Garden suites bylaw now in force, after tribunal dismisses appeals against the backyard housing units

The City of Toronto says its bylaw allowing garden suites, or backyard homes on residential properties, is “in full force,” now that the Ontario Land Tribunal has dismissed appeals by several residents’ associations Thursday.

“This is good news and it will help get some more housing built. Garden suites are often a way to create homes for family members — parents, grandparents or adult children — or can be used as rental housing units,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement yesterday after the decision.

“The garden suites regulations approved earlier this year represent a ‘Made-in-Toronto’ solution, with sensible regulations to protect neighbours, trees, green space and gentle density,” he said.

Garden suites are separate, self-contained residential units, usually built in backyards of houses. The city defines the units as having both kitchen and bathroom facilities and as being located on a lot that is “not adjacent to a public laneway.”

The bylaw, and an Official Plan amendment permitting them, were approved by City Council in February, but ratepayers’ and residents’ groups in the city, including the Bedford Wanless Ratepayers Association and Don Mills Residents Inc. launched appeals soon after.

One of the main objections from the residents’ groups is that the bylaw should be adjusted for different neighbourhoods, rather than imposed as a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

On June 2, the appeals ended up in front of the Ontario Land Tribunal, which adjudicates matters relating to land use planning in the province.

“The appellants’ position is that by including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and apartment buildings in the (City’s Official Plan and zoning amendments), the city has included uses beyond those set out in subsection 16 (3)” of Ontario’s Planning Act,” the land tribunal decision released Thursday states.

The subsection pertains to Official Plan policies that authorize additional residential units.

The residents’ groups “many objections” to the city’s Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments are based principally on issues such concerns about amenity space and the impact on trees the garden suites will have, the decision says.

The city brought a motion to the tribunal seeking to have the appeals dismissed on the grounds that Ontario’s Planning Act only allows Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments to be appealed by Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The tribunal agreed with the city that the minister did not appeal Toronto’s amendments allowing the suites, “thus the tribunal agrees with the city that there is no valid appeal of either of them.”

The tribunal also found that the province’s Planning Act “leaves it to municipalities” to determine zone appropriate locations and standards for additional residential units.

“If a proposed garden suite meets various performance criteria, such as maximum building height and setbacks, as well as all applicable bylaw standards, only a building permit application is required,” the city said in a statement after the release of the tribunal’s decision.

“Any garden suite proposal that does not meet the zoning bylaw requirements can seek a minor variance application at the committee of adjustment,” the city added.

In an interview, Gregg Lintern, chief planner and executive director of city planning, said the delays caused by the appeals mean homeowners in the city lost four or five months to get garden suites built.

He advised those interested in doing so to hire design professionals who will ensure the units are safe and up to code.


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