Sell Your Backyard? City Pilot Aims To Let Three Homeowners Create 'Flag Lots'

 Scott Wright, Alexia Wright, and their son Luca Wright, 2, in the backyard of their Grovenor home. DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA

Scott Wright, Alexia Wright, and their son Luca Wright, 2, in the backyard of their Grovenor home. DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA

Scott Wright is thinking of selling his backyard.

Not the whole thing. New city regulations would let him sell up to half of the yard on the open market, with or without a garden suite. 

It’s part of a new pilot project going to city council for approval this summer. His neighbours get the chance to weigh in at a city open house Tuesday.

“We’ve had some self-doubt … but I like the flexibility,” said Wright while giving a tour of the yard last week. He’d like to build an accessible garden suite for his in-laws but still wants the option to subdivide the 50-foot Grovenor-area lot if he needs the money.

If a front-back subdivision is allowed, he can sell off half the yard and still keep his bungalow standing. Besides, a big yard is a lot of work. “If you really want space, there are acreages.”

This front-back subdivision was first pitched to council as a “pork chop” lot, a way to increase density by making garage suites or laneway housing more attractive. That’s what the lots are called in Denmark, where the move is relatively common and gives access to low-cost housing for seniors and students. The subdivision leaves the original lot looking like a pork chop because it keeps a narrow access to the back alley.

City officials changed the name to “flag lot,” said city planner Stuart Carlyle. “It just has a bit more of a ring to it.”

For the pilot project, the city’s team put out a call for interested homeowners, quickly heard from 12 people and picked three that have direct access to underground utilities through the back lane, are close to transit and other amenities and represent a variety of neighbourhoods. 

They’re in Grovenor, Queen Mary Park and Alberta Avenue and, if council grants approval, will be rezoned using a direct-control zone to grant special permission for the subdivision. Carlyle said they’ll learn through reaction from the neighbours and from what the homeowners do.

Eventually they’ll report back to council with the results, and council could let more homeowners take this step.

Wright has no idea how much half of his backyard would be worth. It’s in the middle of a block, 100 metres down an alley from a school site, park and community league rink. Soon it could be a short walk to the west extension of the LRT.

If allowing subdivision encourages more garden suites and laneway houses, it would give more affordable housing options, let people live close to where they work, he said, hoping neighbours embrace the idea. “This is like gentle infill. The street face doesn’t change.”