Montreal's Plateau Mont-Royal borough has implemented new rules that will sharply curtail the construction of semi-basement or "garden-level" condominiums.
For the purposes of the bylaw, a garden-level condo is one in which 60 per cent of the living space is located below the level of the sidewalk. This housing type made huge inroads during the go-go construction boom that began in the late 1990s, as builders sought to maximize the number of units they could cram into their buildings while still respecting height limitations.
In the Plateau, for example, that often meant that buildings could not be taller than the area's triplexes. One strategy might be to build a half storey below the ground, and three stories up, still within the height restriction and conveniently less than four floors. Another benefit of building fewer than four stories and yet more than three was that Quebec's building code states that buildings with three floors can be built of wood frame, while those measure more than four must be made of poured concrete.
The problem was that a lot of these half basements were pokey and dark, with windows that let in little light and less air. At least, that's what a 2010 Plateau study seemed to indicate. Of 29 proposed projects, 19 were to be built in high traffic areas where basement windows would offer little natural light, unappealing views and too much noise.
From now on, Plateau semi-basement condos will be permitted only on strictly residential streets and even then builders will have to ensure that windows are set back a minimum of 1.5 metres from the sidewalk. The space between the window and the sidewalk will have to be 60 per cent planted, not paved. Further, the setback from any parking area on the property will be a minimum of two metres.
In most cases, the new rules will mean that promoters will incorporate the semi-basements into their ground-floor units. It might even be that by tweaking the bylaws, the borough will help make the Plateau more attractive to families looking for homes with room for kids to live, sleep and play.
So far, the Plateau stands alone with these new rules, though the Sud-Ouest borough is said to be looking at them with interest. You can read more about it in La Presse.