What Can I Do Under Edmonton’s UCRH Zoning?
The UCRH (Urban Character Row Housing Zone) is a small scale zone in Edmonton Zoning Bylaw 12800. The UCRH Zone allows for multi-unit housing such as townhouses or small apartments, as well as secondary suites or basement suites.
The UCRH zone was created in 2010, so it’s fairly new as far as the standard zones of Zoning Bylaw 12800 go. The zone was created to provide more opportunities to develop townhouses with individual units that could be subdivided and sold (as opposed to condominium units). It’s historically been used more in Edmonton’s suburban neighbourhoods than in our mature neighbourhoods. However, changes that were made to the UCRH zone in 2019 have made it a good option for both infill and suburban development. It allows for multi-unit housing (just like the RF3 and RF5 zones), but with the option for slightly more height than the RF5 zone, and more density than the RF3 zone. Another great thing about the UCRH zone is that the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay doesn’t apply to it.
The UCRH zone is meant to be used for multi-unit housing. The zoning bylaw considers “multi-unit housing” to be a building that has three or more principal dwellings inside it, with the dwellings arranged in any way, shape or form. In practice, multi-unit housing in small scale zones (like RF3, RF5, and UCRH) is generally built as townhouses, where each dwelling is attached side-to-side and the front doors face the front and side lots lines (see diagram 1 below).
Diagram 1. Multi-unit housing in its most common form—row housing
The key thing to note about the UCRH zone is that it allows for buildings to be built up to 12 metres tall (about three and a half storeys), which is taller than the 8.9 metres (two and a half storeys) that’s allowed in the RF3 zone, and the 10 metres (three storeys) allowed in the RF5 zone. This extra height presents the opportunity to build small apartment buildings or stacked townhouses (more on that later—read on).
The UCRH zone also lets you build semi-detached houses, but they’re what’s called a “discretionary use.” This means that the development officer does not have to approve semi-detached houses if they think that sort of housing is not the right thing for the site. This does create some risk if you’re looking to build lower density housing in the UCRH zone, though most of the time you should be alright. Unlike the RF3 and RF5 zones, the UCRH zone does not allow single detached housing as either a permitted or discretionary use.
BASIC UCRH REGULATIONS: SITE SIZE
At its most basic level, the UCRH zone regulates three things: the size of the site, the minimum and maximum number of dwellings you can put on the site, and the size of the building that can be built on the site.
The minimum site size regulations in the UCRH zone are the same as the RF5 zone. The minimum site width for all forms of housing is 5.0 metres (16 feet), which is less than what’s required in the RF3 zone, and the minimum site depth is 30.0 metres (about 98 feet).
If you’re looking to build multi-unit housing in the UCRH zone, you need at least 125 m2 of site area (about 1345 ft2) for each principal dwelling. Again, this is smaller than what’s required in the RF3 zones (where you need at least 150 m2 of site area for each principal dwelling). So if you have a site that’s 700 m2, you could build five principal units in the UCRH zone but only four in the RF3 zone.
Diagram 2 below shows a comparison of the site size requirements for a three unit row house in the UCRH and RF3 zones.
Diagram 2. Minimum site size, UCRH compared to RF3
BASIC UCRH REGULATIONS: MINIMUM NUMBER OF UNITS
As we discussed above, in the UCRH zone the maximum number of principal dwellings per site is controlled by the minimum area that is needed per principal dwelling (125 m2).
Like the RF5 zone, the UCRH zone also regulates the minimum number of units allowed. The minimum number of units in the UCRH zone is 35 units per hectare, which is the same as the RF5 zone. This means that if you do the math on a standard 600 m2 site, you’ll figure out that you have to build at least two principal dwellings. As discussed above, single detached housing is not allowed in the UCRH zone.
BASIC UCRH REGULATIONS: BUILDING SIZE
On to the next key UCRH regulations: the size of the building. Three things control the size of the principal building: how much of the site is covered by the building (the site coverage), the building height, and the distance from the building to the property lines (the setbacks).
Site coverage in the UCRH zone is the same as the RF5 zone—the maximum site coverage is 50%, regardless of what type of housing you’re building (see diagram 3). The maximum of 50% site coverage can also be split between the main building and one or more accessory buildings (like garages and sheds) in any proportion you want (see diagram 4).
Diagram 3. Site coverage for multi-unit housing, no garage, UCRH zone
Diagram 4. Site coverage split between house and garage, UCRH zone
Note: you can get an additional 2% bonus on site coverage for any type of principal building if that building includes an unenclosed front porch. The city considers front porches to be a good way to make the front of the building look nice, and a way for neighbours to interact with each other.
If you’ve read our previous blog posts on the RF3 and RF5 zones, you’ll know that you have to look out for the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) if you’re building in a mature neighbourhood under any of the zones numbered RF1 through RF5. In the UCRH zone, you don’t have to worry about that—the MNO doesn’t apply. This means that when you look at the regulations in the UCRH zone, what you see is what you get. The regulations aren’t modified by the MNO.
The first major difference between the RF5 and UCRH zones is height: the maximum height for buildings in the UCRH zone is 12 metres, while the maximum height in the RF5 zone is only 10 metres. This makes it possible to build a three and a half storey building, allowing for more spacious townhouses or even small apartment buildings. (To find out how to measure height and make sure your building will conform, check out the section on height in the bylaw).
