Three Ways Toronto can Immediately Improve the Garden Suite Application Process

Fabrication Studio

“I want to know if I can build something worthwhile on my lot.”

The answer is almost always: “Probably, but we cannot say for certain until we submit a proposal to the Committee of Adjustment”.

The odds that a new construction will have no variances are nearly zero. A variance means you do not comply completely with the by-laws: you do not have an as-of-right construction. Yes, your neighbours will be informed of your plans, but that’s not the bad part. Do you have $18,000 to risk to get an answer? How badly do you want to know? Please pay upfront and wait 12 months.

From the top:

“I want to know if I can build something worthwhile on my lot.”

You need to evaluate some sort of design. The city needs to approve or disapprove of something. You need to show something, something in plan, section and elevation, with neighbours and trees and anything being demolished — something in three dimensions. If someone is putting in all this work, it might as well be pretty close to what you actually want. You need to hire an architect, not for full construction plans, but for a schematic set of drawings with all of the site metrics. Do you know a good architect who can draw a schematic set?

How much? $7k - 13k. How long? A month or two, or three, depending on the amount of rounds and changes. This is a creative process, bittersweet because of the fact that there is a risk (however small, it exists) that it will be rejected by the Committee of Adjustment.

Ok, so you will need an architect. The architect will need a full site survey with topography, and so will the city. Know a surveyor?

How much? $3.5k these days.
How long? 2 months.

Oh, it looks like you have trees…
…Those are not my trees.

Root systems don't care. If you are building in proximity to any trees, you will be asked for an arborist report, and eventually arborist guidance to ensure the health of the trees. Know a good Arborist that can provide a report?

How much? $800.
How long? Two weeks.

OK so a smooth 3 months in, we have plans. The city suggests that you preemptively submit them for an examiner to review the drawings. If you do not, you risk muddying your Committee of Adjustment application. The city’s rationale leaves them liable for identifying variances, which are sometimes the product of subjective interpretations (for example, deciding which side of a property is the front lot vs the side lot on a corner lot condition). The good news is you get three rounds, three opportunities to reduce the variances identified.

Ok, how much for this Examiners notice? $550.
How long? Long.

Approximately one month per round, depending on the examiner. Some examiners may forget your file, some are very good. Some will misidentify variances and are difficult to reach (a few have removed their phone numbers from email signatures, and some have voicemails that are perpetually full). Let’s use the example of 2 rounds, so two months.

You have an examiners notice, plans, a survey and an arborist report. Great. Time to submit an application for a Committee of Adjustment hearing.

How much? $4000.
How long? About 4 months depending on traffic.

Wait, how much? $4000 - the same as the application for a triplex that can be 8 times the size and complexity. That's another story.

Four months later, your architect presents at a hearing. The outcome from the hearing is:

A- Yes, you may proceed to apply for permit

B- Yes, you can proceed, if you change a few things

C - No, you cannot build this.

How much? $7,000 + $3,500 + $800 + $550 + $4000 + $4000 = $19,850

How long? 2 months + 3.5 months + 2 months + 4 months  = 1 year (if there are no appeals).

Why does it cost so much just to think about building a garden suite in Toronto?

The city can make a lot of these costs disappear by:

1_Eradicating antiquated by-laws that are irrelevant to Garden Suites but always show up as variances, forcing a long and expensive dance with the CoA.

2_Charging for applications on a sliding scale. This is not a triplex, and it can be digested very fast by an examiner that specializes in this typology. Why is it the same cost as applying for a duplex and triplex, which are much more complex buildings? Shouldn’t a garden suite application cost (at most) one third of an application for a triplex?

3_Having a task force that deals specifically with this typology. Some cities have done this, and applications can be processed in a day or two. Do we actually want to add more housing? These are not complicated buildings. You do not need pre-approved/prefabricated cookie cutter everything to speed things up. Humans are intelligent - we can look at another small house and approve it. A small team can efficiently handle an enormous volume of these types of applications.

Without a fluid and reasonable permitting system, the housing options that we say we want to add in Toronto  will not be seriously considered.