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What Can I Do Under Edmonton’s RM zONE?

 

The City of Edmonton has a whole new Zoning Bylaw that went into effect in January 2024 (see our previous article for an overview). We know a lot of people are curious about what the new Zoning Bylaw allows and what it means for their properties. This article goes through the details of the new RM (Medium Scale Residential) zone, which has replaced the RF6 (Medium Density Multiple Family) zone, RA7 (Low Rise Apartment) zone, and RA8 (Medium Rise Apartment) zone. The RM zone allows for multi-unit housing between four and eight storeys in redeveloping (infill) and developing (new) areas of the city.

HOUSING TYPES

The RM zone is meant for multi-unit housing, which is three or more units arranged in any configuration. In practice, in the RM zone multi-unit housing would generally be built as apartment housing, though you could also build row housing or stacked row housing. 

 

Diagram 1. Apartment housing in the RM zone

BASIC RM REGULATIONS: AN OVERVIEW

At their core, most zones regulate lot size, density, and building size. The RM zone does things slightly differently, in that it doesn’t impose minimum lot size or dimension requirements, nor does it set a maximum density. Instead, density is indirectly controlled by building size restrictions. The next sections provide a more detailed explanation of how this works.

MINIMUM NUMBER OF UNITS

While the RM zone doesn’t impose restrictions on the maximum number of units permitted on a site, it does govern the minimum number of units required. Specifically, the RM zone mandates a minimum of 60 units per hectare. To put this into perspective, consider a 1,600 m² site comprising three average-sized lots. In this scenario, you would need to construct at least nine units.

HEIGHT AND CONTEXT MODIFIERS

In the new RM zone, context modifiers are introduced to adjust the height and floor area ratio in response to different neighborhood contexts and applicable policy directions. These modifiers enable low-rise and mid-rise developments to have distinct regulations within the RM zone, depending on the specific context modifier applied. The context modifiers for the RM zone are denoted by “h” followed by the maximum height allowed. The following modifiers will be assigned:

  • Sites previously zoned RA7 are now designated as “RM h16” with a maximum height of 16 metres.
  • Sites previously zoned RA8 are now designated as “RM h23” with a maximum height of 23 metres.

Additionally, there is another modifier to allow for eight story buildings (RM h28) with a maximum height of 28 metres and a floor area ratio (FAR) modifier of 3.8. However, this modifier has not been automatically assigned to any properties, so developing an eight story building under the RM zone would require rezoning. 

It’s worth noting that the City’s development officers, who approve development permits, are not authorized to grant variances on height. Therefore, the maximum height assigned to your site by its context modifier is the limit (unless you choose to pursue the appeal process, which is a separate procedure with no guaranteed success).

FLOOR AREA RATIO

In the RS zone, the size of the building is regulated by the proportion of the lot that it can cover, which is measured as a percentage. On the other hand, larger scale zones like the RM zone use a different approach called floor area ratio (FAR). FAR is written as a number that expresses the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the site it’s built on. Here are the maximum FAR values for the different height modifiers in the RM zone:

  • Sites zoned RM h16 have a maximum FAR of 2.3.
  • Sites zoned RM h23 have a maximum FAR of 3.0.
  • Sites zoned RM h28 have a maximum FAR of 3.8.

To calculate the maximum floor area for your building, you would multiply the size of your lot by your maximum FAR. For instance, if you have a 1,600 m² lot with a maximum FAR of 2.3, the maximum floor area for your building would be 3,680 m² (1,600 × 2.3). However, keep in mind that you may not be able to build up to the maximum FAR due to other regulations such as the maximum building height and minimum building setbacks.

When calculating your building’s FAR, all areas inside the building are counted as floor area, except for basements used for storage, underground parking, mechanical or electrical equipment areas, and indoor common amenity areas.

SETBACKS 

The size of a building is controlled in part by setbacks, which are regulations that determine how far the building must be from the nearest lot line. After considering all the setbacks, the remaining area in the middle of the site is referred to as the building pocket.

In contrast to most residential zones that regulate setbacks based on the front, side, or rear of the lot, the RM zone regulates setbacks from streets, alleys, or other sites. 

Setbacks from a street:

  • The minimum setback from a property line abutting a street is either 4.5 metres, or 3.0 metres when the site abuts a treed boulevard on City property.
  • For mixed-use buildings with commercial uses on the ground floor, the minimum setback from a street is only 1.0 metre.

 

Diagram 2. Minimum setback abutting a street with no treed boulevard

Diagram 3. Minimum setback abutting a street with a treed boulevard

Setback from an alley:

  • The minimum setback from a property line abutting an alley is 3.0 metres in all situations. This is significantly smaller than the current rear setback of 7.5 metres in the RA7 and RA8 zones.

Diagram 4. Minimum setback abutting an alley

Important: the regulations for setbacks from other sites are complex, so now is the time to grab some coffee if you’re feeling drowsy!

