WHAT CAN I DO UNDER EDMONTON’S RA8 ZONING?
The RA8 (Medium Rise Apartment Zone) is a medium scale zone in Edmonton Zoning Bylaw 12800. The RA8 Zone allows for multi-unit housing such as apartments with a maximum height of about six storeys, and also allows for some small scale commercial uses on the main floor.
The RA8 zone is a standard zone that’s sprinkled throughout Edmonton’s suburban and mature neighbourhoods. For most of its history it didn’t work very well on infill sites, but it’s recently become quite popular after being re-written in 2019. As Edmonton’s only mid-rise standard residential zone, the RA8 zone now works quite well on small and medium-sized infill sites, as it allows for some flexibility in both built form and density.
If you’ve read our previous blog post about the RA7 zone, the RA8 zone is almost exactly the same, except that it allows for taller buildings with more floor area. This post highlights how the RA8 zone is different from the RA7 zone, and what to consider if you’re thinking of rezoning a property to the RA8 zone.
The RA8 zone is intended to be used for multi-unit housing, which is a building that contains three or more dwelling units arranged in any configuration. In practice, the RA8 zone is used for 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—apartment housing
BASIC RA8 REGULATIONS: AN OVERVIEW
In essence a zone regulates three things: the size of the lot, density, and the size of the building that can be built on the lot. The RA8 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 the RA7 zone, the RA8 zone regulates the minimum number of dwelling units rather than the maximum. The minimum number of units in the RA8 zone is 75 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 12 units.
As we discussed above, there is no maximum density in the RA8 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 RA8 zone is 23.0 metres. (To find out how to measure height, check 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, 23.0 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 previous articles on the RF1, RF3, and RF5 zones, you’ll know that the size of the building in smaller scale 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 and RA8 zones use a different approach called floor area ratio (FAR).
FAR is a number that determines the maximum building floor area you can build based on the size of your lot. The maximum FAR in the RA8 zone is 3.0 (and 3.3 for large units). To determine the maximum floor area for the building, you multiply the size of your lot by the maximum FAR. This means that on a 1,600 m2 lot, the maximum floor area for the building would be 4,800 m2 (1,600 X 3.0). 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 to the maximum FAR because the building size may be constrained by the maximum height and minimum setbacks—more on that, below.
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. In the RA8 zone, setbacks are the main thing that determines how much of the lot you can build on, as there’s no maximum site coverage. The area that’s left after you figure out all the setbacks is called the building pocket.
The front and rear setback regulations in the RA8 zone are the same as the RA7 zone, so this section just focuses on the side setbacks. You can read our article on the RA7 zone to see how the front and rear setbacks are determined.
Side setbacks are determined based on building height, whether the site is next to a property zoned for low density, 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 is 1.5 metres (as shown in diagram 2 below). For buildings over 10 metres in height, the minimum interior side setback is 3.0 metres.
Here’s where it gets more complicated: on RA8 sites that are next to a lot zoned to allow single detached housing as a permitted use, the portion of the RA8 building that’s over 14.5 metres in height has to be at least 6.0 metres from the side lot line that’s shared with the lot zoned for houses. This can be either achieved by having the entire building placed 6.0 metres from the side lot line, or by stepping the top portion of the building back from the lower floors. Both options are illustrated in diagram 2 below.
Diagram 2. Side setback requirement, building over 10 m in height next to low density, RA8
On corner sites, the minimum side setback along the street is 3.0 metres regardless of the building’s height (see diagram 3 below).
Diagram 3. Side setback requirement for building up to 10 m in height, RA8
Parking, loading, storage, and 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 service areas from view (this often triggers a variance request as it’s hard to provide this buffer on small sites).
All the other key regulations of the RA8 zone, such as landscaping and amenity area, are the same as the RA7 zone. Read our article on the RA7 zone to see how those regulations work.
WHERE TO APPLY THE RA8 ZONE
There are a lot of sites in the city that are already zoned RA8. However, if you’re looking to rezone a site to the RA8 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 (activity areas) throughout the City where future growth is encouraged to happen. Mid-rise development (buildings between five and eight 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 RA8 should be supported by City Administration and approved by City Council.
However, rezoning decisions are made by City Council, which means it’s a political process. An RA8 rezoning can generate a lot of opposition from the community, particularly in lower density areas that haven’t yet seen a lot of change—this 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 will be for a successful rezoning.
The City is also in the process of creating fifteen new district plans that will add a layer of policy direction to the vision set out by City Plan. These district plans will have additional criteria outlining the locations where mid-rise development will be encouraged or supported. We recommend consulting a professional planner (like us) to help you decide whether the RA8 zone is a good option for your site.
In conclusion, there’s a lot you can do in the RA8 zone and we hope this article helped you understand what’s possible and what to watch for. The RA8 zone allows you to build multi-unit housing up to about six storeys in height with the units arranged in any form. Another major advantage of the RA8 zone is that there is no cap on density, which lets you really tailor the building to your target market.
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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