Garden suites: An idea whose time has come

Garden suites: An idea whose time has come

Breadcrumb Trail Links New Homes and Condos Homes Author of the article: Paul Barker  • 

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Garden suites are a viable option between the extremes of a tiny condo and fully-detached single family home

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There is a new type of housing mix about to spring up across city of Toronto neighbourhoods following the recent decision by city council to allow the construction of garden suites.

Similar to laneway homes which have been in existence for several years, the new units will normally be smaller than a primary residence, according to a municipal document issued soon after the Feb. 2 vote.

While the zoning requirements, do not require a minimum lot size, it states, “various factors such as the location and size of a suite, lot width and/or depth, the size of the main dwelling, adequate emergency access, and the location of mature trees will influence whether or not a property can accommodate a garden suite.”

Still, the decision to allow garden suites was made by council for one simple reason: Create ways to help fix a dire housing shortage.

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Supporters include Ward 19 Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford, who says “the reality of purchasing – or renting – a home is becoming increasingly unattainable for many Torontonians.

“Our strained housing market coupled with the city’s growth has become a generationally defining challenge – one that we cannot afford to ignore. At the city level, we need to get innovative with our solutions and approaches. It’s going to take all the tools in the toolkit to tackle the issue.”

The move has also resulted in the creation of Toronto’s “first dedicated garden suite architecture practice,” which was launched one day after the vote by Francois Abbott, founder of Fabrication Studio.

“We fundamentally believe that (they) can play an important part in diversifying the housing mix in neighbourhoods that have existing amenities yet have become increasingly unaffordable,” says Abbott.

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With garden suites now permitted, he adds, homeowners are “faced with the daunting task of first understanding what is both possible and permissible in their yard – then navigating the required planning approvals – all without existing examples as reference.”

Abbott, who was a residential architect in Montreal prior to moving to Toronto eight months ago, uses what he describes as a three-step process revolving around Options, Design and Build.

Options helps homeowners “envision what is possible in their yard from current bylaw and zoning regulations.” That, in turn, leads to renderings being created, securing all required permits and then finding the most suitable builder for the project.

“By breaking down our service offerings into three simple parts that can be accessed individually or collectively, we want to make the design process accessible yet customized and enjoyable,” says Abbott.

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“What’s fantastic about it, is that no matter what, you don’t have to buy land — the land is already there.

“The existing by-laws and zoning generate complexities that require unique solutions to create housing that is both functional yet beautiful. These new topologies are incredibly exciting because they are not anchored in preserving post-war brick buildings and old building methods.”

Bradford, meanwhile, says garden suites are a “viable middle option between the extremes of the tiny condo or single family detached home that make up much of our current stock.”

They also “provide more housing options for more people in more neighbourhoods. This progress is a step forward on expanding housing choices, but it’s also an important reminder: we cannot sit idly by while the status quo remains. We must find creative, sustainable, and efficient ways to open up more housing options, for those here now, and those who would like to be in the future.”

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