Debating the End of Single-Family Zoning in Toronto

A retired city planner takes a position against "lot splitting," or allowing more than one unit on properties zones for single-family residential as it's known in Toronto.

2 minute read

August 7, 2019, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Single-Family Neighborhood

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Cherise Burda, of the Ryerson City Building Institute, and David Godley, a retired city planner, contribute dueling opinions in this column on the subject of "lot splitting" for density in the city of Toronto.

"Dividing city lots to build two houses on one property is increasingly common and controversial in Toronto," explains the introduction to the article. "Is this good planning in light of sky high housing prices and a lack of land for development?"

Burda takes the position of proponent for lot splitting, starting with the argument that single-family zoning creates exclusion in a time of declining housing affordability.

"Over the next 25 years we are expecting about 1 million new neighbours. And, over the next 50 years Toronto’s population is on track to double. In simpler terms anywhere we currently have one housing unit we will need two," writes Burda.

The contrarian argument sets to debunk what Godley describes as a myth of land shortage in Toronto.

There are enough housing units approved to last 20 years in Toronto with very large numbers of applications in the pipeline. Theoretically, all the needed housing can be accommodated along main streets. This is the appropriate place for co-ops, plexes and rooming houses, as well as innovative housing. There are large tracts of land with development potential.

The context for the discussion is set by a motion proposed recently by Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão and Mayor John Tory to study opportunities to accommodate new forms of housing in residential neighborhoods. The trend toward limiting or ending single-family zoning has been gaining steam, with a new law in Oregon and a new comprehensive plan in Minneapolis leading the way.

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