Summary: Big changes to Edmonton's Zoning Bylaw include allowing both a basement suite and garden suite in conjunction with a single-family home.
Today, Edmonton joined a growing number of cities across North America who are taking steps to encourage the development of Missing Middle Housing.
The term ‘missing middle’ was coined by Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design, Inc. in 2010 to define a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.
A host of changes were passed as part of Edmonton’s Missing Middle Zoning Review, including permitting homeowners to have both a basement suite and garden suite on the same lot. Other changes include the introduction of a new “multi-unit housing” use, which opens the door for courtyard housing, pocket communities, and mid-rise apartments with creative unit orientations. Density minimums were introduced in certain zones, and overlays were retired in an effort to simplify and streamline projects. To review the changes in detail, you can read the City's Missing Middle Housing Report.
The Missing Middle Zoning Review has ushered in some the most significant changes to Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw seen in the past ten years.
For too long, Edmonton has been hemmed in by regulations that made it nearly impossible to build anything but low-density, single-family homes in vast swaths of the City. This has left us with a density profile that resembles a donut, rather than a tent pole. Typically density and the scale of built form increases incrementally from the outskirts to the centre of the City, but in Edmonton's case, there is a ring of low-density neighbourhoods surrounding our core (seen in pink), hence the "Missing Middle".
The changes passed today at City Hall are a signal that it’s time for Edmonton to start eating away at that donut and building up density where it’s most needed. Offering more housing options in our Missing Middle will infuse new life into neighbourhoods that have been experiencing population loss.
Edmonton’s “Missing Little”
With all the hype centred on Edmonton’s “Missing Middle”, we wanted to point out the huge step that was taken towards increasing Edmonton’s supply of Missing Little Housing as part of today's changes.
When we talk about the Missing Little, we are referring to gentle forms of density that can easily be integrated into the existing fabric of a neighbourhood by everyday homeowners; think garden suites and basement suites. The example below shows the hidden nature of this type of density; three units, that appear as one from the front of the street.
We are totally on-board with larger redevelopments, and developer-led projects, which are more typically associated with Missing Middle Housing, but there is something intriguing about the Missing Little…
Consider this: the largest landholders in cities across North America are homeowners. With cities facing affordable housing challenges, a climate crisis, and increasing budgetary pressures, imagine if we could mobilize homeowners as developers to help solve some of these problems for us?
At YEGarden Suites, we are proud to be opening up restrictive zoning regulations, and building the capacity of homeowners to develop their own land. For example, there are over 200,000 lots in Edmonton that can accommodate a garden suite. Imagine if just 1% of those homeowners built a suite, that means 2000 additional high-quality rental units integrated into the fabric of some of our cities most desirable communities. This also means greater variability in demographics and income levels, which can help keep our schools open, support local business, and make transit more viable.
Today, Edmonton’s City Council voted to allow residents to have both a basement suite and garden suite on the same lot in RF1, RF2, and RF3 zones (54% of lots in the City). Since YEGarden Suites’ founding we have been pushing for this option. Having multiple suites on a property opens the door for multigenerational living, passive income generation, and flexible housing that transitions across the lifespan.
With over 4,000 basement suites permitted in Edmonton’s single family homes, we are ecstatic about the potential of these changes. Back when basement suites were first allowed, many interested homeowners invested in Edmonton’s densification by upgrading their basements to be legal rental units. After Edmonton opened its bylaw to Garden Suites, these same innovative homeowners were locked out of helping create a more sustainable, and compact city. Today, we’ve unlocked the development potential of thousands of properties across Edmonton, and have empowered homeowners to be city-builders in their own backyards.
We want to commend the City of Edmonton's administration for this significant step forwards. To the councillors who voted in favour of these changes, thank you for your leadership. Thanks to everyone who wrote letters of support, spoke in favour at council, and offered words of encouragement. This is what progress looks like.
We will leave you with a few photos of one of our favourite Missing Middle projects. Two homes multiplied to seven with the help of a multi-unit garden suite and basement suites. This project by Vancouver-based architecture firm, Shape, and has won multiple urban design awards. We hope to see projects like this coming to Edmonton neighbourhoods in the coming years. You can see more photos and learn more by visiting shapearchitecture.ca and reading this Globe and Mail article.
Let us know if you're excited about the changes to Edmonton's Missing Middle Zoning! Share some of your favourite Missing Middle, or Missing Little projects with us over social media (Twitter, Instagram or Facebook) @yegardensuites.