What Can I Do Under Edmonton’s RF5 Zoning?
Situate is a planning consulting firm specializing in rezoning, permit and subdivision coordination services for awesome infill projects. In our How To series on Edmonton’s standard zones, we dive into the nitty gritty of Edmonton’s most common infill zones and overlays.
The RF5 (Row Housing Zone) is a small-to-medium scale zone in Edmonton Zoning Bylaw 12800. The RF5 Zone allows for multi-unit housing such as townhouses or small apartments, and secondary or basement suites.
The RF5 zone is more commonly found in Edmonton’s suburban neighbourhoods than mature neighbourhoods. However, it’s a great zone for infill and suburban development because it allows for multi-unit housing like the RF3 zone, but with higher density and taller buildings.
Read on to find out what you can do in the RF5 zone (and what you should watch out for).
BASIC RF5 REGULATIONS: LOT SIZE
At its most basic level, the RF5 zone regulates three things: the size of the lot, the minimum number of units, and the size of the building that can be built on the lot. The minimum lot width in the RF5 zone is 5.0 metres or 16 feet, which is less than what’s required in both the RF1 and RF3 zones. The minimum lot depth is 30.0 metres or about 98 feet.
If you are looking to build in the RF5 zone, the lot has to be at least 125 m2 or about 1345 ft2 for each principal dwelling unit. Again, this is smaller than the requirements of the RF1 and RF3 zones.
Diagram 1. Minimum lot size, RF5 compared to RF3
Unlike the RF1 and RF3 zones which have different minimum lot sizes for single detached housing and other housing forms, the lot size regulations in the RF5 zone are the same no matter what you’re building.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you can build a bunch of townhouses on one super small lot, because the minimum lot size is calculated by multiplying the number of (principal) dwellings on the lot by 125 m2 (suites don’t count in this calculation). So, the minimum lot area for a 3-unit townhouse is 375 m2 (125 m2 x 3 dwellings = 375 m2).
The RF5 zone is mainly intended to be used for multi-unit housing. One of the great things about the RF5 zone is that you can build a building with three or more principal dwelling units in it, with the units arranged in pretty much any way, shape, or form. In practice, multi-unit housing is generally built as row housing (aka townhousing), where the dwellings are attached side-to-side and the front doors face the side lot line, but the extra height allowed in the RF5 zone presents some opportunities for small apartment buildings or stacked townhouses (more on height later – read on).
Diagram 2. Multi-unit housing in its most common form—row housing
The zone also lets you build single detached and semi-detached houses, but they’re what’s called “discretionary uses.” This means that the development officer does not have to approve single and semi-detached developments if they think they’re inappropriate for the site.
BASIC RF5 REGULATIONS: MINIMUM NUMBER OF UNITS
As we discussed above, the maximum number of units in the RF5 zone is regulated by the minimum lot size per dwelling. The RF5 zone also regulates the minimum number of units allowed to ensure that the zone is used for higher density than the smaller scale zones. The minimum number of units in the RF5 zone is 35 units per hectare. This means that on a 1,300 m2 lot, you’d have to build at least four units.
BASIC RF5 REGULATIONS: BUILDING SIZE
Now for the second key thing the RF5 zone regulates: the size of the main building. Three key things control the size of the main building: how much of the lot is covered by the building (the lot coverage), the building height, and the distance from the building to the property lines (the setbacks).
Lot coverage is much simpler to figure out in the RF5 zone than in the RF1 and RF3 zones—it’s simply a maximum of 50%, regardless of what type of housing you’re building. The maximum of 50% can also be split between the main building and accessory building (like garages and sheds) in any proportion you want.
Note that you can get an additional 2% bonus on lot coverage for any type of principal building if you include an unenclosed front porch on the front. There’s also a slight bonus for garden suites—more on garden suites later.
Diagram 3. Lot coverage for multi-unit housing, no garage, RF5 zone
Diagram 4. Lot coverage split between house and garage, RF5 zone
HEIGHT (AND THE MATURE NEIGHBOURHOOD OVERLAY)
If you have read our previous blog posts on RF1 and RF3 zones, you should be familiar with the routine. Look out for the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) if you’re building in a mature neighbourhood! You can find out whether it applies to your neighbourhood by checking out the map, here.
A key difference between the RF5 zone and the other zones the MNO applies to is that the RF5 zone is exempt from the height limit of 8.9 metres! The maximum height for buildings in the RF5 zone is 10.0 metres whether you’re in an MNO neighbourhood or not. This makes it easier to build three storeys, allowing for more spacious townhouses or even apartment buildings, especially if you build the lower storey partially underground. (To find out how to measure height, check the section in the bylaw on that).
It’s important to note that City’s development officers (the people who approve development permits) are not allowed to grant a variance on height. So, 10.0 metres is all you get (unless you want to go through the appeal process, which opens you up to some risk and takes a lot of extra time).
