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Can this condo jumpstart laneway housing in Toronto?

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 4, 2014

toronto laneway bartlettUnlike Vancouver, Toronto has remained relatively untouched by the proliferation of laneway houses. But the idea makes sense: this city has roughly 250 kilometres of laneways, many of them in neighbourhoods with sky-high property prices, almost all of them still fronted by graffiti-covered garages and backyards.

Vancouver's regulations require all houses built on public laneways to be under two stories - the upper floor can only be 60% of the height of the ground floor - and at least five metres from the back of the nearest home. They are typically just 55 square metres and since 2009 more than 800 units have been given the green light, suggesting a serious appetite for small-scale urban living out west.

Lanehouse on Bartlett doesn't look like a Vancouver lane house - it's a cluster of lofts and townhomes that just happen to be squeezed onto a service road off Bloor between Dovercourt and Dufferin - but, should it get the green light, the project could set a precedent for building on Toronto's often overlooked back roads.

toronto laneway bartlettTucked away off a quiet residential street, the property in question is currently occupied by a low-rise former boiler factory that the developers plan to extensively renovate. A separate block would be built at the expense of an existing home on the main portion of Bartlett Ave., giving the overall building a distinct "L" shape.

In promotional literature, the condos in the converted industrial unit boast 5.5-metre ceilings, rooftop patios, "and skylit cathedral master baths." Life in the new block promises an extra floor but little private outdoor space.

toronto bartlett lanewayShould it get built, Lanehouse on Bartlett, which mostly consists of two-bedroom lofts, would increase the density of the lot above what is currently permitted. Planning staff are currently evaluating how the increased height and vehicle traffic will affect the surrounding neighbourhood.

As writer Rick McGinnis wrote back in 2010, laneway developers in Toronto also have to prove that sewage, water, and electricity connections can be safely accommodated when sometimes there are none. Garbage and fire trucks need easy access and the neighbours can't be cast in eternal shadow, looked in on, or kept awake at night - stipulations that have lead to creative design tweaks in the past.

Despite the challenges, the space is there. A 2003 study estimated that laneways in Toronto could accommodate 6,150 new homes and generate upwards of $11 million a year in new property tax revenue plus some $30 million in development charges.

The property is currently working its way through the approval process at city hall, and a final report is due in later this year. Should Toronto encourage more of this type of development? Is it time planning staff drafter a set of guidelines like Vancouver for building in laneways?

QUICK STATS:

Address: 50-52 Bartlett Ave.
Type: Condo
Height: 11.88 metres (3 storeys)
Site area: 1261.7 square metres
1 bedroom units: 2
2 bedroom units: 14
Average property size: 186.14 sq. m. (inc. outdoor space)
Parking spaces: 17

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Curated Properties

Discussion

42 Comments

Jarlen / February 4, 2014 at 07:50 am
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What's the hold up on these being developed? Is it Rob Fordm and city hall red tape? This sounds like a perfect pet project for Olivia Chow.
TJ / February 4, 2014 at 08:23 am
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Saw this on the news previously and I think its quite an interesting concept. I think infrastructure really is the trick here plus easy access for emergency vehicles. There are potential and obvious safety concerns of it still being a laneway and tucked away from public view.
now / February 4, 2014 at 09:32 am
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There are already lane way buildings.

Gilead Place is a prime example.
iSkyscraper / February 4, 2014 at 09:38 am
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Reminds me of a London mews street.

While the infrastructure is a challenge it certainly makes more sense overall to use the trunk lines and systems that exist rather than keep laying expensive new pipe out in the greenbelt suburbs.

Great project, hope it goes through.
K-Borg / February 4, 2014 at 09:55 am
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The average unit size is 186 square meters? That's just over 2000 square feet, which is a hell of a lot larger than most other condo/townhouse developments popping up these days. Is that a typo or are these units really going to be that huge and (most likely) expensive?
Arturo / February 4, 2014 at 10:09 am
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I would be less opposed if the houses weren't so ugly. Modernism in architecture is awful.

"This is nice because architecture professors(and/or Christopher Hume) tell me it is nice!"
NIMBY / February 4, 2014 at 10:39 am
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The biggest hindrance to these getting built is not only city approval but neighborhood acceptance. This idea is not new, it just faces tremendous opposition from homeowners who fear their space is being invaded. Recently had one of these kyboshed in our neighborhood because the developer could not get the adjoining neighbor onside with his proposal. That consensus is key when approaching the local councilor and city to build these types of dwellings. Ultimately the neighborhood has a say and like any neighborhood always different opinions floating around, the developer ended up selling the laneway property, nothing built.
jones replying to a comment from Arturo / February 4, 2014 at 10:44 am
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Oh yes by all means lets have some more faux-victorian rooflines and fussy little porches.
jameson / February 4, 2014 at 10:51 am
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there's some very interesting laneway homes by dovercourt on skey lane

pretty awesome stuff.

honestly why not?
Todd / February 4, 2014 at 11:10 am
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Stupid idea, but maybe if they improve infrastructure...

