WHAT CAN I DO IN EDMONTON’S UPCOMING RS ZonE?
The City of Edmonton is in the process of creating a whole new Zoning Bylaw that’s planned to go into effect in January 2024 (see our previous article for an overview). Curious about what the new Zoning Bylaw will look like and what it will mean for your property? This article goes through the details of the new Residential Small Scale (RS) zone, which will be the most common zone for mature neighbourhoods.
In the new Zoning Bylaw all the current small scale infill zones (RF1, RF2, RF3, and RF4) are proposed to be consolidated and rezoned to RS, which means that multi-unit housing (row housing and small apartments) will be allowed everywhere in Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods. This means you won’t need to rezone RF1 sites to RF3 in order to build row houses anymore! The approach that the City plans to take throughout town is to rezone each property from its current zone to the nearest equivalent new zone. You can see what the new zone will be for your property here.
The City’s plan is to take the new Zoning Bylaw to City Council for approval on October 16, 2023, and to have the bylaw go into effect on January 1, 2024. We believe there’s a high likelihood that the new Zoning Bylaw will be approved in October.
WARNING: IT’S A DRAFT!
Of course, the approval of the new Zoning Bylaw is a political process, so there’s always a risk that things won’t go as planned: proposed regulations could change, or the approval could be delayed. However, Council seems to understand that the project has gone through a robust, years-long engagement process and that the bylaw is looking pretty good, so we think a delay is pretty unlikely at this point.
WHAT HAPPENS FROM OCTOBER TO JANUARY?
If the new Zoning Bylaw does indeed get approved in October, public hearings and approvals for land rezonings will continue as normal between October and December 2023. Rezoning applications scheduled between October 16, 2023 and January 1, 2024 will indicate both the current (2023) zone as well as the upcoming (2024) zone. Zone Equivalencies will be used to find the new zone match during this transition period. If you’ve submitted an application and the new zone that’s supposed to apply to your site doesn’t align with your development intentions, discuss using a different zone with your assigned city planner.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH THE MNO?
The new Zoning Bylaw will retire the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) and incorporate certain MNO regulations into the new residential zones. This includes removing or updating regulations that make development difficult or do not align with the goals of City Plan. Things like privacy and window location regulations, maximum dormer width, maximum basement elevation, contextual front and rear setbacks, and the community consultation process for variances are being removed altogether. Other changes are explained in more detail in the rest of this article.
BASIC RS REGULATIONS: SITE SIZE AND DENSITY
Like all zones basically everywhere, the RS Zone will continue to regulate the minimum size of the site and the maximum size of the main building on the site.
The minimum site size for all types of development in the RS zone is 225 metres squared, with a minimum site width of 7.5 metres and a minimum site depth of 30 metres. These are the same minimum dimensions as the current RF3 zone.
Diagram 1. Minimum site dimensions in the RS zone
Density in the RS zone will continue to be regulated by site size. The minimum site area needed for any kind of residential unit is 75 square metres. This means that on a site that is the minimum size of 225 square metres, the maximum density is three units. The minimum site area in the current RF3 zone is 150 square metres per “principal” unit, and each principal unit can have one associated secondary suite and garden suite.
It’s important to note that the distinction between principal (e.g., the row house unit) and accessory dwelling units (e.g., basement suite) that exists in the current Zoning Bylaw is proposed to be removed in the new Zoning Bylaw. This means that on a 600 square metre site, your absolute maximum density is eight units. The typical way we would see these eight units configured in Edmonton would be a four-unit wide row house with four basement suites, because that’s all that the current regulations allow for. But there are plenty of other ways to arrange those units that will be possible under the new RS zone! For example, on a 600 square metre site you could build a three-unit wide row house with three basement suites and two backyard houses, an eight-unit apartment building, two semi-detached houses with basement suites, stacked row housing, cluster housing, etc.
Diagram 2. Potential unit configuration in the RS zone (Row House with Basement Suites)
Diagram 3. Potential unit configuration in the RS zone (Row House with Basement Suites and Backyard Houses)
In theory, a site larger than 600 square metres could accommodate more than eight units, and this will be possible on corner sites. However, the maximum density on non-corner sites will be limited to eight units regardless of the size of the site. If you have a bigger site, you might be able to build more than eight units if you subdivide it strategically.
BASIC RS REGULATIONS: BUILDING SIZE
Now that we’ve figured out how many units you can fit on your site, it’s time to look at the maximum size of your buildings. The building size is controlled by three key things: how much of the site is covered by the building (the site coverage), the distance from the building to the property lines (the setbacks), and the building height.
The maximum total site coverage in the RS zone is the same for all types of development—47%. If your site was zoned RF1 before, this is a pretty nice boost of 7%. If your site was zoned RF3, you’ll get an extra 2% in site coverage as the maximum site coverage in RF3 is 45%.
Diagram 4. Site coverage for multi-unit housing with no garage, RS zone
Keep in mind that the maximum site coverage for garages and backyard housing (formerly known as garden suites) is 20% of the total 47%, so you’ll have to think about how you want to split site coverage between the main building and the garage/backyard house. For example, if you allocate all 47% of the site coverage to the main building, you will not be able to build a garage and would just be able to have uncovered surface parking along the lane. That’s fine, just make sure it’s what you want.
Diagram 5. Site coverage for housing with a garage, RS zone
SETBACKS AND BUILDING LENGTH
The next thing that controls the size of your building is setbacks. First, the key terms: front setback, side setback and rear setback. The front setback is the distance between the main building and the front property line, the rear setback is the distance between the main building and the rear property line, and—you guessed it—the side setbacks are the distance between the side property lines and the sides of the house or main building.
