Design: Pre-reviewed Designs

The City of Mississauga is offering free pre-approved plans for one-bedroom and studio garden suites.

As Small Housing holds, design flexibility is crucial for the financial viability of gentle density housing projects. It also ensures a variety of housing forms to better meet the diverse needs of our communities.

Offering pre-approved plans is an important step in progressing gentle density ambitions, making it easier for homeowners to build a detached unit on their property. You can explore the full suite of Mississauga’s resources on their dedicated page.

Discover organizations from across Canada, and the rest of the world, who are contributing towards the gentle density movement and the delivery of homes that people want, need & deserve.

Name: Smallworks

About: For the last 16 years, Smallworks has been the heart of laneway housing in North America and we have operated with a simple mission, to empower homeowners to create housing solutions that work for them.

The organisation strongly believe in this form of housing; infill housing provides gentle density, while preserving the neighbourhoods we’ve come to know and love.

Having built nearly 400 homes, they take pride in being able to use experience to accurately project both cost and timeline, ensuring that their homes are built on time, on budget, and with no surprises.

For more information: Head to their dedicated website.

The Infill Challenge Best Practices Summary from the City of Kelowna provides an analysis of leading edge policies, processes and projects in infill housing, and gives us the opportunity to learn from them.

Key insights:

The Best Practices Guide is intended to provide leading edge examples of infill housing from across Canada in the areas of process, development, and policy and regulations. The key lessons from each of these areas can be used to inform the Infill Challenge project as it unfolds in Kelowna.

Samples include:

Process:

  • Engage stakeholders early
  • Follow an objective, transparent process
  • Use data and research to clarify needs and objectives

Development:

  • Encourage the use of place-based design
  • Ensure that lane access and a grid network are in place
  • Require that front doors face the street, where possible

Policy & Development:

  • Use clear language (no jargon)
  • Support the process with strong visuals
  • Consider context-based zoning regulations and guidelines

On this useful resource page from the City of San Jose, users can explore a comprehensive resource library to support research and insights into the city’s promotion of ADUs as a means of addressing housing challenges.

Key insights:

  • ADUs are an affordable type of home to construct in California because they do not require paying for land, major new infrastructure, structured parking, or elevators.
  • ADUs can provide a source of income for homeowners.
  • ADUs are built with cost-effective wood frame construction, which is significantly less costly than homes in new multifamily infill buildings.
  • ADUs allow extended families to be near one another while maintaining privacy.
  • ADUs can provide as much living space as many newly-built apartments and condominiums, and they’re suited well for couples, small families, friends, young people, and seniors.
  • ADUs give homeowners the flexibility to share independent living areas with family members and others, allowing seniors to age in place as they require more care.

This webinar from January 2024, hosted by the Congress of New Urbanism, provides a useful overview of some of the key challenges posed by pre-approved designs for gentle density homes, but also detailed the many benefits that these can bring to a community.

Featuring insights from Edward Erfurt, Director of Community Action at Strong Towns, Jennifer Krouse of Liberty House Plans, & Allison Thurmond Quinlan, principal architect and landscape architect with Flintlock LAB (who also presented at the Small Housing Gentle Density Leaders Summit 2024).

As this accompanying CNU article outlines, the panel described the many benefits of pre-approved plans, including:

  • Increasing community familiarity and understanding of missing middle housing types, like small apartment buildings, duplexes, and accessory dwelling units
  • Encouraging higher quality design so that small developers proposing similar projects will have an easier time. If housing is expedited, there is a risk that low-quality design will boost opposition. A collection of context-sensitive building plans offers greater predictability because the architectural review is complete, Krouse says.
  • The programs are designed to reduce regulatory friction in a housing delivery system that many people recognize is overly complex. This helps to level the playing field between small and large developers, the latter of which have developed ways around bureaucratic red tape.

Based out of Melbourne, Future Homes offers a useful blueprint to consider in the delivery of pre-approved designs.

Facilitating the construction of enhanced gentle density dwellings, Future Homes was developed by the Department of Transport & Planning in Victoria and offers four distinct sets of site-less designs available for purchase, each boasting unique styles, layouts, and designs.

Key insights:

  • Pre-approved designs simplifies & streamlines the planning process for citizen developers and related actors
  • Pre-approved designs provide a versatile and customizable approach to apartment construction
  • Can play a central role in fostering better and more adaptable living spaces for diverse communities.

Image to the left shows Design Strategy Architecture with IncluDesign‘s “Future Homes Design A”.

Key Info

Sample Home Design: Tweedsmuir

Specifications

  • Number of Units 9+
  • Size of Units < 1000 sqft
  • Number of Structures 1

Size of Project

  • Width of Build < 45’
  • Number of Storeys 2.5 Storeys
  • Total Build Area < 6500 sqft

Lot Attributes

  • Lot Type Corner
  • Vehicle Access Front, Rear

These designs are for illustrative purposes only, and not intended for construction.