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, 12 metres is all you can get (unless you want to try your luck on making an appeal, which opens you up to quite a bit of uncertainty and takes extra time).
If you read our previous blog posts on the RF3 and RF5 zones, you’ll know the minimum setbacks in those zones are influenced by the MNO. The UCRH zone has different, and mostly smaller setback requirements than those zones.
The front setback under the UCRH 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). The UCRH zone also has a maximum front setback of 6.0 metres.
Pro tip: the “front” of a corner lot is not where the front door of the building faces; it’s the shorter of the two lot lines that face a street. If the corner site is made up of more than one lot, the “front” is whatever side would be considered the front for the lot on the corner.
Diagram 5. Minimum front setback without treed boulevard, UCRH
Diagram 6. Minimum front setback with treed boulevard, UCRH
The rear setback under the UCRH zone has to be at least 30% of the length of the site (see diagram 7). This is the smaller than requirement in the MNO, which is 40% of the length of the site.
If you’ve read our previous blog posts on the RF3 and RF5 zones, you’ll know it can be difficult to achieve all four units without a variance in those zones, especially if you’re building side-by-side units. The great thing about the smaller front and rear setback requirements in the UCRH zone is that in most cases, they’ll eliminate that problem.
Diagram 7. Minimum rear setback, UCRH
The minimum side setbacks in the UCRH 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.
First, let’s talk about building height. For buildings up to 8.9 metres in height, the minimum interior side setback is always 1.2 metres as shown in diagram 8 below.
Diagram 8. Side setback for building under 8.9 m in height, UCRH
Next, on sites that are not next to a lot zoned for low density housing, for buildings over 8.9 metres in height, the minimum interior side setback is 2.2 metres. Alternatively, you can build the portion of the building that is under 8.9 metres in height 1.2 metres away from the interior side lot line, if the portion of the building over 8.9 metres in height is stepped back an additional 1.0 metre. Both options are illustrated in diagram 9 below.
Diagram 9. Side setback options for taller buildings not next to low density housing, UCRH
On sites that are next to a lot zoned for low density housing, the minimum interior side setback for buildings over 8.9 metres in height is 3.0 metres. Alternatively, you can build the portion of the building that is under 8.9 metres in height 1.2 metres away from the interior side lot line, if the portion of the building over 8.9 metres in height is stepped back an additional 1.8 metres. Both options are illustrated in diagram 10 below.
Diagram 10. Side setback options for taller buildings next to low density, UCRH
On corner sites, the minimum side setback from the lot line facing the roadway is 3.0 metres regardless of the building’s height (see diagram 11 below).
Diagram 11. Side setback example, corner site, UCRH zone
This is really important information because setbacks determine how much of the site you can build on. The area in the middle of the site that’s left over after you figure out all the minimum setbacks is called the building pocket—that’s the part of the lot that you’re theoretically allowed to build on.
We say “theoretically” because, actually, the building pocket isn’t the only thing you need to look at to figure out how much of the lot you can build on. You also need to know the maximum allowable site coverage, as sometimes the building pocket is larger (or smaller) than the allowable site coverage.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to build a building containing row housing, and no garage. The maximum site coverage in the UCRH zone is 50%. However—if, after you figure out all the required setbacks—only 35% of the site is left for the principal building, then all you get to build on 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!
SECONDARY SUITES, GARDEN SUITES
The UCRH zone allows for secondary suites in semi-detached and multi-unit housing. However, unlike the RF3 and RF5 zones, garden suites are not allowed in the UCRH zone.
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 it can 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).
Secondary suites can only be built in multi-unit housing in the form of row housing (see diagram 12 below). That is, secondary suites can be legally built in a building that contains three or more units connected side-by-side, but not connected up-and-down or back-to-front (see diagram 13 below).
Diagram 12. Secondary suites in side-by-side row housing
Diagram 13. Not allowed: secondary suites in an up and down row house
DRIVEWAYS AND GARAGES
One last thing about the UCRH zone: if there’s a lane behind your site, you are not allowed to have a driveway or garage facing the street, you have to use the lane. This is true even if your new building replaces an old house that had a front garage on the street—you will be required to remove the old driveway and garage, rebuild the curb, and put the new garage in the back. It is also the case even though the MNO doesn’t apply to the site.
The UCRH zone offers some major advantages over the RF3 and RF5 zones. The smaller front and rear setback requirements allow buildings to be significantly longer, which makes it way easier to fit more side-by-side units on a lot.
Like the RF5 zone, the smaller minimum site area of 125 m2 per principal dwelling in the UCRH zone can allow for a significantly higher density than the RF3 zone on larger sites. In addition, the maximum height of 12 metres makes it easier to build three storeys, allowing for more spacious townhouses, stacked townhouses, and even small apartment buildings.
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 higher density development is expected to occur. The UCRH zone is intended to be used as a transition between higher and lower density. In theory, this means that the UCRH zone is appropriate for sites near any node or corridors. However, rezoning a site to the UCRH zone does come with some risk. It hasn’t been used a lot in infill settings, and the extra height that it allows can cause discomfort among community members.
In conclusion, there’s a lot you can do in the UCRH zone and we hope this article helped you understand what’s possible and what to watch for. If you’re planning to rezone to the UCRH zone, make sure to get familiar with the regulations of the zone to set yourself up for success.