What Can I Do in rsm zone?
WHAT CAN I DO UNDER EDMONTON’S RSM ZONING?
The City of Edmonton has a whole new Zoning Bylaw (Zoning Bylaw 20001) that will go 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 will look like and what it will mean for their properties. This article goes through the details of the new RSM (Small-Medium Scale Transition Residential) zone, which allows for large-ish multi-unit housing such as townhouses (or small apartment buildings) with a maximum height of three or four storeys.
The zones under the old Zoning Bylaw 12800 that allow large-ish row housing—the RF5 (Row Housing) zone and the UCRH (Urban Character Row Housing) zone—will both become the RSM (small-medium scale transition residential) zone on January 1, 2024.
The RSM zone is meant to be used for multi-unit housing, which is a building with three or more primary dwellings, arranged in any configuration. In practice, multi-unit housing in small scale zones like RSM is typically constructed as townhouses connected side-by-side, with front doors facing the front and side lot lines (refer to diagram 1 below).
Diagram 1. Row housing in the RSM zone
The main difference between the RSM zone and its little sister, the RS zone, is that RSM allows for taller buildings: 12.0 or 14.0 meters (compared to the RS zone’s limit of 10.5 meters). This extra bit of height could allow for a three storey building with basement units that aren’t stuck so far into the ground that they feel like a dungeon.
In the RSM zone, you can only build single detached and semi-detached houses if they’re on the same lot as multi-unit housing (such as a situation where you have a large site and an awkward little area where only a hobbit house will fit).
Most zones regulate three main things: lot size, density, and building size. When it comes to lot size, the RSM zone only regulates lot width, which is a minimum of 5.0 meters. There is no minimum lot depth dimension.
Diagram 2. Minimum site width in the RSM zone
While the RS zone regulates density based on the size of the lot, the RSM zone does things slightly differently, in that it doesn’t set a maximum density. Instead, density is indirectly controlled by building size restrictions. In most cases, this will allow you to squeeze at least a couple more units on a lot than you could in the RS zone.
In the RS zone, the minimum site area per unit is 75 square metres. This means that on a 600 square metre lot, your maximum density is eight units, which would typically be configured as a four-unit wide row house with four basement suites.
In the RSM zone, the same lot could likely accommodate a six-unit wide row house with six basement suites, provided that the lot has a standard depth of at least 40 metres. This is not only because the RSM doesn’t have a maximum density, but also because the minimum setbacks (which we’ll get to in a bit) are smaller than in the RS zone.
MINIMUM NUMBER OF UNITS
Although the RSM zone doesn’t regulate the maximum number of units allowed on the site, it does regulate the minimum number of units allowed. The minimum number of units in the RSM zone is 45 units per hectare. For example, on a 1,600 m² site that consists of three average-sized lots, you would need to build at least seven units.
The maximum total site coverage in the RSM zone is 60%. This is a pretty significant increase from the current maximum site coverage of 50% in the RF5 and UCRH zones, and is a major boost over RS as well, which comes in at only 45% maximum site coverage.
Diagram 3. Site coverage for multi-unit housing with no garage, RSM zone
Keep in mind that with great flexibility comes great responsibility!
What we mean is that more site planning decisions need to be made up front, by you. For example, the maximum site coverage for garages and backyard housing is 20% of the site area. So, you need to decide how you want to divide the site coverage between the main building and the garage/backyard house. For instance, if you allocate all 60% of the site coverage to the main building, you will not be able to build a garage, and if you cover 20% of the lot with a garage, you’ll have a much smaller residential building. Nothing wrong with either scenario, just requires some thought.
Diagram 4. Site coverage with a garage, RSM zone
HEIGHT AND CONTEXT MODIFIERS
In the new RSM zone, something called context modifiers will adjust the maximum height based on the lot location and land use policy (ie, City Plan). The context modifiers for the RSM zone are indicated by “h” followed by the maximum height allowed.
For sites currently zoned RF5 or UCRH, they will be zoned as “RSM h12” with a maximum height of 12.0 meters. Another modifier, “RSM h14,” will allow a maximum height of 14.0 meters, but no properties will be automatically assigned this height modifier, so to get it you have to rezone your property.
It’s important to note that the City’s development planners (the people who approve development permits) are not allowed to grant a variance on height. So, the maximum height assigned to your site by its context modifier is all you get (unless you want to go through the appeal process, but that’s a whole can of worms in itself and success is not guaranteed in the end).
