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What are official plans and zoning by-laws?

In the past two posts, we have discussed land use issues and zoning for properties. These are two very important considerations for anyone who is purchasing land. It is vitally important that anyone who is considering purchasing land understand how zoning and land use might affect the land they are considering. In some cases, these points might make land unusable for the purpose for which you intend to use it.

What is an official plan?

The official plan of a municipality lays the groundwork for future land use. The policies in the official plan are legally enforceable and can provide a basis for refusal of new development in a specific area if it doesn't comply with the intended use of the land. Building permit requests might be refused if the permit isn't in line with the official plan.

What is a zoning by-law?

A zoning by-law contains information about how land might be used in the municipality. It states where structures can be located, lot sizes, lot dimensions, building heights, setback requirements, types of building, how buildings may be used, and parking requirements. In some municipalities, the zoning by-law is a comprehensive zoning by-law that uses detailed maps to provide the requisite information.

Can zoning by-laws and official plans be changed?

It is possible to apply for a zoning by-law amendment, which is also known as a rezoning or zoning change, if you want to use land in a way that isn't allowed by the current by-laws. Each municipality has specific methods for requesting a zoning by-law amendment, so it is vital that you learn how to request this in the municipality where the property is located.

Source: Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Provincial Planning Policy Branch, "Zoning By-laws," accessed Aug. 05, 2015

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Yigal Rifkind, Barrister & Solicitor Attorney

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