WHAT CAN I DO UNDER EDMONTON’S RA7 ZONING?
The RA7 (Low Rise Apartment Zone) is a medium scale zone in Edmonton Zoning Bylaw 12800. The RA7 Zone allows for multi-unit housing such as townhouses or apartments with a maximum height of about four storeys, and also allows for some small scale commercial uses on the main floor.
The RA7 zone has been around for a long time, and it’s found throughout Edmonton’s suburban and mature neighbourhoods. Until fairly recently the zone didn’t work very well for infill, but it was overhauled in 2019 and since then it’s become quite popular for infill and urban redevelopment sites in mature neighbourhoods.
This article explains what you can build in the RA7 zone, and what to consider if you’re thinking of rezoning your property to the RA7 zone.
The RA7 zone is meant for multi-unit housing, where multi-unit housing is a building that contains three or more units arranged in any configuration. In practice, in the RA7 zone multi-unit housing is generally built as apartment housing (see diagram 1 below), though you could also build row housing or stacked row housing.
Diagram 1. Multi-unit housing in its most common form in the RA7 zone—apartment housing
BASIC RA7 REGULATIONS: AN OVERVIEW
At their most basic level, the majority of zones regulate three things: the size of the lot, density, and the size of the building that can be built on the lot. The RA7 zone works well because there are no minimum lot size or lot dimension regulations, and no maximum density: density is regulated indirectly by the restrictions on the size of the building. The following sections explain how this works in more detail.
MINIMUM NUMBER OF UNITS
Like some of the other standard zones in Edmonton Zoning Bylaw 12800, such as the RF5 and RA8 zones, the RA7 zone regulates the minimum number of units allowed on a site, and not the maximum. The minimum number of units in the RA7 zone is 45 units per hectare: this means that on a 1,600 m2 site, which is an assembly of three average-sized lots, you’d have to build at least seven units.
As we mentioned above, there is no maximum density in the RA7 zone; the density is limited by how many units can fit in the building, the size of which is determined by height, floor area ratio and setbacks.
The maximum height in the RA7 zone is 14.5 metres for a building with a flat roof, and 16.0 metres for a building with a pitched roof. This height can typically accommodate four storeys. (To find out how to measure height, check out the section in the bylaw on that).
It’s important to note that the City’s development officers (the people who approve development permits) are not allowed to grant a variance on height. So, 14.5 or 16.0 metres is all you get (unless you want to go through the appeal process, but that’s a whole process in itself and success is not guaranteed in the end).
FLOOR AREA RATIO
If you’ve read our articles on the RF1, RF3, and RF5 zones, you’ll know that the size of the building in those zones is regulated by the proportion of the lot that the building can cover (site coverage), which is measured as a percentage. Larger scale zones like the RA7 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. The maximum FAR in the RA7 zone is 2.3. To figure out what this means for your site, you would multiply the size of your lot by 2.3. This means that on a 1,600 m2 lot, the maximum floor area for the building would be 3,680 m2 (1,600 X 2.3). Section 6.1 of the Zoning Bylaw has a helpful diagram to illustrate how FAR works. Keep in mind that you may not actually be able to build the maximum FAR because the building size could be constrained by other regulations like the maximum building height and minimum building setbacks—more on that, below.
In Edmonton, 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.
The last key thing that controls the size of the building is setbacks, which are regulations that control how far the building has to be from the nearest lot line. After you figure out all the setbacks, the area left over in the middle of the site is called the building pocket.
In most situations, the minimum front setback in the RA7 zone is 4.5 metres (see diagram 2 below). However, be aware that there are a couple of conditions that can change the minimum front setback (and they’re confusing, so grab a coffee before reading this section).
Diagram 2. Front setback requirement, RA7 zone
Although no zoning overlays apply directly to the RA7 zone, there are some regulations that are different depending on whether your site is within the boundaries of an overlay or not.
First, if your site is within the boundaries of the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) AND it’s located next to a site zoned to allow single detached housing as a permitted use, the front setback must be either 6.0 metres or 1.5 metres less than the average front setback of the two buildings beside you; whichever number is less (see diagram 3 below). You can see the boundaries of the MNO here.