This forward-thinking design seamlessly incorporates a total of 8 units, offering a mix of unit types to suit various needs, including two spacious family-sized units with 3 bedrooms each. Each unit features its own individual entrance door, ensuring privacy and convenience for residents. Alternatively, the design can accommodate a total of 6 units, including four with 2 bedrooms each, providing flexibility in configuration.

Despite its multi-unit layout, the design maintains the feel of a small apartment building within the scale of a large single-family home, blending functionality with aesthetic appeal. In total, the design offers 14 bedrooms, catering to diverse household sizes. The proposed floor space ratios (FSR) are 1.10 on a 50×110’ lot and 0.91 on a 60×110’ lot, showcasing efficient land usage while maximizing livable space.

Drawing and Images

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Key Info

Specifications

  • Number of Units 3
  • Size of Units < 600 sqft
  • Number of Structures 2
  • Bedrooms Per Unit 1, 2, 3

Size of Project

  • Width of Build < 25’
  • Number of Storeys 3 Storeys
  • Total Build Area < 4500 sqft

Lot Attributes

  • Lot Type Corner
  • Vehicle Access Rear

These designs are for illustrative purposes only, and not intended for construction.

This cutting-edge design can incorporate a total of six units on a lot just 33’ wide, using an innovative shared, “point-access-block” stair.

“Comox” also maximizes its small lot through the use of a zero-lot-line on one side. The design could be used to ease the transition within a block from a commercial zone to residential, or the design could be mirrored on a second lot to create a rooftop patio space between the two structures.

This rooftop space would be in addition to one courtyard already on the ground level and another on the third storey, which give the design its abundant light and air access in spite of its density: a FSR of 0.73 on the 50×131’ lot shown, or 1.10 on the 33×131’ lot. “Comox” has 9 bedrooms and utilizes sprinklering.

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Key Info

Mount Pleasant sample home design, on a 50' rear/lane access lot.

Specifications

  • Number of Units 9+
  • Size of Units < 600 sqft
  • Number of Structures 2
  • Bedrooms Per Unit 1, 2

Size of Project

  • Width of Build < 45’
  • Number of Storeys 3.5 Storeys
  • Total Build Area < 9500 sqft

Lot Attributes

  • Lot Type Mid-block
  • Vehicle Access Rear

These designs are for illustrative purposes only, and not intended for construction.

This ambitious design stands out in its library, boasting a total of 13 units spread across two structures on an urban-sized lot. Despite its size, the design maintains the scale and aesthetic harmony of a residential neighborhood. It shines particularly bright as dedicated rental accommodation, catering to the needs of urban dwellers.

Noteworthy features include a common bike storage room and a spacious rooftop deck in the rear structure, providing residents with additional amenities and leisure spaces. The central courtyard serves as a community hub, offering a private space for residents to gather and relax, complete with envisioned picnic furniture for added comfort. The design employs a cutting-edge “point-access block” solution, with 6 units accessed via a single stairwell, meeting the requirements set forth in the Vancouver Building By-law.

Enhanced safety measures such as sprinklering, fire alarm systems, and smoke evacuation systems in the stairwell ensure residents’ safety and well-being. In total, the design accommodates 18 bedrooms, accommodating a range of household sizes. The proposed floor space ratios (FSR) are 1.42 on a 50×130’ lot and 1.18 on a 60×130’ lot, demonstrating efficient land usage while maximizing livable space and community amenities.

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Key Info

Specifications

  • Number of Units 8
  • Size of Units < 1000 sqft
  • Number of Structures 1
  • Bedrooms Per Unit 1, 2

Size of Project

  • Width of Build < 45’
  • Number of Storeys 2.5 Storeys
  • Total Build Area < 6500 sqft

Lot Attributes

  • Lot Type Corner
  • Vehicle Access Front, Rear

These designs are for illustrative purposes only, and not intended for construction.

This proposed home design ingeniously conceals five two-bedroom units and three lock-off suites within a house-like structure by strategically positioning the top storey beneath the roof and sinking the bottom storey a few steps down. Additionally, it incorporates versatile space for mixed-use, offering potential for commercial use to maximize the corner lot location, or alternatively, these spaces could be leased or sold separately as studios or offices, or shared as amenities for residents.

The ground-level studio units are depicted as lock-off suites, though they could also be fully separated if desired. Moreover, the design showcases sprinklered features to allow for greater window area along the side facing the neighbor, enhancing both aesthetics and functionality. With parking situated off the side street, this design is adaptable for corner or rear-access lots.

In terms of capacity, it boasts a total of 13 bedrooms. The proposed floor space ratio (FSR) is 1.35 on a 50×140’ lot and 1.12 on a 60×140’ lot, including garage space where applicable.

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