SETBACKS (AND THE MATURE NEIGHBOURHOOD OVERLAY)
If you read our previous blog post on the RF3 zone, you’ll know how complicated the setback regulations are in that zone. Well, we have more good news for you when it comes to the RF5 zone. The setback regulations are much, much simpler!
The Mature Neighbourhood Overlay does add some complexity on top of the RF5 zone, so make sure you take a good look at both the zone and the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay.
Let’s start by going over some 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 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 lot, 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 lot, where there are two streets running beside the lot (one street along the front and one street along the side) the front lot line is the shorter of the two lot lines. Pro tip: the “front” of a corner lot is not where the front door of the house faces, rather it’s the shorter of the two lot lines that face a street.
The rear setback under the MNO has to be at least 40% of the length of the lot. This is a pretty big setback, but the RF5 does allow some extra flexibility that other zones don’t. Individual buildings that are 6.5 metres in height or less can be built to 1.2 metres from the rear lot line. This means that garden suite-style buildings can be built on the same site as multi-unit housing in the RF5 zone.
Diagram 5. Rear setback requirement, RF5 zone + MNO
The front setback under the MNO is either 20% of the lot length or 1.5 m less than the average front setback of the two houses beside you; whichever number is less. The absolute minimum front setback is three metres.
Diagram 6. Front setback example , RF5 zone + MNO
Side setbacks are determined based on lot width and whether the lot is a corner lot.
Let’s look at lot width first. For all principal buildings on a non-corner lot, if the lot is less than 18.3 metres wide, the setback on each side has to be 1.2 m. If the lot is on a corner and has a width between 12 metres and 18.3 metres wide, the minimum flanking side setback is 3.0 metres. And finally, if the lot width is greater than 18.3 metres, then the side setbacks must be 20% of the lot width, to a maximum of 6.0 metres in total, and at least 2.0 m on each side. Again, the minimum flanking side setback for a corner lot is 3.0 metres.
Diagram 7. Side setback examples, non-corner lot, RF5 zone + MNO
Diagram 8. Side setback example, corner lot, RF5 zone + MNO
We know that’s a lot to take in, but it’s really important information. Setbacks are a big part of what determines how much of the lot you can build on. The area left over after you figure out all the setbacks is called the building pocket. But keep in mind that the building pocket may end up having more (or less) area than the maximum allowable lot coverage.
Let’s say you want to build multi-unit housing with no parking, or with underground parking, so you don’t need a garage. The maximum site coverage for multi-unit housing in the RF5 zone is 50%. However—if, after you figure out all the required setbacks—only 35% of the lot is left for the principal building, then all you get is 35%, even though the maximum site coverage is so much higher. By contrast, if you figure out the setbacks and determine that 55% is left, the maximum site coverage is still only 50%.
A FEW MORE THINGS TO NOTE!
DRIVEWAYS AND GARAGES
One last thing about the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay: 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 your new building 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, GARDEN SUITES
Now that we’ve talked all things Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, here are a few last bits of information.
The RF5 zone allows for suites in all types of housing. In Edmonton, 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 called a garden suite. A garden suite can either be attached to a garage (above it or beside it), or be a standalone building on its own. (For more information on suites, have a look at the regulations for secondary suites and garden suites in the zoning bylaw).
In Edmonton, secondary suites can be built in multi-unit housing in the form of row housing. That is, secondary suites can be legally built in a building that contains three or more units connected side-by-side and not connected up-and-down or back-to-front. A garden suite can also be built on the same lot as row housing.
Diagram 9. Secondary suites in side-by-side row housing
However, a major difference between the RF3 and RF5 zones is that the RF3 zone allows each principal unit to have both a secondary and garden suite, but the RF5 zone only allows one type of suite for each principal unit. This means that a four-unit row house in the RF3 zone could potentially have a total of 12 units (four principal units, four secondary suites, and four garden suites) while a four-unit row house in the RF5 zone could have a maximum of eight units (four principal units and four secondary or garden suites).
The same goes for suites in single or semi-detached housing in the RF5 zone. Only one type of suite is allowed per principal dwelling unit.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WITH MULTI-UNIT HOUSING
1. Multi-unit buildings where the principal dwellings are arranged up-and-down (or back-to-front) cannot have secondary or garden suites. Only side-by-side row houses can have secondary or garden suites.
Diagram 10. Not allowed: secondary suites in stacked multi-unit housing
2. Secondly, pay close attention to the rear setback. Although the size of your lot may theoretically allow for four units of multi-unit housing, it can be difficult to achieve all four units, especially if you’re building row housing units. That’s because you will probably have to build the fourth unit in the rear setback area, which would then require a variance to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (which may be refused).
Diagram 11. Problem: fourth unit of row housing in rear setback
In conclusion, there’s a lot you can do in the RF5 zone and we hope this article helped you understand what’s possible and what to watch for. If you’re planning to build in the RF5 zone or rezone to the RF5 zone, make sure to get familiar with the regulations of the zone itself as well as the regulations of the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, to set yourself up for success.