Skip to main content

Eugene Dening photographed next to a garden suite he built with his partner in his Edmonton backyard on Sept. 15, 2018.

Amber Bracken

Edmonton is testing a new way to encourage new housing within its sparsely populated inner city neighbourhoods, by granting homeowners there the right to subdivide their properties into pork chops.

Yes, pork chops.

“What’s interesting about pork-chop lots is that they offer several compelling opportunities,” said Edmonton Councillor Scott McKeen, who last week joined the rest of the city’s council in re-zoning four properties as part of a pilot to test the idea. “As it stands today, the only options [to add housing units on existing properties] are to sell your home and lot or demolish the home and subdivide [the lot] for two narrow-lot homes.”

Story continues below advertisement

The pork-chop term might be new for Canadians but is nonetheless common in Europe and Australia, where it can also go by the names “battle-axe,” “hammerhead” or “flag” lot. In these countries, pork-chop lots are used to subdivide properties front to back, rather than down the middle. This allows new housing to be built in backyards in neighbourhoods that are sparsely populated and dominated by detached housing.

Pilot land division project in Edmonton

To promote greater density in single-famly-home

neighbourhoods, homeowners will be allowed to

divide their properties into two building lots,

when before there was one. Below are some

examples of how things might be done.

PROPERTY

LINES

Original

Divided

ORIGINAL

PROPERTY

VERSION ONE:

In this case the owner sells off a pork-chop

shaped lot and retains the smaller lot fronting

the street. Both properties have driveways off

the street.

STREET

Existing driveway

New driveway

Existing

house

New

house

VERSION TWO:

In this case the owner subdivides and sells off a

portion of the backyard with laneway access.

STREET

Existing driveway

Existing

house

New

house

New

driveway

LANEWAY

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCES: SHERRI SHORTEN; METTE RASMUSSEN;

SHELLEY SABO; CITY OF TEA TREE GULLY

Pilot land division project in Edmonton

To promote greater density in single-family-home

neighbourhoods, homeowners will be allowed to divide

their properties into two building lots, when before there

was one. Below are some examples of how things might

be done.

PROPERTY

LINES

Divided

Original

ORIGINAL

PROPERTY

VERSION ONE:

In this case the owner sells off a pork-chop shaped lot

and retains the smaller lot fronting the street. Both

properties have driveways off the street.

STREET

Existing driveway

New driveway

Existing

house

New

house

VERSION TWO:

In this case the owner subdivides and sells off a portion of

the backyard with laneway access.

STREET

Existing driveway

Existing

house

New

house

New

driveway

LANEWAY

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: SHERRI SHORTEN;

METTE RASMUSSEN; SHELLEY SABO; CITY OF TEA TREE GULLY

Pilot land division project in Edmonton

To promote greater density in single-family-home neighbourhoods, homeowners will

be allowed to divide their properties into two building lots, when before there was one.

Below are some examples of how things might be done.

VERSION ONE:

In this case the owner

sells off a pork-chop

shaped lot and retains the

smaller lot fronting the

street. Both properties

have driveways off the

street.

VERSION TWO:

In this case the owner

subdivides and sells off

a portion of the

backyard with laneway

access.

ORIGINAL

PROPERTY

STREET

STREET

Existing driveway

Existing driveway

PROPERTY

LINES

New driveway

Existing

house

Existing

house

Divided

Original

New

house

New

house

New

driveway

LANEWAY

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCES: SHERRI SHORTEN; METTE RASMUSSEN; SHELLEY SABO; CITY OF TEA TREE GULLY

The result of this idea – a secondary house behind an existing house – might seem like old hat, given that cities such as Ottawa, Hamilton, Vancouver, Toronto and even Edmonton have slowly embraced allowing detached homeowners to build secondary suites on their properties, in the form of carriage houses (or garden homes, or laneway homes, or coach homes – the housing type has myriad names).

But Edmonton is taking the idea further and is testing a plan to let homeowners cut out and sell a portion of their lot, creating two properties where once there was only one.

