kid-friendly condos

Toronto looks to boost kid-friendly condos

Development applications may soon be measured against Growing Up guidelines
Thursday, June 8, 2017
By Michelle Ervin

Draft guidelines designed to promote kid-friendly condos are poised for a two-year trial run after getting green-lit by the planning and growth management committee last week. If Toronto City Council adopts the committee’s recommendations at its July 5 meeting, applications for multi-residential developments will start to be scrutinized with a view to these Growing Up guidelines.

The move to plan for the increasing number of families expected to raise kids in vertical communities follows a 2012 condo consultation and a 2014 roundtable on planning cities for families, according to a staff report accompanying the guidelines. The consultation revealed challenges including a dearth of amenities tailored to children, while the roundtable addressed a range of issues including the availability of affordable family housing.

The guidelines, which reflect input from developers and families, consider the neighbourhood, the building and the unit in answering how to build vibrant communities that are inclusive of youngsters. They contemplate everything from integrating child care facilities into new developments, to grouping large units on the lower floors of a building, to designing units for future flexibility.

Neighbourhood guidelines

In addition to looking for opportunities to integrate child care facilities into new developments where needed, the neighbourhood guidelines encourage grouping together child care facilities, parks and schools at the same site.

“The TDSB [Toronto District School Board] will use these guidelines as a stepping stone in continuing to review and provide for opportunities to integrate new schools into specific development areas where there is anticipated significant residential intensification, population growth and student accommodation pressures that are beyond our ability to address within existing property holdings,” wrote Carla Kisko, associate director, finance and operations, TDSB, in a letter addressing the staff report.

TDSB notices informing future residents that their kids may not be able to attend a local school due to capacity issues have become a fixture of development sites in rapidly intensifying neighbourhoods.

The guidelines also encourage parkland to be allocated on site where needed and discourage development that causes “new net shadow” to be cast on parks, open spaces and playground.

A development in the rapidly intensifying Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood recently faced pushback from parents over concerns including that the condo would restrict the amount of sunlight reaching the playground of the school next door.

Building guidelines

In addition to calling for two- and three-bedroom units to be grouped together on the lower floors, the building guidelines specify that these larger units should comprise at least 25 per cent of all units. The guidelines further specify that 10 per cent of units should be three bedrooms and 15 per cent, two bedrooms.

Design considerations include future-proofing units for possible consolidation or reconfiguration as families’ needs change. Among the suggested strategies for accomplishing this are avoiding shear walls in favour of columns and weighing the option of wood-frame construction.

Two-storey units are tagged as a way to improve sound privacy — a source of conflict in condos — by laying out living and sleeping areas on different levels. The guidelines also encourage built-in supervision through the wrapping of outdoor play areas with C- or L-shaped massing for mid-rise buildings and for the bases of high-rise buildings.

Whether outdoors or indoors, amenities are expected to support a mix of different activities and demographics, with kid-friendly spaces to be allocated in equal measure to the large units. Shared facilities could become even more prevalent depending on the uptake of the recommendation to combine some of the amenities in a common space on sites with more than one building.

Other considerations are to integrate stroller storage into lobbies and provide informal spaces for kids to interact with features such as generous, naturally lit elevator corridors and hallways.

Unit guidelines

In addition to promoting demountable partitions and prefabricated elements for long-term flexibility, the unit guidelines point to fold-away furniture and movable walls for short-term flexibility. The unit guidelines also specify minimum dimensions for both units and rooms.

Two-bedroom units should measure between 936 and 969 square feet and three-bedroom units, between 1,076 and 1,140 square feet.

That compares with two-bedroom units available for purchase between 2010 and 2015, which ranged from 49 square metres to 196 square metres (roughly 530 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet), notes the staff report accompanying the guidelines. The three-bedroom units available for purchase during the same period ranged from 69 square metres to 324 square metres (slightly less than 750 square feet to nearly 3,500 square feet). Units in older buildings are typically larger, while units in newer buildings have trended smaller and smaller.

All bedrooms should be able to accommodate two people and measure 11 square metres (roughly 120 square feet), according to the guidelines, but at least one must meet this minimum and none should be squeezed into less than eight square metres (86 square feet). Kitchen and dining rooms should be at least nine square metres each (just under 100 square feet) and living rooms, 16.5 square metres (just over 175 square feet).

A minimum width of roughly 1.5 metres (five feet) is prescribed for entrances, to provide ample passageway for people and strollers. Laundry rooms are ideally nearby, as the guidelines recommend considering making them multi-purpose to serve double duty as mud rooms. And balconies — preferably inset — should measure at least 2.4-metres deep  (just under eight feet) and 2.7-metres wide (just under nine feet) .

Consultation to continue

The planning and growth management committee adopted a recommendation to have staff consult with the design and development community during the trial run and provide an interim report in the first quarter of 2018 with proposed revisions. A suggestion from the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations (FONTRA) to include families living in vertical communities in the continuing consultation as well went unheeded, but the group welcomed the guidelines.

“It is apparent that mid-rise and tall buildings are increasingly becoming ‘home’ for Toronto families, and it is critical that these are ‘good places to live’ at unit, building and neighborhoods scales, as examined in the report and guidelines,” stated a letter from FONTRA co-chairs Geoff Kettel and Cathie Macdonald.

The planning and growth management committee also adopted a recommendation to have staff report back in 2019 on the roll out of the draft guidelines.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.

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