If you have a corner site, the two side setbacks are commonly called the internal side setback (the property line beside your neighbour), and the flanking side setback (the property line beside the street). On a corner site, where there are two streets running beside the site (one street along the front and one street along the side) the front property line is the shorter of the two property lines.
Pro tip: the “front” of a corner site is NOT where the front door of the house faces—it’s the shorter of the two property lines abutting streets.
Great news: the front and rear setbacks are super straightforward in the RS zone—the minimum front setback is 4.5 metres and the minimum rear setback is 10.0 metres. This is a huge change from the current front and rear setbacks in the MNO! Currently in the MNO, the minimum front setback is either 20% of the site length or 1.5 m less than the average front setback of the two houses beside you, which can mean you have to have a huge front yard to align with your neighbours’ houses. The current rear setback in the MNO is a minimum of 40% of the site depth, so if you have a site that’s 40 metres deep, your required rear setback is 16.0 metres. The current front and rear setbacks can make it really difficult to build a four-unit wide row house, and to maximize your site coverage. The new setbacks under the RS zone will make it a lot easier to develop multi-unit housing with comfortable unit sizes, without needing to get a variance.
Diagram 6. Front setback requirement , RS zone
Diagram 7. Rear setback requirement , RS zone
The side setbacks are a little more complicated because they depend on which way your building faces and whether or not you’re on a corner.
Let’s talk about non-corner sites first. For single detached housing and semi-detached housing, the minimum side setbacks are 1.2 metres on each side. Same thing for multi-unit or row housing where all the entrances face the front of the site. If you’re building multi-unit or row housing and some of the main unit entrances face the side property line, the minimum side setbacks for both sides of the building are increased to 1.5 metres.
Diagram 8. Side setback requirement, multi-unit housing with entrances facing the front
Diagram 9. Side setback requirement, multi-unit housing with entrances facing the side
On corner sites, the minimum interior side setback for single detached housing and semi-detached housing is still 1.2 metres. If a main entrance for any kind of housing faces the flanking side, the minimum flanking side setback is 2.0 metres. Otherwise it’s just 1.2 metres.
Diagram 10. Single detached house on a corner with entrance facing the side
For multi-unit housing and row housing that has any main unit entrances facing the flanking side, the minimum interior side setback is 1.5 metres and the minimum flanking side setback is 2.0 metres.
Diagram 11. Multi-unit housing on a corner with entrances facing the side
The last thing to note is that although the minimum setbacks may appear to allow a very long building on your site, the maximum building length in the RS zone is 30.0 metres.
Diagram 12. Maximum building length, RS zone
The maximum height in the RS zone is 10.5 metres. This is a slight increase from the previous maximum of 8.9 metres under the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, and it will make it much easier to construct three-storey buildings.
Note that City of Edmonton development officers (the people who approve your development permit) are (still) not able to grant a variance on height. So, 10.5 metres is all you get (unless you want to try your luck at the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, but that’s another can of worms).
DRIVEWAYS AND GARAGES
One last thing about the RS zone: if your property has an alley, you are not allowed to have a driveway or garage facing the street. Garages have to be in the back, facing the rear lane. This is true even if you’re building a new house that replaces an old house that had a front garage—you will be required to remove the driveway and garage, rebuild the curb, and put the new garage in the back.
SECONDARY SUITES AND BACKYARD HOUSING
Ok, we know that was a lot of information about the new RS Zone! Here’s just a few more things you should know.
The RS zone allows for all sorts of housing configurations. As a reminder, in Edmonton we have different names for different kinds of suites. A suite located in the main house or building is called a secondary suite (usually but not always located in the basement), and a suite located in the backyard is now called a backyard house. A backyard house can either be attached to a garage (above it or beside it), or be a standalone building on its own.
A great thing about the RS zone is that you’re allowed to have a mix of secondary suites in the main building and backyard housing in your backyard (just watch your site coverage and make sure you’re not exceeding the maximum total number of units for the site).
Secondary suites can be built in multi-unit housing that takes the form of row housing. That is, secondary suites can be legally built in a building if that building contains three or more units connected side-by-side and not touching in any other way (as in, the units cannot be connected up-and-down or back-to-front). In other forms of multi-unit housing, all of the units would be considered “principal” units and could not be classified as secondary suites. A backyard suite can also be built on the same site as any type of housing.
Lastly, secondary suites and backyard houses are not allowed to be separated from the principal unit by a condominium conversion or subdivision. However, if all the units are developed as principal units rather than suites, they can be condominium units or subdivided through strata subdivision. Just make sure you look into any servicing and building code implications this might have.
Another big change in the RS zone is that it will allow for commercial buildings (albeit in very limited circumstances). Things like cafes, medical offices, retail stores, and offices will all be allowed in the zone. The catch is that your site needs to be next to another site that’s in a commercial zone. We’re hopeful that future changes to the Zoning Bylaw will expand these opportunities to allow for things like corner stores in other parts of mature neighbourhoods too.
THINKING ABOUT REDEVELOPING YOUR PROPERTY? WE CAN HELP YOU OUT!
In conclusion, there’s a lot you can do in the RS 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.
We can also coordinate your permit drawings and handle your development permit application for small scale multi-unit housing including row housing, stacked row housing, and garden suites. Lastly, if you’re looking to build something that the RS zone won’t allow for, we can also help you rezone your property.
Check out our services!