SETBACKS AND BUILDING LENGTH
The next thing that controls the size of your building is setbacks.
FRONT AND REAR SETBACKS
The front setback under the RSM zone is either 4.5 metres, or 3.0 m if there is a treed boulevard on City property at the front of the lot (as shown in diagrams 5 and 6 below). This is slightly different from the RS zone, which has a flat front setback of 4.5 metres.
Diagram 5. Front setback requirement with no treed boulevard, RSM zone
Diagram 6. Front setback requirement with a treed boulevard, RSM zone
Pro tip: the “front” of a corner site is the shorter of the two property lines abutting a street, it is NOT where the front door of the house faces.
The minimum rear setback in the RSM is a flat 5.5 metres. This is a lot smaller than the RS zone where the minimum rear setback is 10.0 metres.
Diagram 7. Rear setback requirement, RSM zone
The minimum side setbacks in the RSM zone are determined based on building height, which way the building faces, and whether the site is on a corner.
For buildings over 12.0 metres in height, the minimum interior side setback is always 3.0 metres. On corner sites, the minimum flanking side setback is always 2.0 metres.
Diagram 8. Side setback requirements for buildings over 12 metres in height
Next let’s talk about buildings up to 12.0 metres in height. On a non-corner site where all the entrances face the front of the site, the minimum side setbacks are 1.2 metres on each side. This is the same as the RS zone.
Diagram 9. Side setback requirement, building with entrances facing the front
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. Again, this is the same as the RS zone.
Diagram 10. Side setback requirement, building with entrances facing the side
On a corner site where all the entrances face the front of the site, the minimum interior side setback is 1.2 metres, and the minimum flanking side setback is 2.0 metres. This is slightly different from the RS zone where, in this scenario, the minimum flanking side setback would only be 1.2 metres.
Diagram 11. Side setback requirement, building on a corner with entrances facing the front
If any main unit entrances face the flanking or interior side, the minimum interior side setback is 1.5 metres, and the minimum flanking side setback is 2.0 metres. These minimum setbacks are also the same in the RS zone.
Diagram 12. Side setback requirement, building 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 if you have a huge site, the maximum building length in the RSM zone is 45.0 metres. However, this shouldn’t be an issue in most cases because 45.0 metres is about the same length as most standard sites. The RSM zone allows significantly longer buildings than the RS zone, where the maximum building length is 30.0 metres.
DRIVEWAYS AND GARAGES
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 rule applies even if you’re building a new structure to replace an old house that had a front garage. In such cases, you will be required to remove the driveway and garage, rebuild the curb, and place the new garage in the back.
SECONDARY SUITES AND BACKYARD HOUSING
The RSM zone allows for various housing configurations. In Edmonton, different names are used for different types of suites. A suite located in the main house or building is called a secondary suite. It is usually, but not always, situated in the basement.
On the other hand, a suite located in the backyard is a backyard house. A backyard house can either be attached to a garage (above it or beside it) or be a standalone building.
One of the great features of the RSM zone is that you can have a combination of secondary suites in the main building and backyard housing in your backyard. Just be mindful of your site coverage—again, with great flexibility comes greater responsibility in decision-making!
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.
In row houses, the City will only consider a unit to be a secondary suite if it shares a common landing or mechanical room with the principal unit above it. If the unit is completely separate from the principal unit above it, they’ll classify it as a principal unit as well.
It’s important to note that secondary suites and backyard houses cannot be separated from the principal unit through 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.
In the RSM zone, commercial buildings are permitted, but only under strict conditions. Establishments such as cafes, medical offices, retail stores, and offices are all allowed within the zone, technically speaking. However, in real life, it will be a challenge to meet the location criteria—in order to have a commercial use on your lot, your lot must share a side lot line with a site that is already in a commercial zone. These criteria apply to commercial uses in the RS zone as well.
In conclusion, the RSM zone will allow for larger multi-unit housing than the RS zone, with a maximum height of three or four storeys. In most instances, the RS zone will work just fine for building townhouses. However, the RSM zone does offer a few advantages over the RS zone in certain instances. If you’re looking to build a taller building, or something with higher density on larger sites, the RSM might be a good option for you.
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 RSM zone would work for, we can also help you rezone your property.
Check out all of the services we provide here!