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

City continues to circle the bowl attempting to be "forward thinking". Quality of life continues to decline.
asdgasd replying to a comment from K-Borg / February 4, 2014 at 11:29 am
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@K-Borg is right. if these units are actually 186 SM (including outdoor patio), these aren't laneway houses - these are very large townhouses situated on a laneway. These would not be permitted in Vancouver as a laneway house, and will likely get turned down at Toronto Council because they are way to large.
Hazel replying to a comment from K-Borg / February 4, 2014 at 12:15 pm
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Agreed. Why does everything need to be supersized?
Joe Tackspaier / February 4, 2014 at 12:20 pm
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Great! More sardines can be packed into the can.
Mary / February 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm
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We designed a laneway house wiht SuperKul Architech, did all the required studies, traffic impact, trees, access, and conformed to local aesthetic came up with a lovely laneway house to move into when we were ready to downsize as empty nesters. my husband is a novelist and i'm a film producer. I can tell you it would enhance the neighbourhood. We spent a year and about $20k doing all required. The City of Toronto Committee of Adjustment took 5 minutes to shatter our dreams. If we want to go to OMB we need anohther $30-$50k to mount our case for support.
Back Yard / February 4, 2014 at 01:11 pm
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I would hate for this to be in my backyard.
N / February 4, 2014 at 01:14 pm
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What will the strata/ownership of that land be? How will utilities be parceled/managed?

In Vancouver the guidelines are sometimes too restricting and do not allow for innovative design (even if the height requirements are for privacy and consider shading).

It'll probably still cost a fortune to buy in. Even though I'm skeptical it'll be interesting to see how this pans out, this typology offers a lot of room for design innovation if by laws don't destroy it.
Jeff replying to a comment from asdgasd / February 4, 2014 at 01:14 pm
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Keep in mind that the developer is retrofitting a pre-existing structure, it's not like they're dumping a dozen massive townhouses into a tiny lane.

I'm sure they could subdivide the pre-existing structure even further to bring the average unit size down, but it's not going to change the building's footprint.
asdgasd replying to a comment from Jeff / February 4, 2014 at 01:32 pm
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@Jeff good point. I didn't read the article that closely. So basically, these townhouses would be a very unique situation, and wouldn't really set a precedent for the 250 km of laneways elsewhere in the city.
RexR replying to a comment from Back Yard / February 4, 2014 at 01:34 pm
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This will be the source of the opposition here.

People that have a quiet yard now will have 17 cars rolling into 17 units, plus a row of top-floor patios towering over their yards. Privacy is gone, not to mention noise from late-night drinks on the patio.
Kaitlin / February 4, 2014 at 01:42 pm
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Why in a development in this city that is less than a block from a subway station are there MORE PARKING SPOTS THAN THERE ARE UNITS!? Does not compute, actually.
Sean replying to a comment from Mary / February 4, 2014 at 02:06 pm
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Unfortunately, any Planner operating in the City of Toronto could have told you that the CoA was going to deny your application. Laneway housing always ends up at the Board.
Mary / February 4, 2014 at 02:09 pm
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Sounds like you have experience. do you know how the OMB judges high quality infill?
Liz / February 4, 2014 at 02:32 pm
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Why don't we build more housing in the backyards of large suburban lots? Aren't we squished enough downtown? Plus, the city doesn't plow those laneways so good luck getting to that parking the winter.
Cyril Sneer / February 4, 2014 at 02:42 pm
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I think it's in general a good idea, but the cynic in me says that, despite their smaller size, these units will continue to be priced at unafordable levels. I'd prefer to see more affordable - smaller, less "designed" residences available!
Cspace / February 4, 2014 at 03:17 pm
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Speaking as an architect, I consider it part of my job to open up dialogue with the city regarding Committee of Adjustment issues as soon as possible. Nobody like surprises. If you're communicating properly you'll have a very strong feel for how the CoA meeting will go (and what conditions they'll want satisfied) ahead of time before you unnecessarily spend a ton of money. Of course nothing is 100% certain, but there are definitely ways to minimize risks.
James / February 4, 2014 at 09:19 pm
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I live on Bartlett Ave, right beside where this project would happen. The current lane way is not wide enough to sustain cars; the lane way would be converted into a walking space. Someone told me the parking would be underground, possibly in an elevator-storing system, but that doesn't seem viable to me. I'm not sure what the solution to that is. There are no plans to buy backyard space from houses in front.
Ruth / February 4, 2014 at 11:41 pm
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The neighbourhood would not as liveable, which means more to specific individuals than a measley boost in tax revenues.
Jordan / February 5, 2014 at 12:07 am
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Laneway housing hasn't taken off here because our fire trucks can't service laneways. Pretty simple.
ACMESalesRep replying to a comment from Back Yard / February 5, 2014 at 01:19 am
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It's a good thing it wouldn't be in yours, then.
Liz / February 5, 2014 at 07:15 am
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I think we've added enough density to the downtown. Can we stop now? Let's add some in the suburbs.
And this idea that just because property values are high in this area we are beholden to harvest that value by squeezing more people into the neighbourhood is ridiculous. Living downtown is losing it's value with the increased density. I know it isn't registering yet but as the downtown becomes more and more unlivable because of congestion, property values will fall. And when those cheaply built condos start to look like the 70s Parkdale high rises, values will fall even faster. I hope my downtown house is still worth something when my son inherits it.
Alex replying to a comment from jameson / February 5, 2014 at 08:07 am
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My parents used to live on Dovercourt with a garage opening unto Skey Lane. Before those three lanehouses were built there was the incomplete shell of an earlier development, which was a fire hazard. On at least one occasion neighborhood kids started a fire in there.
andrewS replying to a comment from Liz / February 5, 2014 at 08:40 am
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Unfortunately, the market wants what the market wants. Densification of the burbs is a non-starter for any number of reasons, for one thing the demand simply isn't tnere, for another, the NIMBY influence is much stronger (see also, that mall in Etobicoke where residents indicated they'd much rather have an abandoned mall than a midrise condo complex)
Todd replying to a comment from Liz / February 5, 2014 at 09:20 am
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Quality of life has been dropping for years. Longer lines, longer commutes, more congestion, less choice because of astronomical retail rents.

