From single to multi-family dwellings – Toronto neighbourhoods are set to change
In Ontario, while any lot can have a secondary suite, until recently, anything more was forbidden. Mid-century post-war suburban zoning was designed for single-family homes, and anything else was against the rules. Recently, Ontario passed Bill 23 — More Homes, Built Faster — increasing the allowable units built on a lot to three.
In Toronto, with laneway and garden suites already permitted in most of the city, this means little change. However, Mayor John Tory’s 2023 Housing Plan, approved by city council in Nov. 2022, went a step further to include ‘missing middle’ housing. Rental buildings such as triplexes, fourplexes and small apartment buildings located close to a major transit station will be permitted in these “single-home” neighbourhoods by spring 2024. Because the housing types in these communities will change, many residents and councillors are scared. They need not be.
The plan that almost wasn’t
On a small lot in the tony neighbourhood of Lawrence Park North sat a detached single-family dwelling of 1,131 sq. ft. The three-bedroom home was tired and run down. Late in 2019, the home was listed for sale and an offer date came and passed. It seemed potential buyers were afraid of the costs and work associated with renovating or razing and building new.
We purchased the home, fully aware that this area of the city had special antiquated zoning. Within this “R zone” was as-of-right permissions to change the density, which means it didn’t require a public hearing process.
Aware of the need for more family-sized rental stock, we put together a design that matched the size and scale of many newly built homes in the area and sought approval for a triplex by way of an addition and renovation to the existing building.
The community outpouring at the Committee of Adjustment was intense. The local councillor submitted an objection letter on behalf of her constituents (rare at CoA hearings). Given the proposed building matched the size and scale of the other homes in the area that were uncontested, it became obvious what the issue was. Nobody wanted a rental building and the perceived problems that come with it. Fears around Airbnb, transients, parking, storage of Christmas trees and all sorts of objections were presented at the hearing. Ultimately, the committee bowed to the public outcry and refused the application. An appeal was filed at the Toronto Local Appeal Board (TLAB).
A three-day hearing at the TLAB followed, with planners and lawyers giving expert testimonies. The city of Toronto both supported the application via community planning, and opposed it as directed from the councillor who sent the city solicitor to fight. An immediate neighbour also retained planning and legal representation.
In the end, it was agreed this was minor, a good proposal, conformed and an approval was granted, a year-and-a-half into the process. The costs to get to this stage were significant, with more than $100,000 added to the project, which ultimately gets paid for by future residents. Taxpayers also paid for the city’s appeal of the very housing type it purports to be in desperate need of. This, all to try to refute a housing type that is permitted as-of-right within the bylaws that govern the property.
A full gut and expansion of the original building took place to prepare a floorplate large enough to accommodate three full family-sized rental suites. The basement and main floors are both two bedrooms units, while the second and new third floor make up a combined four-bedroom rental. With highly efficient systems and modern durable finishes, the suites turned out to be attractive to renters. Within a couple of weeks on the market, new families were already moving in.
The last word
At the project’s completion, we toured the building with chief planner Gregg Lintern, director of CoA, councillor Kyle Knoeck, and PHC chair Brad Bradford and a team of planning staff. The positive support and social media promotion, including comments from Mayor John Tory, confirmed that our efforts were worth it, and that this type of housing is gentle and sensitive to the neighbourhood, provides a solution to a well-established need and is something that should be celebrated, rather than feared and impeded. It’s time for Toronto to develop housing that combats sprawl, allowing people to live in close proximity to where they work and play. This project does that, but we need many, many more.