In short, the setbacks from property lines that are shared with other sites depend on the height of your proposed building (and in some cases, the length of your proposed building as well). Note that these setbacks apply regardless of what’s actually built on the lot beside you—it makes no difference if it’s a bungalow or a skyscraper.

Setbacks from property lines shared with a non-residential zone, or shared with a residential zone allowing for buildings over 12.0 metres in height:

  • For new buildings up to 12.0 metres in height, the minimum setback along the shared property line is 1.5 metres
  • For new buildings over 12.0 metres in height, the minimum setback along the shared property line is 3.0 metres.
  • Any portion of a new building that’s over 23.0 metres in height must be at least 6.0 metres from the shared property line. This can be accomplished in two ways: by stepping the building back by 3.0 at 23.0 metres in height, or, by putting the entire building 6.0 metres away from the shared property line. Both options are shown on the diagram below.

Diagram 5. Minimum setbacks abutting other sites

If your site shares a property line with a residential zone with a maximum height of 12.0 m or less—like the RS zone—the setback along that shared property line depends on both the length AND the height of your proposed new building. 

For any new building with a height of 12.0 metres OR LESS, the minimum setback along the shared lot line is 1.5 metres. 

If the length of your proposed new building (the wall facing the shared lot line) is 40.0 metres OR LESS, AND the proposed new building height is MORE THAN 12.0 metres, the minimum setback along the shared lot line is 3.0 metres. 

In addition, any portion of the building above 16.0 metres must be at least 6.0 metres away from the shared property line. This can be accomplished in two ways: by stepping the building back by 3.0 at 16.0 metres in height, or, by putting the entire building 6.0 metres away from the shared property line. Both options are shown on the diagram below

Diagram 6. Minimum setbacks abutting small scale residential sites (building with height of 23 metres and length of 40 metres)

Now, if the length of your proposed new building (the wall facing the shared lot line) is 40.0 metres OR MORE, AND the proposed new building height is MORE THAN 12.0 metres, the minimum setback along the shared lot line is 6.0 metres.

In addition, any portion of the building above 16.0 metres must be at least 9.0 metres away from the shared property line. This can be accomplished in two ways: by stepping the building back by 3.0 at 16.0 metres in height, or, by putting the entire building 9.0 metres away from the shared property line. Both options are shown on the diagram below.

Diagram 7. Minimum setbacks abutting small scale residential sites (building with height of 23 metres and length greater than 40 metres)

A FEW MORE REGULATIONS…

Okay, phew! If you’re still with us after all that, well done. We’re on the home stretch now!

DRIVEWAYS AND PARKING

It’s important to note that if there’s a lane behind your site, you are not allowed to have a driveway, garage or parking access facing the street. Vehicle access has to be in the back, from the rear lane. This is true even if your new building replaces an older building that had a front garage—you’ll be required to remove the driveway and garage, rebuild the curb, and put the new vehicle access in the back.

COMMERCIAL USES

The RM zone allows some commercial uses on the main floor of the building, including restaurants, cafes, health services, retail, recreation facilities, and offices. Commercial uses can only be located on the ground floor and the maximum floor area is 300 square metres per individual establishment. The entire main floor can be taken up by commercial uses as long as no individual establishment is larger than 300 square metres.

WASTE COLLECTION

Buildings with eight or more units need to provide enough space for communal garbage and recycle bins in the rear lane. Buildings with less than eight units get individual cart collection for each unit from the lane. Carts can be stored against a fence, building or inside a garage when they’re not in use. 

LANDSCAPING

Landscaping is required to be provided with any new development in Edmonton. Assuming you’re building an apartment building, the landscaping requirements are one tree and two shrubs for each 30 m2 of setback area. For row housing, one tree and four shrubs are required per principal unit.

AMENITY AREA

Developments in Edmonton with more than eight units have to provide an amenity area of at least 7.5 square metres per unit. Amenity area is a place for people to hang out outside of their dwelling unit, and it can be provided indoors or outdoors, and either privately or in common. Amenity areas for apartment buildings are most commonly provided through private balconies, though amenity area can also be provided in a yard, a rooftop terrace, or common indoor space like a gym or party room.

WHERE TO USE THE RM ZONE

There are a lot of sites in the city that were zoned RA7 or RA8 that automatically became RM when the new Zoning Bylaw went into effect. However, if you’re looking to rezone a site to the RM zone, you’ll need to consider City policy

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, there’s a lot you can do in the RM zone and we hope this article helped you understand what’s possible and what to watch for!

We know there’s a lot of information here, and we’re here to help. If you want us to take a more detailed look at what you can do with your property, we can provide you with a Zoning Analysis to assess the site against applicable policy and regulation, presenting key considerations, site plan scenarios, and pros and cons associated with potential (re)development options.

If you have a property in a different zone that you think the RM zone would work for, we can also help you rezone your property.

Check out all of the services we provide here!

This article was written by Situate, Edmonton’s planning consulting firm specializing in rezoning, permit and subdivision coordination services for awesome infill projects.

Regulations giving you a headache? Want help choosing the right zone and navigating the rezoning process? Contact us to find out how we can support your next project!

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