Toronto Star

Residents fight backyard homes plan

Neighbourh­ood groups object to Toronto’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to allowing garden suites


A group of seven residents associatio­ns in Toronto are appealing a new bylaw that would allow backyard homes to be built on residentia­l properties — a move affordable housing advocates say will delay the creation of needed housing.

The city expanded permission­s on Feb. 2 to allow residents to build so-called garden suites on their properties by amending a zoning bylaw. The bylaw is not yet in effect and the appeal means there will be delays, said Coun. Ana Bailão, the deputy mayor of Toronto and the chair of the planning and housing committee.

A garden suite is a home typically built in the backyard of an existing house that is detached from the main building, according to the city. They are often used for extended family members or as rental units.

The group says they’re not against garden suites, but feel the current guidelines are “one-size-fits-all” and don’t adequately protect green space.

Affordable housing groups see the group’s appeal as an attempt by those who own single-family homes to resist needed change to usher in more accessible housing.

Building Better Neighbourh­oods, an organizati­on representi­ng multiple residents organizati­ons, has submitted the appeal of the bylaw, stating it should be adjusted for different neighbourh­oods, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Christine Mercado, who is a spokespers­on for the alliance and chair of the Long Branch Neighbourh­ood Associatio­n, told the Star the group supports “good planning principles,” and that current policies allowing all neighbourh­oods to be redesigned is the abandonmen­t of “good planning principles.”

She added the group believes its suggestion­s during the garden suites consultati­on process were not incorporat­ed.

“There’s no planning that’s required, they’re just letting the city organicall­y grow,” she said. “What the city has done is the overreach … without looking at whether that’s a good planning decision.”

In a press release Tuesday, the organizati­on alleges the city overreache­d regulation­s set by the province, by allowing garden suites for multiplexe­s and lowrise apartments.

In a statement to the Star, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said municipali­ties are responsibl­e for implementi­ng the additional residentia­l units provisions included in the Planning Act. He explained they have the flexibilit­y on how they adopt the province’s official plan and policies around zoning bylaw provisions.

They also “may tailor the applicatio­n of provincial policy and legislatio­n for (additional residentia­l units) to fit local circumstan­ces,” he said.

Prior to the passing of the bylaw, the city engaged in “considerab­le consultati­on,” including with residents associatio­ns, said Bailão, noting there seemed to be support for “gentle intensific­ation” in neighbourh­oods.

“It is disappoint­ing to see this being dragged out for longer, given the housing situation that we have in the city. It could mean that families that have been waiting for this opportunit­y to create housing for their family members, or for rental income … to have to wait again,” she said.

“I’m really hoping the conversati­on turns around the need to manage the change happening in our city and the growth ... in an inclusive way that doesn’t benefit only some in our city.”

Bailão said the city is examining the appeal and whether it has a legal basis to move forward.

The alliance of residents associatio­ns explains in their press release that they support “community renewal” and affordable housing along with garden suites. But they say the city’s bylaw for garden suites is “poorly written” and “ambiguous.”

Their qualms include that the city’s planning should also include “better protecting existing trees and green space,” said Mercado. She said their legal consultati­on has told them they do have a basis for an appeal.

There are also concerns that garden suites are market-based housing and will not be affordable, she said.

Saeid Hashemi, one of the volunteers at More Neighbours, an affordable housing advocacy group, said there was substantia­l community input involved in creating the bylaw.

“We’re very disappoint­ed to see (the appeal), because appealing a decision like this is really anti-democratic, it’s much worse than opposing individual or smaller scale housing developmen­ts … in case this is a city decision made at city council with a majority vote.”

Garden suites add new housing to a variety of neighbourh­oods and can be flexible. For instance, a senior can retire and rent out their residence, and then live in a garden suite, he said. It also increases the rental supply, which “prevents a price escalation at the margins.”

Mark Richardson, a volunteer technical lead with advocacy group Housing Now TO, said it’s true that garden suites aren’t considered affordable housing, as they often benefit intergener­ational and family developmen­t.

But for a group to appeal something so minor as garden suites is concerning, as it’s an indication of their abilities to fight any densificat­ion proposals, he explained.

Richardson noted the groups that have appealed — which include the Long Branch Neighbourh­ood Associatio­n, the Swansea Area Ratepayers’ Associatio­n, the Cliffcrest Scarboroug­h Village SW Residents Associatio­n, the South Armour Heights Residents’ Associatio­n, the Confederat­ion of Resident and Ratepayer Associatio­ns in Toronto, the Bedford-Wanless Ratepayers Associatio­n and Don Mills Residents Inc. — are suburban and are used to having large houses and backyards.

“It’s hard for them to understand that in a growing city, that lifestyle that they’ve been used to for 20, 30, 40 years is going to change,” he said. “Scarboroug­h can’t grow out any more, we consumed all the farmland … now we have to infill those oversized lots in the suburbs with additional housing. And that’s going to upset people.”

But it’s time to give housing opportunit­ies to the families who weren’t as lucky to arrive in Toronto when a house cost less than $200,000, he said.

 ?? THE ARCHITECT BUILDERS COLLABORAT­IVE ?? The Green Accessible Granny ADU was the winning design in Kitchener’s recent backyard home design competitio­n. Seven residents groups are launching an appeal against a Toronto bylaw that will allow garden suites across the city.
THE ARCHITECT BUILDERS COLLABORAT­IVE The Green Accessible Granny ADU was the winning design in Kitchener’s recent backyard home design competitio­n. Seven residents groups are launching an appeal against a Toronto bylaw that will allow garden suites across the city.

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