Spotlight: Laneway Housing Status Report

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Last week, I attended a community meeting at Toronto City Hall to discuss and review that status of Laneway Housing in Toronto. If you haven’t already read my previous article on Laneway suites, the new typology is being reviewed by the city after a number of councillors as well as groups Lanescape and Evergreen, produced a report outlining both their benefits and a potential plan to implement them into our city.

At a high level, a laneway house is a separate structure at the back of a lot that backs onto a lane. With 295 km of lanes in Toronto (Similar to the distance between Toronto and Kingston!), this typology could be a creative solution to some our city’s growing pains. As our population grows and our housing supply shrinks, laneway suites offer a way for our city to densify, while maintaining the existing character of established, walkable neighbourhoods.

Image from Lanescape report

Image from Lanescape report

At this point in time, city planners have been instructed to review the report and do their own due diligence on the typology, to ultimately provide their recommendation for laneway housing in Toronto.

The focus of the meeting last week, was to review the status of the laneways in Toronto, outline the key planning subjects that need to be evaluated, and receive feedback from the community.

While the discussion was generally informative, I expected that they were going to have more answers than questions. What quickly became clear, was that the planners really don’t have any answers right now and are very much in the process of figuring out a plan.

On a positive note, however, it is encouraging to see that the city is excited and motivated to have laneway suites become a reality. A large group of city councillors, planners, engineers, and service groups are seriously investigating all aspects of developing laneway suites. While the Lanescape report does a good job to provide an overview of the obstacles and offer some solutions, the city is taking a deeper look to explore practical and realistic options for implementation.

There is a range of issues that will need to be resolved, but the key questions raised by both the city and the community are:

Servicing

At the moment laneways are virtually unserviced; there aren’t any utility lines through them to provide water, gas, electricity. The city salts laneways in the winter, but otherwise the lanes are too narrow for trucks to provide snow removal, garbage collection, or fire safety. Therefore, to operate a laneway suite, owners would need to extend utilities from the main house to the lane.

Image from Lanescape report

Image from Lanescape report

Much of the feedback from the community was regarding servicing these lanes. This is a nice concept, but nearly impossible to execute. With 295 km of laneways throughout the Toronto, that undertaking would be enormously expensive and hugely disruptive (as building new service line would require digging up lanes for an extended period of time, causing noise and limiting access).

Affordability

Part of the mandate for considering this new typology is to offer more affordable rental options within desirable neighbourhoods. However, there has been no mention as to why or how these units would be more affordable than existing options - in the end, the result could just be an increased stock of luxury units. Questions were raised around whether or not the city is going to regulate prices or subsidize living. The reality though, is that these would create meaningful disincentives for the potentially expensive and disruptive projects.

Parking

Will laneway suites lead to significantly reduced access to [or stock of] private parking and overload street parking? Will there be mandatory requirements for parking space on certain properties or in certain areas, or can any laneway space be developed on? What would that mean for the quality of the suite?

Privacy / Shadowing

Will two-storey suites impose on the privacy of neighbours, and will the physical structure reduce the quality of light in neighbouring yards?

Neighbours

Will neighbours have any say in the development of a suite?


I think it's needless to say that there a few issues to be resolved. Luckily, there are a handful of other municipalities that have successfully implemented the laneway typology into their city. Since Vancouver’s introduction, laneway houses now represent one fifth of their rental stock. Ottawa and Saskatchewan have also implemented successful versions in their cities.

With learnings from these case studies, and the impressive team at the city, I’m optimistic that we’ll see our own success story here in Toronto.

So what are the next steps?

There will be at least one more community meeting in the new year, at which time a draft proposal should be presented for feedback. The draft should have answers to all of the questions above as well as preliminary performance standards.

As of now, we know that they consider the performance standards outlined in the Lanescape report as a decent benchmark for what we might see in the new year (See Below for full list of their performance standards). Based on the complexity of adding a new housing typology into a city (infrastructure, engineering, access, etc), I expect the city's performance standards to be significantly more detailed and potentially different in some areas.

City planners have been asked to submit their recommendations to the city before they break in July, meaning we will definitely have more direction midway through 2017. From this point, they could respond with one of three answers:

  1. No, this will not work.
  2. Maybe, but more information is required.
  3. Yes, let's move forward!

My personal feeling is that there is enough city-wide support for the proposal so they will want this to go forward. We’ll have to wait for the draft to come out, however, to better understand if they’ve got enough information and solutions to make this real.

The more complicated aspect of implementation is that that the laneway housing typology fundamentally contradicts or simply doesn't exist in our current Official Plan. There would likely need to be an amendment to the Official Plan if the city plans to move forward, which could take a while to say the least.

Overall it’s great to see how enthusiastic the city is about the potential for laneway suites in Toronto. There is a lot of effort being placed into investigating how this typology can fit into our existing urban fabric, and I appreciate their invitation for community feedback. The exciting news is that we should have a better idea of what Laneway suites will look like in Toronto at the next official community meeting. However, since the city breaks in July, we likely won’t see a final decision until Late 2018 at the earliest, and more likely, not until 2019. In the meantime, I urge readers to consider what this typology could mean for their properties, communities, and business across the city. Feel free to submit comments on your thoughts about Laneway housing in Toronto!
 

STAY TUNED


Lanescape Performance Standards

Permitted Building Types

  • Laneway suites are permitted on all R-zoned lots containing detached, semi-detached, duplex, and row houses. They are not permitted in mixed MCR or Commercial CR zones.

Units Per Lot

  • A laneway suite is permitted to be a third unit on a lot in R-zones
  • Where fourplexes are allowed, the laneway suite may be the fourth unit
  • Where fiveplexes are allowed, the laneway suite may be the fifth unit

Facade Height and Angular Plane

  • Lane-wall height: 6.0m with a 30° angular plane
  • Garden-wall height: 4.0m with a 45° angular plane
Image from Lanescape report

Image from Lanescape report

Setbacks

  • Setback from rear lot line: 1.0m
  • Side yard setback: 0.0m
  • Separation from main house: 5.0m

Footprint

  • Minimum width: 4.75m
  • Maximum width: 8.0m
  • Maximum depth: 8.0m
  • Minimum depth: 6.75m
  • The minimum footprint allows for one legal parking space and a code minimum staircase. The maximum footprint allows for two parking spaces and a code minimum staircase.
Image from Lanescape report

Image from Lanescape report

Access

  • Access to entrance: a 0.9m wide clear path of travel must be accommodated from the laneway suite entrance and the street.
  • Maximum Travel distance from Laneway suite entrance to curbpoint: 45.0m (through side yard or laneway)
  • Maximum travel distance from curbpoint to fire hydrant : 45.0m
  • Where maximum travel distance cannot be achieved, the suite must be sprinklered.

Windows, Skylights, Dormers

  • See Table below
 
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Decks and Balconies

  • Fronting Laneway: Unlimited
  • Fronting Garden:: Not permitted
  • Corner lots fronting Adjacent Street: Unlimited
  • Fronting Side: Not Permitted

Parking

  • A laneway suite adds no additional parking requirements to a lot.