Your house should be able to maintain value (a helluva lot of small town posers and third world transplants think Toronto is the greatest thing since sliced bread because they don't know any better and mommy and daddy in many cases have the cash) even when we're lining up three hours early to get out of Liberty Village using the one road the developers graciously built.
EastEndErin / February 5, 2014 at 09:34 am
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I love this neighborhood, and would love to live on this street. However, I pre-registered on their site to get more info (at least some floor plans) and I was informed that the development would consist of 1 storey flats, 2 storey lofts, and 3 floor town-homes. The starting price will be in the 500's. Sorry, I'm not paying $500k+ to live in a flat here.
Arturo replying to a comment from jones / February 5, 2014 at 02:36 pm
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Faux-victorian rooflines and fussy little porches are better than harsh geometries, so , yeah sure, it's better than modern and I'm ok with it.

This stuff gets hammered into architectural students in studios, but they are merely teaching them how to me aesthetic morons.

With regards to modern architecture the simple truth is the emperor has no clothes.


polis replying to a comment from Jarlen / February 11, 2014 at 07:52 pm
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It is planners' fear of the unusual. It is planners' fear of perceived "impact" on neighbours.
Toronto is basically in a standstill mode if something that does not fit the normal cookie cutter style of the same boring development pattern.
When you go into the planning department with something slightly different and innovative, they will put you through OPAs, site plans, rezonings, etc. to tire you out in hope of you giving up and conforming with the status quo. They only think inside the box!
polis replying to a comment from andrewS / February 11, 2014 at 07:56 pm
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I think you have to go back and see who decided to stifle any development in the so called "established or "stable" neighbourhoods". Who approved the new official plan with the draconian language?
polis replying to a comment from Mary / February 16, 2014 at 06:54 pm
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The OMB understands provincial policy and intensification. This proposal would be consistent with the PPS. However, approvals would depend on the hearing officer's background and understanding of product innovation, and how you present your case. The City will defend the status quo. So will the neighbours.
It is an uphill battle, but some proposals have been successful.
polis replying to a comment from Cyril Sneer / February 16, 2014 at 06:57 pm
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How can you reach affordability when the City of T takes $129,000 of development charges, in addition to all kings of applications fees, off the top of each single unit?
polis replying to a comment from Cspace / February 16, 2014 at 07:03 pm
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How do you deal with the inexperienced young planners in Community Planning and COA, who are easily manipulated by City councillors and their managers to refuse appropriate, defensible variance applications?
It is very difficult to reach rational discussion with today's planning regime.
polis replying to a comment from Liz / February 16, 2014 at 07:10 pm
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Unfortunately, narrow minded councillors and planners have promoted maintaining the status quo of 1950's 7500 sq. ft. lots, in order to keep the NIMBY's at bay. Instead they have created the vertical glass ghettos to satisfy the provincial policy and the growth plan.
This is bad planning at its worst state.
KDS / June 4, 2014 at 08:06 pm
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@EastEndErin: I think that the majority of the units were actually listed in the $800K range. And I believe all but one are now sold. So much for affordability!

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