In Canada, only Vancouver currently allows such sales, although Victoria has experimented with the idea.

Some in Edmonton are strongly in favour of the plan. “It simply adds to the options for homeowners to take advantage of the equity in their home property,” Mr. McKeen said.

Dozens of Edmonton property owners signed up to be the pilot program’s first guinea pigs. Eugene Dening is one of the few who made the cut.

The 34-year-old architect and his partner own a 900-square-foot, 1940s-era bungalow on Alberta Avenue, an older, inner-city Edmonton neighbourhood. And as with many houses built during the era, their house is small and out-sized by its relatively long, deep yard.

Story continues below advertisement

“We have a large lot and we found we didn’t use the back half at all,” Mr. Dening said.

Mr. Dening is an architect. So, faced with this unused yard space and remembering his time living in a laneway home in Vancouver, last year he designed and built a laneway home on what was once his garage. He said the one-bedroom, 500-square-foot laneway home is similar to a typical urban condo in design and it cost the couple about $70,000 to build.

Under Edmonton’s existing rules, Mr. Dening is only allowed to rent the secondary home to a tenant. But as part of the pilot, with the rezoning of his property, he will be able to slice a pork chop out of his existing property and sell it.

Dening is part of a city pilot project that allows homeowners to subdivide their backyard and sell part of it.

Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

For Mr. Dening, that opens up a bit of a quandary: How much is such a unique product worth?

“We’ve got a bunch of different numbers, but there’s not really a precedent for it,” he said. “We’re not sure. I’m going to post it for sale and see what kind of interest I get. I’ve been told anywhere from $110,000 to $180,000.”

If those prices sound low, that’s the point, supporters say. It’s seen as one way to support housing affordability.

Story continues below advertisement

Edmonton’s first effort at encouraging infill housing in its inner city was to allow many existing detached-home lots to be subdivided, but only down the middle. That means any move to make two dwellings on a property that once featured only one house required the existing house to be knocked down and two new ones built on either side of the middle dividing line.

The result has been so-called ‘skinny’ homes that, ironically, are much fatter in price than comparable new housing in the suburbs, let alone the existing but aging inner-city housing.

In some Edmonton neighbourhoods, where 1950s bungalows sell for $450,000, a modern, stylish skinny home beside them can sell for almost double that price.

Sherri Shorten, who advocated the pork-chop idea before Edmonton City Council in 2016 as part of an infill-housing ideas competition, said her goal was to disrupt the skinny-home trend in Edmonton while still finding a way to revitalize the city’s inner city.

“These skinny houses are basically a suburban model that’s being implanted in the mature neighbourhoods,” Ms. Shorten said. “Right now, we’re designing buildings to exclude.”

Pork-chop lots offer to flip that outcome, she said, and only require a tweak to zoning. “What I was looking at was bringing an idea forward that would deal with affordability and housing issues. The question was if you can split a lot down the middle, why can’t you split it front to back?”

Story continues below advertisement

The pork-chop approach allows housing to grow and shrink with individual needs, Ms. Shorten said. It also allows a neighbourhood to attract a diversity of socio-economic residents organically.

For example, she said, a pork-chop option could allow a retiree to remain in the home they raised a family in as a laneway home is built for them out back. Once it’s done, they can move to the new house and sell the old one, often at a lower price than a new-built one, allowing another family another affordable option in the form of the now unused, larger first house out front.

Still, Ms. Shorten said there will be challenges. A majority of Edmonton’s inner-city neighbourhoods have back alleys and laneways, but this infrastructure is often not well maintained. And simple things such as addresses and mailboxes are also expected to be hurdles to overcome.

But those who have dealt with the slings and arrows of infill in Edmonton – including resident opposition and concerns – such as Mr. McKeen, are supportive.

“For the existing community, a garden suite is the most sensitive form of infill,” he said. “It’s far less intrusive than demolishing a home and building two narrow lot homes. Yes, there will be additional parking demand. But the fact is, most residential streets in Edmonton have the capacity.”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter