage or overall green space on properties. Bedford Park-Nortown is in a flood-prone area of the City as the Burke Brook runs through our entire area. Adequate softscaping is critical to ensure flooding does not worsen.
City Planning has failed to estimate the impact of any softscaping reduction on the stormwater requirement. The current Clean our Waterways project approved in 2019, using $2.5 B of Toronto taxpayer monies with an additional $1.05 B of provincial and federal taxpayer monies, is just catching up with existing stormwater problems and the milder climate change impact that were envisioned at the time. Now that climate change model predictions are more severe, and the amendments are indirectly proposing a 10 to 15% reduction in softscaping, this could literally flood the currently planned project. For some quick math, a 10% reduction in softscaping is roughly equivalent to an additional 63,000 m3/yr. of stormwater and, by comparison, the current $3.5B project has 3000 m3 storage and treatment capacity. This added cost to taxpayers is unacceptable. A link to the WATERFRONT Toronto website is attached for reference (Ref #1).
HOUSING COST IMPACT: The laneway suite objective now seems to be “bigger is better.” A recent article in The Globe and Mail featured a 20’ wide lot, semi-detached home, at 86 Woburn Avenue. The list price of the home was $1,295,000 and it sold for $1,750,000. The real estate agent sold the property on the potential of a laneway suite. As the article stated – “a tree blocking the way was removed” and the property was marketed for laneway potential. Reduction in tree canopy and increase in housing costs – is that really what we are trying to do?
The proposed zoning amendments are very disappointing. The City objectives seem to be to change the zoning bylaws to eliminate the need for C of A variances and please Developers. Meanwhile the price of housing continues to rise as evidenced at 86 Woburn Avenue. Other jurisdictions are managing their programs in a balanced approach – increasing housing supply but having respect for adjacent neighbours. An excellent example is the City of Barrie. They have recently reigned in their zoning bylaws due to the public outcry of residents as adjacent neighbours digest the impact on their property.
Developers, not homeowners offering intergenerational living, were to blame and their development projects were the catalyst to the amendments. A similar approach by the City of Toronto would be respectful to the existing neighbourhoods and be an excellent example to follow.
The proposed amendments are irresponsible, out of step with the current climate reality, will have a significant impact on adjacent neighbours, and are unnecessary. We would ask that you consider the following:
1. Maintain the height at a maximum of 6M.
2. Maintain the current calculation for 85% softscaping with no exclusions.
3. Softscaping should not be a negotiable variance at C of A.
8. Federation of South Toronto Residents’ Associations
Comments on Proposed Amendments to Existing Bylaws Governing Laneway Suites
With regards to the PHC agenda item number PH29.2, following are FoSTRA’s recommendations and comments.
1. Height Limitations:
The existing height limit is 6.0 metres: There is an amendment to increase this to 6.3 metres.
Builders proposed and presented arguments during the 27 October 2021 public consultation to increase the height limit to 6.7 metres or more. The height of 6.3 metres is a compromise position proposed by the Planning Department to forestall the many expected requests to the Committee of Adjustment from owners and builders for height increases.
FoSTRA would support 6.3 metres (approximately an additional foot), provided that this becomes a hard rule and “height creep” is vigorously opposed.
2. Soft Landscaping:
The proposed amendment would maintain the requirement for 85% of the rear yard to be ‘soft landscaping’ or green space but would be modified to allow for a pedestrian walkway (hardscaping) that would be exempted from the 85% requirement.
FoSTRA is recommending that a pedestrian walkway of at least a one-metre width be required between the main house and the laneway house. However, this walkway should NOT be exempted from the 85% requirement for a soft landscaping in the backyard. If functionally accessible by wheelchairs and walkers, this walkway could be permeable and therefore counted as soft landscaping.
3. Rear Yard Setbacks from the Property Line:
The proposal is to reduce the current rear yard setbacks from 1.5 metres to 1.0 metre.
FoSTRA would support this amendment only if it facilitates the ability to construct a laneway home and provided that this space is added to the soft landscaping definition and the laneway house continues to meet the 85% requirement.
Finally, it is suggested that whatever approach is taken with regards laneway homes, that it is reviewed on a regular basis (every three years) to ensure the developing needs of communities and the outcomes of the amendments are being assessed.
9. Harbord Village Residents’ Association
To: Planning and Housing Committee Re: PH 29.2 Changing Lanes Report
Harbord Village is a Victorian subdivision constructed, for the most part, in 1885. Our community is threaded with laneways, except for a single residential block. We are a majority row housing of modest houses sitting on small lots.
We urge this committee to amend this report by removing the change in zoning to permit a reduction in soft landscaping.
This last week, our Board unanimously adopted a resolution calling for HVRA, in our advocacy and the actions we take, to consider climate impacts first. While we welcome the inclusion of a section on Climate Impacts in this Planning report, we are little comforted by what seems contradictory: the report recommends reducing soft landscaping, while City Planning will “specifically work to mitigate impacts on the City’s soft landscaping, water permeable areas and tree canopy”. You cannot deduct and mitigate at the same time.
By our calculations, confirmed by Planning, the addition of a hard walkway could reduce soft landscaping in the shared rear yard of a property 6 m. in width, from 85% to 58%. This does not promote the retention, let alone growth of the single most effective source of carbon capture: trees. This goes well beyond an amenity for residents of both dwellings. Trees are a significant contributor to reducing the City’s emissions as a whole and yield a lifetime benefit in GHG reduction.
In the last ten years, Harbord Village has lost 30% of our trees, 1,371 in total, mostly to construction and aging—to the point where Council has requested Forestry bring forward a report on our neighbourhood, along with a handful of others, for emergency remediation. Our most recent tree inventory shows our canopy cover at 21.9%, well short of the City’s 40% target. This has heat island, stormwater management, and climate impacts we can ill afford.
Second, this Planning report argues the zoning bylaw be relaxed because in the 26% of applications where a variance has been sought, this soft landscaping request has been frequently approved. This effectively makes C of A the arbiter of City zoning rules because its decisions do not support the rules the City has passed. Further, it is not clear in the report that the lack of a hard surfaced walkway in addition to the patio space discourages laneway suites. It is surely a minor add-on when other variances are sought.
Finally, given our focus on the Climate Emergency and our concerns about tree loss, we would appreciate seeing the detailed review from City Forestry extended to impacts of laneway housing on the canopy, including loss of leaf area, reduction in hard surfaces, failure to replace trees injured or lost. This review should consider all trees, not just by-law protected trees.
I am writing on behalf of the St. Andrew’s Ratepayers Association to express our opposition to two of the proposed by-law amendments for Laneway Suites that will negatively impact soft landscaping as well as the privacy of adjacent homeowners.
We are requesting that the current by-law standards for Height and Soft Landscaping percentages be
The St. Andrew’s Ratepayers Association represents the interests of approximately 1,500 homeowners in the area bounded by York Mills Road to the south, Highway 401 to the north, Old Yonge Street to the west and the green belt west of Bayview Avenue to the east. St. Andrew’s is a well-established residential neighbour- hood characterized primarily by single family dwellings.
We are opposed to the following proposed by-law amendments:
The proposed amendment for “Increasing the maximum permitted height of a suite from 6.0 metres to 6.3 metres” should be removed.
The industry has asked for an increase to accommodate improvements to the heat envelope which can be dealt with by using higher R-value foam insulation, an insulated concrete floor assembly and other height saving measures. NO INCREASE to the height is required to improve the heat envelope. Higher ceiling heights and allowing for “creative designs” has also been suggested as reasons to increase height – these should not be considered as valid criteria. Increasing the height will also negatively impact adjacent neighbours – the maximum height should be maintained at 6.0 metres.
2. Soft Landscaping
The proposed amendment for “Exempting a walkway from the minimum required percentage of soft landscaping space between a suite and house where a lot exceeds a width of 6.0 metres” should be removed.
City reports acknowledge that neighbourhoods are losing pervious ground area at the highest rate in the City and that innovative and consistent approaches to growing green space and facilitating tree planting and protection are necessary moving forward.
Despite this concern, staff are recommending three reductions to soft landscaping requirements. The most serious one is between the house and the suite by EXCLUDING from the calculation a 1.5-metre walkway. A permeable 1-metre walkway can easily be provided between the house and the laneway suite within the 15% hardscaping allocation.
NO exception to the 85% soft landscaping for a walkway should be allowed as it will negatively impact the environment and is unjustified. A 1-metre walkway can be accommodated within the existing 15% hardscaping.
We respectfully request that the Planning and Housing Committee does NOT allow changes to the current provisions controlling height of laneway suites and does NOT allow any changes that will reduce the current soft landscaping allocation of 85%.
The South Armour Heights Residents’ Association (“SAHRA”) represents approximately 850 households in the area between Yonge Blvd over to Avenue Road, from the 401 down to Brooke Avenue within Ward 8 (Eglinton-Lawrence).
We have participated in the Laneway Suites Monitoring and Evaluation reviews and have considered in detail the 13 proposed changes to the rules implemented only two years ago, based on experience with only 239 building permit applications as of May 31, 2021.
We are writing to express our opposition to two of the proposed by-law amendments for Laneway Suites:
The industry has asked for an increase to accommodate improvements to the heat envelope which can be dealt with by using higher R-value foam insulation, an insulated concrete floor assembly and other height saving measures. NO INCREASE to the height is required to improve the heat envelope. Higher ceiling heights and allowing for “creative designs” has also been suggested as reasons to increase height – these should not be considered as valid criteria. Increasing the height will even more so negatively impact the adjacent neighbours – the maximum height should be maintained at 6.0 metres.
The proposed amendment “Increasing the maximum permitted height of a suite from 6.0 metres to 6.3 metres” should be deleted/removed.
The proposed amendment calls for “Exempting a walkway from the minimum required percentage of soft landscaping space between a suite and house where a lot exceeds a width of 6.0 metres.”
The City Staff proposal is saying that the total square metres for a walkway would be subtracted from the soft landscaping minimum required percentage; and the 15% hardscaping allocation of the yard would not be used for the walkway. Why is the 15% hardscaping allocation now not being used for the walkway?
A maximum WIDTH dimension has been defined as 1.5 metres (5 feet) for the walkway. The 1.5 metre width is excessive for a private walkway in a backyard where they do not have to deal with 2- way traffic. Why is a 1.5m walkway required when the emergency access walkway width can be only .9 metres?
A major oversight is that no maximum LENGTH or maximum SIZE (square metres) has been defined for the walkway – this should be corrected. With no defined maximum size, the walkway could consume a huge area between the house and the suite.
To calculate the percentage impact, we used a 1.5m width by a 7.5m length (the separation distance) which is 11.25 square metres. If this walkway is subtracted from soft landscaping, the soft landscaping percentage is
reduced from 85% to 60%. If the walkway was greater in length, the percentage would drop even lower.
The 15% hardscaping allocation should be used for the walkway.
By the proposed change hardscaping would increase to 40% (or more) and soft landscaping would decrease to 60% (or less) depending on the length of the walkway. This is a very major reduction in soft landscaping, which the City says they will ‘maintain and improve’.
The rationalizations stated in the Final Report do not change our position from the environmental and neighbor privacy perspectives.
We maintain that a permeable 1 metre walkway can easily be provided between the house and the suite within the 15% hardscaping allocation with NO REDUCTION to the 85% soft landscaping requirements.
There will be serious impacts to the environment by the reduction of soft landscaping if the walkway exemption is allowed – this is not justified and is not acceptable.
Also, the proposed amendment for reducing the Rear Yard Setback to 1 metre (from 1.5) reduces the soft landscaping requirement at the rear of the suite by a range of 2.44 to 4.12 square metres, depending on various scenarios on the width of the lot and whether or not a 3m or 6m driveway is also permitted. The resulting area could be added to the area between the house and the suite or could be used in conjunction with the 15% hardscaping to provide for a 1 metre walkway. A further reason not to reduce the 85% soft landscaping by-law provision.
The proposed amendment for an exemption for a walkway against the 85% soft landscaping allocation should be deleted/removed.
We ask the Planning and Housing Committee to NOT allow changes to the current provisions controlling Height of laneway suites and to NOT allow any changes that will reduce the current soft landscaping allocation of 85% in order to protect the neighbours and the environment.
12. Lytton Park Residents’ Association
PH29.2: Changing Lanes: The City of Toronto’s Review of Laneway Suites – Monitoring Program and Zoning By-law Amendments- Final Report
Two of the proposed amendments to Zoning Bylaw 569-2013 regarding laneway suites, are of concern.
Exempting a walkway from the minimum required percentage of soft landscaping space between a suite and house
A reduction from soft landscaping runs contrary to preserving the natural environment. As stated in the Planning Report, “Maintaining soft landscaped space is important for many reasons, including amenity, storm water retention, growing space for trees, and combatting the urban heat island effect.” Just because some builders have requested a lessening of soft landscaping at the Committee of Adjustment is not a reason to incorporate this into an as-of-right bylaw. Perhaps, instead, the adjudicators could become more cognizant of the significance of soft/green landscaping as an important environmental factor. History indicates that builders are wont to ask for more than what is in the bylaw. If the percentage of soft/green landscaping is reduced, it is not unlikely that variances requesting further reductions will be made to the Committee of Adjustment. If a laneway needs to be large enough to accommodate accessibility standards, and there is insufficient soft landscaping for this, perhaps the laneway suite should have a smaller footprint, or not be built if the lot is too small.
Increasing the maximum permitted height of a suite from 6.0 metres to 6.3 metres
The current by-law standard should be maintained. As mentioned above, builders are prone to asking for more than what the by-law permits. If the base is 6.3 metres, it is not unlikely that a variance for more height would be requested, with privacy and overlook issues for neighbours.