Proposed bylaw changes look to boost Edmonton tiny home development

Edmonton city councillors will consider changes that could boost tiny home development after a city report suggested there is growing interest in the smaller living spaces.

City report says there's a growing demand for tiny homes in Edmonton

A tiny home outside Edmonton owned by sustainability expert Kenton Zerbin. Edmonton city councillors will consider bylaw changes that could boost tiny home development in the city. (Kenton Zerbin)

Edmonton councillors will review proposed bylaw changes that could boost tiny home development after a city report suggests there is growing interest. 

Tiny homes, usually under 400 square feet, can already be built as single-detached homes or garden suites in Edmonton so long as they're constructed onsite and meet building codes. 

But, as a way to support infill development, the city is proposing bylaw changes to permit manufactured tiny homes as well, which are defined in bylaws as mobile homes.

The crux of the changes outlined in the city report, coming to council on Tuesday, comes down to the definition and permitted uses of mobile homes in the city.

The proposed change would eliminate the requirement that a mobile home be at least 5.5 metres wide to qualify as a single-detached home or a garden suite, opening the door to smaller, manufactured tiny homes.

"We're looking for ways to enable unique and affordable forms of housing in Edmonton. So our emphasis has been on finding a way to say yes to a tiny home that meets the building code," said Colton Kirsop, senior planner with the City of Edmonton on Thursday.

Lack of clear regulations stifling market, builders say

The report says tiny homes have gained interest in Edmonton as a way for people to save money and reduce their carbon footprint. 

A survey of Alberta tiny home builders found one company had 900 inquiries in the past three years, with more than half coming from Edmonton residents. But builders say the absence of clear city regulations had "stifled the market," the report noted. 

City staff also prepared changes to permit bylaws that would allow tiny homes on wheels but is recommending council put off the changes since the city doesn't have a way to permit those kinds of units under the Alberta Building Code.

Our emphasis has been on finding a way to say yes to a tiny home that meets the building code- Colton Kirsop, senior planner with the City of Edmonton

Coun. Scott McKeen said the interest in tiny homes is, in part, about a broad generational shift away from suburban living.

He says it could also be an affordable option for people trying to break into the city's housing market. 

"If it's true that we have people growing up with less interest in owning a car, less interest in being saddled with a huge mortgage, then I feel duty-bound to talk to that generation and say, 'What do you want,'" he said. 

"And if tiny homes is one of the options they want, I think we should be on board for that." 

'A question around the quality of life'

Coun. Mike Nickel is concerned the push for tiny homes is less about a cultural shift, and more about a lack of decent affordable housing in mature neighbourhoods.

"There gets to be a question around the quality of life as you chew this stuff up into smaller and smaller shoeboxes and try to fit people in there," he said.

"We're trying to chop up these pieces of property and intensify their use to improve the financials on the piece of property — it's the reasons why the suburbs exist, is because people could afford those products." 

The proposed changes focus on tiny homes as garden suites — standalone dwellings behind the primary residence often used as rental units — or as single-detached homes. The tiny homes would still have to be up to the provincial building code and meet all the relevant zoning provisions. 

To build multiple tiny homes on a single lot, the lot would have to be rezoned under the Row Housing Zone, which was approved by city council on Monday.

The homes would require a minimum of 2.4 metres of spacing and one parking spot per unit.


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