Subdivide and sell: Edmonton tests new plan for garden suites

Move over tiny homes, here come garden suites — for sale. The City of Edmonton is testing a new concept where a homeowner can subdivide a property into two separate lots and build a smaller home in the back.

Current city bylaws allow for garage and garden suites for rent only

Wendy and George Stalker are building a garden suite on a now separate lot behind their home. (Wendy Stalker)

Move over tiny homes, here come garden suites.

For sale.

The City of Edmonton is testing a new concept where a homeowner can subdivide a property into two separate lots and build a smaller home in the back.

The garden suite is independent, with its own land title, plumbing, gas, electrical services and driveway. 

Stuart Carlyle, a city planner working on the pilot project, said the concept may appeal to homeowners who are interested in extra income but don't want to be landlords dealing with monthly rents.

"That would be a saleable opportunity where it could be sold once for one lump sum," he said. "You would just treat that person as a neighbour, just as you would to those living on either side of you."

Under current zoning bylaws, property owners in Edmonton are allowed to have garage and garden suites but only to rent. The suites share the property with the principal home and the utilities.

The city is testing the idea on three properties in mature neighbourhoods. Making better use of existing lots to improve density is part of the purpose.

Wendy and George Stalker live on a corner lot at 117th Street and 111th Avenue in Queen Mary Park and have already started building a garden suite.

They qualified for the pilot project because they're near public transit and have the space to put up a separate building. To qualify, an owner must have a lot that's at least 3,875 square feet.

Pork chop, flag lot

"The lots here are quite large, the houses are not, because they were built in the '50s," Wendy Stalker told CBC News on Thursday. "We love our neighbourhood."

She said the project is a great way for them to make money and stay in the neighbourhood.

"It's an opportunity for people to sell one of the properties and invest the money, or sell both of the properties and move somewhere else."

Edmonton calls it a flag lot because the principal property ends up in the shape of a flag. In other countries, it's often referred to as a pork chop, Carlyle said. 
A subdivided property with the garden suite in the back of the principal dwelling is called a flag lot. (City of Edmonton)

"Other cities have gone out and they've looked at innovative subdivision design, which ultimately provide servicing and vehicular access to a smaller building in the rear of an existing lot. Edmonton is just looking to do something similar."

The term "garden suite" is used because the smaller home is typically where a garden would be in relation to the main home, Carlyle said.  

As with other garage and secondary suites, neighbours sometimes complain and have concerns about issues such as parking and noise.

Carlyle said the city is willing to listen to people with concerns.

"We're open to dialogue," he said, but stressed the purpose of the pilot is to explore "land ownership through innovative subdivision designs."

The city is holding three information sessions in the neighbourhoods with the test properties:

  • Alberta Avenue community gym, May 3
  • Queen Mary Park community hall, May 10
  • Grovenor School gym, May 15  

Carlyle plans to present the results from the pilot project to city council this summer. Council has the authority to amend the zoning bylaws to allow for garden suites for sale.