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NEWS: City moves forward with Garden Suites (May 2021)

June 15th, 2021 · No Comments

Plan could allow homeowners to build additional housing in rear yard

The city is looking at garden suites located in rear yards behind a single detached house, a semi-detached house, and a townhouse or low-rise apartment block. COURTESY THE CITY OF TORONTO

By Joshua Chong

Some Toronto residents may soon be allowed to construct a detached housing unit in their rear yard. Under the City of Toronto’s new Garden Suites project, which is currently being developed, eligible homeowners will be permitted to build an ancillary building that can be rented out or used for additional housing. 

Part of the city’s Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods initiative, Garden Suites is meant to complement the existing Laneway Suites project—which was adopted city-wide in 2019—and to address the lack of rental housing options in the city.  

Garden suites, like laneway suites, remain on the same title deed as the main house. All public utilities, such as electricity, water and sewer, are provided through a connection from the primary housing unit. 

The program was developed in light of changes to the Ontario Planning Act, which now requires the city to permit the construction of ancillary detached housing units on low-rise residential lots. 

However, not all houses with backyards will be eligible for a garden suite, which must be at least five metres away from the main dwelling and no more than 45 metres from the street. Additionally, they cannot cover more than 40 per cent of the rear yard area. These criteria, among others, are meant to prevent shadowing, ensure emergency services can access the unit, and protect green space and privacy. 

The city held a series of three public consultations between May 11-13 to solicit feedback on the policy. They were led by David Driedger and Allison Reid, co-leads of the Garden Suites study team. Among those in attendance was Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 9, Davenport).

Bailão stated that the new program would help address Toronto’s housing crisis. 

“We need to give Torontonians more housing options,” she said. “Our city is growing quite fast [and] we know that there’s going to be 700,000 new residents moving into our city over the next 30 years.”

She also highlighted that these supplementary units can help facilitate intergenerational living and allow seniors to live close to their families—a topic of interest amid the senior long-term care crisis. 

Based on a preliminary survey of 2,700 residents from across the city, presented by Reid, there is significant support for the Garden Suites program: 56 percent of respondents strongly support the policy, while 13 per cent somewhat support it. A third expressed interest in potentially building a garden suite on their property one day. 

However, 28 per cent of those surveyed worried about the potential impacts of the project. Concerns with how the suites would affect privacy, shadowing, and the natural environment were most often cited.  

“It’s concerning because of how our mayor implements net-zero and greening [policies] … and [yet] here we are developing and building buildings in the back gardens,” said one participant in the question-and-answer portion. 

In response, another participant argued that the benefits of the policy outweigh its potential impacts on the environment and density. “There’s a lot of great neighborhoods and people can’t live in them, [even though] they want to live in them. People, I think, should take priority over trees and cars, and I just want to make sure that we all keep that in mind as we move forward.”

In an email statement to the Gleaner, Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale) wrote that he has not yet taken a position on the policy, since consultations are still ongoing. 

“I have spoken with a number of residents and their respective associations and their support and concerns are varied,” he stated. 

Anne Fleming, chair of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, wrote in an email to the Gleaner that the association is still studying the proposal and has not taken an official position on it. She did note, however, that few houses in Harbord Village would be eligible to build a unit under the Garden Suites program, since most back onto a laneway, and thus would be covered under the Laneway Suites program. 

The Gleaner also reached out to the Annex Residents’ Association for comment. Chair Rita Bilerman wrote in an email that the association’s Planning and Development Committee is still reviewing the policy and examining its implications for residents of the Annex. 


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