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A hard road to adding gentle density to increase Toronto’s housing supply

From the Globe and Mail:

Architects and contractors who have cobbled together a portfolio of laneway suite projects in the past few years are discovering that building garden suites – the City of Toronto’s latest attempt to add as-of-right gentle density to low-rise neighbourhoods – is proving to be anything but a garden-variety home improvement venture.

At Solares Architecture, which has built about half a dozen laneway suites, the firm’s designers are testing out various permutations on potential projects that aspire to create a self-contained dwelling behind an existing house, either as a rental unit or for extended and/or intergenerational families. But the restrictions in the city’s February, 2022, bylaw enabling garden suites – on set-backs, maximum floor space, roof treatments, angular planes, etc. – have posed challenges, say principal Christine Lolley and senior architect Melodie Coneybeare.

“The size is the biggest thing,” says Ms. Coneybeare, noting that the construction budget can be driven by the fact that backyards aren’t always accessible to heavy construction equipment. As Ms. Lolley adds, “Nobody understands how much these things cost.”


Because the garden suites bylaw is so new, the City has received only 46 applications so far this year, with just three building permits issued and none completed. Mechanical engineer John MacKenzie has hired Mr. Race’s firm to design and construct one on what he describes as a “pretty useless part” of a property he and his wife own in the Bathurst/Cedarvale area. They own and live in a 1950s-vintage four-plex on Markdale, a street lined with these types of dwellings, many of which now have six or seven units.

***Editor’s note:  We have records for 60 garden suite applications thus far


The laneway suites policy has met with growing success, although the numbers are very small relative to overall housing shortages and these units – which tend to cost at least $300,000 to build and command rents that can run to $3,000/month or more – can’t be described as affordable.

According to city officials, 199 laneway suite building permits have been submitted so far in 2022. Of those, 90 are under review, 97 permits have been issued, 38 are under construction and two have been completed.

Nor are the applications a slam dunk. A study released by the planning department in June, 2021, found that of the 306 laneway suite applications that had been received since the program went into effect, 185 required minor variances, many involving landscaping. The Committee of Adjustment approved just under two thirds of the appeals it received.