This is the city planner who made laneway suites legal
Graig Uens rallied council, experts and opponents to get the job done
You’re the bold young city planner who made Toronto’s laneway housing program a reality. Is that a fair assessment?
I’ve been a planner for about 15 years, so I’m not sure about the young part. I worked on the Mirvish Village redevelopment, the Alexandra Park revitalization and the craft brewery amendment. In 2017, I was asked to look at laneway housing.
What was the situation with laneway construction up to that point?
You couldn’t really build one. Occasionally, somebody would go through an expensive and time-consuming process to try to amend their zoning. They weren’t always successful. City-planning policies are specific to neighbourhoods and they can be restrictive, especially when you’re introducing a type of construction that doesn’t reflect the prevailing form of buildings in the area.
Like trying to plop down a modern laneway house in the middle of a Victorian area—forget about it.
Right, exactly. The argument we made to council was that laneway suites aren’t sufficiently different from detached garages, which are prevalent across the city. Never mind all of the extra benefits, including additional living space, different types of accommodations and more rental units, which were all things we wanted to encourage.
What kind of opposition did you face?
I don’t know if it was opposition. In November of 2017, we had our first meeting in council chambers. It was really well attended, and more than 90 per cent of people who completed our survey were supportive. There were some concerns, primarily about the loss of trees, shadows on adjacent properties, and privacy. And there was some worry about the effect laneway suites would have on the character of their community.
The new regulations passed three years ago. How much interest have you seen?
Since August 2018, there have been 239 permits to build laneway homes. We’re seeing a lot of these suites go up in the Davenport neighbourhood, where a lot of Toronto’s laneways are. It’s still early days, though. The more suites that go up, the more interest we get. Someone sees their neighbour putting up a suite and they want to do the same.