Saskatoon zoning changes required for federal housing cash

City council to decide on changes including fourplexes without special permits, end of parking requirements, bigger buildings near transit.

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Saskatoon’s municipal government is set to receive a substantial wad of federal cash, provided city council signs off later this month on a package of bylaw changes.

The changes include letting developers build multi-unit residential buildings up to four storeys within 800 metres of a public transit corridor and allowing fourplexes to be built “as-of-right” on any residentially zoned lot, meaning they would no longer require special permits.

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The city would also seek to abolish all minimum parking requirements for residential development.

Lesley Anderson, the city’s director of planning and development, said the measures are “a reset” to zoning regulations — which have, over decades, become more restrictive — allowing a mix of housing types that would help more people afford homes.

They’re also part of the conditions set by the federal government for the city to receive just over $41 million; the city administration last month had council approve a plan to use the bulk of the money to provide incentives to organizations building affordable housing.

Anderson noted it’s been a long time since Saskatoon has seen large investments in “truly affordable housing” development, while noting high costs have in the past been a barrier for many organizations seeking to get projects built.

Groups representing homebuilders and landlords came out in favour of the program when the funding was announced in February. Anderson said the city’s own engagement with housing industry stakeholders indicates the zoning changes will be welcome, but aren’t likely to cause large, wholescale change to established neighbourhoods.

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“We expect a very incremental physical change in the neighbourhoods, even if bylaw changes are fairly significant,” she said.

Anderson noted that some of these zoning tweaks have been in place for years in other cities. She pointed to Minneapolis as an example; it has allowed fourplexes as-of-right on residential lots since 2020, but as of 2023, such projects have accounted for only one per cent of new building permits.

The HAF program is expected to lead to 940 additional housing units being built in Saskatoon over the next three years; Anderson said this would be on top of the roughly 5,000 new units expected in the same time frame.

In the longer term, city staff have estimated the changes coming through HAF will lead to an additional 25,200 housing units over 10 years.

Josh Buchanan, a real estate analyst in Saskatoon, said he welcomes any government action to address Saskatoon’s extremely tight real estate market, which he noted has been undersupplied since at least June 2020.

While he said the program targets would help, he suggested they won’t cause house prices to drop.

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That said, he would have preferred a program more tailored to individual cities, rather than “a blanket approach” coming from the federal government applied to cities both large and small, he said, suggesting this approach creates a likelihood of “unintended consequences” in the future.

Given the short supply of housing stock in Saskatoon, Buchanan said he believes an additional 940 units over three years won’t cause prices to come down.

“We need double that, yesterday, to really balance out the market right now.”

Council is expected to make its decision on the bylaw changes at a public hearing later this month.

Noel Seaman, a homeowner in the Grosvenor Park neighbourhood who lives near a transit corridor, said he has misgivings about the prospect of larger multi-unit housing being shoehorned into a neighbourhood built around single-family detached homes.

“What will happen to the trees in the area? What will happen to the lots?” he asked, adding there is also a concern that street parking could become difficult if new builds are no longer subject to parking requirements.

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Seaman said he feels homeowners haven’t been adequately informed about the coming changes, which he said feel like they’re coming “very quick” while leaving property owners “trying to play catch-up.”

While he said he plans to “dig in” to information about the proposals posted to the city’s website in the weeks to come before the public hearing, he worries his neighbourhood could change to the point where it’s no longer the place where he and his wife want to spend their retirement years, Seaman said.

“If it changes quite dramatically, that’s a concern; it’s an uncertainty.”

The city will host an information session about HAF Thursday at the Saskatoon Fieldhouse.

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