Diagram 3. Front setback requirement within the boundaries of the MNO, next to a site zoned to allow single detached housing as a permitted use
Second, if your site is within the boundaries of the Main Streets Overlay (MSO), AND it’s NOT next to a site zoned to allow single detached housing as a permitted use, AND (!) you’re putting commercial uses on the main floor, the minimum front setback must be between 1.0 metre and 3.0 metres (see diagram 4 below). You can see the boundaries of the MSO here.
Diagram 4. Front setback requirement within the boundaries of the MSO
The rear setback in the RA7 zone is 7.5 metres (see diagram 5 below). The 7.5 metre rear setback is typically used for garbage collection and parking spots along the rear lane.
Diagram 5. Rear setback requirement, RA7 zone
Side setbacks are determined based on building height and whether the site is on a corner.
Let’s talk about building height first. For buildings up to 10 metres in height, the minimum interior side setback (abutting another lot) is 1.5 metres. For buildings over 10 metres in height, the minimum interior side setback is 3.0 metres.
On corner sites, the minimum side setback along a public roadway is 3.0 metres, regardless of the building’s height. Minimum side setbacks are illustrated in diagrams 6 and 7 below.
Parking, loading, storage, or trash collection are not allowed in a side setback abutting a site zoned to allow single detached Housing as a permitted Use, unless a minimum 1.5 m wide landscaped buffer is provided to screen parking and garbage collection from view.
Diagram 6. Side setback requirement, building up to 10 m in height in RA7 zone
Diagram 7. Side setback requirement, building over 10 m in height in RA7 zone
A FEW MORE REGULATIONS…
DRIVEWAYS AND PARKING
If there’s a lane behind your site, you are not allowed to have a driveway or garage 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 will be required to remove the driveway and garage, rebuild the curb, and put the new vehicle access in the back.
The RA7 zone allows some commercial uses on the main floor of the building, including retail, health services, offices, and specialty food services (things like coffee and sandwich shops that don’t serve alcohol). Restaurants are also allowed as a “discretionary use”, which means that the development officer will review each application on a case-by-case basis and decide whether or not the use is appropriate for the site.
If your site isn’t located on an arterial road, each commercial bay is limited to 275 m2.
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 is required to be provided with any new development in Edmonton. Assuming you’re building an apartment building, the landscaping requirements are one tree for each 35 m2 and one shrub for each 15 m2 of setback area. Landscaping requirements are outlined in Section 55 of the Zoning Bylaw.
Multi-unit developments in Edmonton have to conform with Section 46 of the Zoning Bylaw, 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 privately or communally. Amenity areas for apartment buildings are most commonly provided through private balconies, though amenity area can also be provided as a yard, a rooftop terrace, or common indoor space like a gym or party room.
WHERE TO USE THE RA7 ZONE
There are a lot of sites in the city that are already zoned RA7. However, if you’re looking to rezone a site to the RA7 zone, you’ll need to consider City policy.
The City’s Municipal Development Plan, City Plan, was approved by City Council on December 7, 2020. City Plan sets the direction for how future growth will happen in Edmonton. City Plan identifies a number of corridors (major roads) and nodes throughout the City where future growth is encouraged to happen. Low-rise development (buildings up to four storeys in height) is encouraged within all nodes and corridors identified in City Plan. In theory this means that rezoning a site in any node or corridor to RA7 should be supported by Administration and City Council.
However, rezoning decisions are made by City Council, which means it’s a political process. An RA7 rezoning can generate a lot of opposition from the community in lower density areas that haven’t yet seen a lot of change, which can influence Council’s decision. In most cases, the closer your site is to the centre of a node or corridor, the better your chances of a successful rezoning will be.
City Plan also supports mid-rise development in certain locations in nodes and corridors, in which case the RA8 zone may be better zoning option for your site. We recommend consulting a professional planner (like us) in making the decision of which zone to use.
In conclusion, there’s a lot you can do in the RA7 zone and we hope this article helped you understand what’s possible and what to watch for. The RA7 zone allows you to build multi-unit housing up to about four storeys in height with the units arranged in any form. Another major advantage of the RA7 zone is that there is no cap on density, which lets you really tailor the building to your target market. If you’re planning to build in the RA7 zone or rezone to the RA7 zone, make sure to get familiar with the regulations of the zone, and City Plan policy, to set yourself up for success.
This article was written by Situate, Edmonton’s planning consulting firm specializing in rezoning, permit and subdivision coordination services for awesome infill projects.
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