When it comes to NIMBYism, the issue of parking is public enemy number one. Suburbanites HATE seeing a lot of cars on their street, and especially hate when cars are parked in front of their homes.
Who can blame them? That beat-up Pontiac Trans Am isn’t exactly eye-candy (unless it's Kit from Knight Rider - yes I'm dating myself)
This is precisely why cities have zero tolerance for second suite homes that don't have adequate parking (because cars are parked on streets – not because they’re Trans Ams)
The rules around parking can be quite confusing. City by-law documents often have several pages dedicated specifically to parking - and that’s just for houses.
Unfortunately, all the by-laws for building still revolve around the accommodation for parking even though times are changing. Car ownership is in decline, especially among younger people. And in many cases, people who live in second suites don’t even drive.
Nonetheless, if you’re doing any conversions, the issue of adequate parking will always come up, and it can be a big upfront obstacle to even getting your project off the ground.
In this article, I’ll attempt to explain how parking requirements work in a general sense, what these typical requirements are, and the logical process to ensure that you have your parking mandates met when you add in a legal second suite. But understand that each city has their own specific requirements.
2 Plus Spaces
In almost every 2-unit conversion, you will always need at least 2 parking spaces. One for the main unit, and one for the second unit. Some cities require 3 parking spaces or even 4.
Tandem And Non Tandem
Depending on the city, tandem parking may or may not be allowed. Tandem means cars in a single file, thereby blocking each other. The reason why tandem is not desirable is because one party will have to move their vehicle every time the other person wants to leave.
What ends up happening is that one person ends up parking on the street out of convenience, and that’s exactly what the city doesn’t want. Again, depends on the city. For example, in Ontario, the City of Hamilton does not allow tandem parking while the City of St. Catharines is okay with it.
Size of the Parking Spot
This also is city specific, but generally allocating around 10 feet by 20 feet is a good rule of thumb. This is larger than actually needed, but it allows for door opening, walkways, etc.
When allocating a parking spot, make sure it’s within the confines of your property line. This can get tricky, especially at the front of the house. Don’t mistakenly assume that your properly line begins at the sidewalk or the curb. It’s almost always never the case, and can be anywhere between several inches to tens of feet in.
The best way to determine the property line is with an official land survey. There may be other methods to figure this out.
Some cities don’t allow you to count the garage as one parking spot. Don’t ask me why. Again you should verify this.
The 50% Rule
Most places have a rule requiring at least 50% landscaping in front. Many crafty homeowners have asked me “What if I landscape it with interlocking?”, to which I reply, “Nice try – unfortunately not hard landscaping”. This means only things like lawn, shrubs, foliage, etc are considered landscaping. And no – you can’t park on the grass!
Even if they did allow hard surfaces to be considered landscaping, you wouldn’t be able to show it on your site plan as a valid parking spot.
Rear Of The House
Assuming we’ve exhausted our options in the front of the house, and we still can’t figure out an arrangement, all is not lost.
You may be able to provide a solution at the rear of the house before having to go for the dreaded minor variance. I’ve often designed the parking at the rear of the house to accommodate 2 or more parking spots.
Whenever you’re allocating parking spaces, whether in the front or back of the house, you need to consider maneuverability (length, width, curvature, etc).
This is on top of whatever requirement that is needed for the space itself, and it can get tricky, especially if we are relegated to provide parking at the rear of the house in a shallow lot.
We’ve had to apply for a variance where we came in 7” short from what was required for maneuvering.
Ultimately if you’re not able to provide adequate parking spaces in accordance to the by-laws, you can always apply for a minor variance, which means you are asking for an exemption to the by-laws from the City’s Committee of Adjustments. Unfortunately there are no guarantees for success.
Chances for success depends on what you’re asking for. For example, if you’re asking to be exempt from all parking, chance for approval may be low. Or if the city doesn’t allow tandem, and you’re asking for that, you may be out of luck.
However, if let’s say it’s an old house with adequate spaces, but the dimensions aren’t to the current standards because the rules were different before, then you’re chances are a lot higher.
The Last Option
The first choice should always be “as-of-right” when you’re looking at a property. Try the best you can to find a property that fits within the parameters of what is required without having to go through a minor variance.
The reason is that whenever you have to go through a variance, you are inviting neighbors to show up and voice their opinion – pitchforks optional (something you want to avoid).
Sometimes, depending on how helpful that particular city is, their building and planning departments might help you get further clarification.
It’s always an advantage to work with professionals who are familiar with the rules and the processes, but nonetheless, it’s good to go through the by-law and understand the requirements before buying a property, even though sometimes the information can be as clear as mud.
I find in many cases, the default response by many cities is to reject your application based on something they see as in violation of the by-laws, without helping you with a solution.
This is because in their views, their job is to approve or reject your application, not to help you provide a design solution.
Even though the government is in favour of adding more units, individuals working there are still very process oriented, and not really looking at the big picture. They’re also trying to reduce their own liability.
This is when a bit of assertiveness, while remaining cordial, will go a long way. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding out exactly where they see the issue, and trying to come up with an alternate solution.
Sometimes there may be a little bit of wiggle room depending on interpretation.
And with a little luck, you might be able to get that Trans Am off the road.