Homeowners seeking appeal of Toronto’s decision to allow garden suites

The housing bylaw that would allow back yard homes to be built is being challenged by an alliance of Toronto resident groups. Mark McAllister looks at the reasons both for and against the concept.

By Mark McAllister and Meredith Bond

A group of homeowners are trying to appeal a decision reached by Toronto City Council to allow residents to build garden suites on their property, specifically multiplexes.

The decision was made on February 2 after years of discussion and public consultations. The vast majority supported the idea as a way to provide alternative and more affordable housing.

Garden Suites allow property owners to build more housing in the backyard of an existing home.

The Building Better Neighbourhoods alliance, which includes resident associations from across Toronto, claims city council “clearly over-reached provincial regulations that limit garden suites to single-detached, semi-detached, and townhouses.”

They add there is no legal authority to allow garden suites in zoning for multiplexes and low-rise apartments without developing appropriate standards.

They also argue that while they support garden suites, the bylaw should be “tailored to the different circumstances of neighbourhoods and implemented with appropriate policies and standards.”

Urban Design Consultant Ken Green said he hopes this challenge to the bylaw is not an excuse to delay or prevent this “very important policy from being implemented.”

“[Garden suites], which along with laneway houses …could provide a great resource in terms of how our communities grow and become more viable,” said Green. “It took about 10 years for laneway housing to get approved. We can’t afford to do that anymore. We have a real crisis in affordability, and particularly, we have people who are kind of trapped in their houses in their older neighbourhoods.”

He explains that most of the older, more cherished neighbourhoods in Toronto are a mix of single-family and semis but also have duplexes, triplexes and apartment buildings.

“What that allows for is a range of different people, different incomes, different ages and stages in their lives to share the same neighbourhood to be within walking distance of their local shopping streets, of transit, of the schools, the parks and so on.”

Alliance spokesperson, Christine Mercado, said they support “appropriately-sized, appropriately-placed garden suites.”

“We do believe [the bylaw] was an overreach,” said Mercado. “The original mandate for more housing, more choices. The mandate was that garden suites were supposed to be permitted behind single, semis and townhouses. The City of Toronto expanded it, so it’s going behind triplexes, duplexes and multiplexes.”

“We aren’t against affordable housing, but we do feel that the overreach that has been exhibited by approval of this policy is not in the best interest of any of those mandates that the city or the province has done,” Mercado added.

She said they are hopeful their appeal is seen as essential, and they get the opportunity to move quickly through the process.

“We’ve actually done our research, and our statements are based on data. We look at the census data. We look at different publications. We look at the news,” said Mercado. “We hope that this appeal will actually lead to a meaningful discourse where we can make the policy better.”

Technical Lead for HousingNowTO, Mark Richardson, said they couldn’t comprehend why this appeal was launched.

“The challenge of delivering affordable housing at speed and scale in the city of Toronto is huge,” he said. “And having residence associations be able to spend like $400 to tie up a simple program like this for a year or two is frankly insane.”

“We can’t understand why residents associations that say they care about affordable housing, they care about affordable housing and affordability in their neighbourhoods, are appealing this model which is the most gentle of any kind of gentle density for what is frankly spurious grounds.”

Mercado tells CityNews they have submitted their paperwork to the city for “regular process.” The group then hopes it will go before the Ontario Land Tribunal.

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