Council restricts size of homes on smaller lots; decision appealed to OMB

City council has voted to restrict the size of homes on smaller lots in residential areas.

Homes in low density residential areas that have a 25% lot coverage restriction will now also be subject to a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) calculation. Homes with higher lot coverage of 35-40% are not affected by the FAR change.

Lot coverage deals with how much land is covered by a building. FAR deals with the overall mass of the building, and is a ratio of lot coverage to height. Using FAR, when a building gets higher, the building shrinks in (so the lot coverage gets smaller).

The FAR for homes will be .45:1 for all homes with a 25% lot coverage restriction (includes most neighbourhoods in Ward 2). In Shoreacres, the FAR is .4:1

In addition, the maximum depth of a dwelling will be 18m measured from building wall closest to front lot line to building wall closest to rear lot line.

The above changes to lot coverage, FAR and dwelling depth do not apply to properties with a front or street side yard abutting Lakeshore Road and North Shore Boulevard, and all properties south of Lakeshore Road and North Shore Boulevard (excluding Indian Point Character Area).

Floor area ratio reduces building size as it goes up.

The end result of adding Floor Area Ratio is to reduce the size of houses on smaller lots by roughly 5-10% depending on how it is calculated. Staff increased FAR for larger lots.

In addition, some elements of design guidelines were moved into zoning to give them more legal weight. Guidelines are not enforceable; changes to zoning require a minor variance or rezoning, both of which require public notice and public meetings.

Design changes include:

  • Decks located above the first storey in the side and rear yard of detached dwellings are not permitted. Does not apply to Uptown Centre, Orchard Community and Alton Community zones.
  • Balconies located above the first storey in the side and rear yard of detached dwellings are not permitted. Does not apply to Uptown Centre, Orchard Community and Alton Community zones.
  • On building elevations facing a street, the height of columns on the first storey shall not exceed the height of the ceiling of the first storey.
  • The width of a front loading attached garage shall not exceed 50% of the width of its building elevation.
  • An attached garage with a garage door facing the street is not permitted to project beyond the front wall on the first storey of a dwelling.

The changes were implemented as part of recommendations arising from the Character Area Studies conducted for Roseland, Shoreacres and Indian Point neighbourhoods. In conducting these neighbourhood-specific studies, staff also considered changes that would benefit other residential neighbourhoods.

Lot coverage of the building varies based on height.

Residents in the Seneca/Delaware neighbourhood of Ward 2 had asked for their own Character Area Study, but instead of taking the time (up to three years in one case) and spending tens of thousands on new character studies, staff advised that they would bring back recommended changes to other residential low density areas that they considered appropriate.

Council voted 4-3 in December to approve the Character Area Studies, as well as several changes that affect all residential low density areas.

At the vote, council heard from a number of builders who had just learned of the Floor Area Ratio and reduction in building size, and asked council to defer that part of the decision for further public consultation. Two council members moved and seconded a motion to defer the entire package, but that failed 4-3 after staff advised that everything would have to be delayed; we couldn’t separate out and just defer  the FAR.

The council decision has now been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. A date has yet to be set.

My Take: I supported approving the entire package. I have had overwhelming feedback from residents in Ward 2 requesting greater controls on house sizes on small lots and more opportunity for public input. Their view is that some recent builds have been too large for the properties, even though many complied with existing zoning. I also heard from residents wanting greater controls over design, namely to move design matters from “guidelines” which are not enforceable into the zoning bylaw. The recommendations prepared by staff are a balanced step in this direction. Changes can still be made to the regulations, but now the public will have a voice on items that previously they did not.


Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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  1. Do you know why houses with frontage &/or street side yard abutting Lakeshore/North Shore, & all houses South of Lakeshore/North Shore are exempt from these new changes (Lot Coverage, FAR, & Dwelling Depth)? Thank you. 🙂

  2. i am very confused. It seems the southern areas of Burlington have smaller homes on larger lots and the north (Orchard/Alton) have homes that take up almost all the property and they have no parking and emergency vehicles have issues in the area but we are legislating the south not the north? Can you explain please. Seems lots of property in many areas in the south to build larger homes and two storey homes.The orchard and ALton are a planners neighmare I hope. Tiny lots and large homes nad tiny streets.

  3. Marianne, I am fully supportive of this initiative. We already in Burlington have serious issues of overbuilding that are ruining the character of our neighbourhoods in subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways.
    Hopefully, we will progess to the point where the OMB starts listening to the wishes of local planning.

What's your take?

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