You’ve got a vision, but do you have a site plan? 

In Ontario municipal law, site plans play a critical role in ensuring development plans meet the needs of communities, guiding the development process while ensuring effective land use. This process helps municipalities ensure development projects comply with municipal by-laws and other relevant policies

But what does the site plan application process look like? In this blog post, we’ll discuss the role of site plans in municipal development, walk through the site plan approval process, and answer some commonly asked questions about site plan approval. 

What is a Site Plan? 

A site plan is a drawing developers, and planners use to designate existing and proposed changes to a parcel of land they tend to develop. These site plans will typically show the key elements of the development plan, including buildings, roads, parking, sewer and drainage, water lines, and other essential components. 

Why Do Site Plans Matter? 

Developers must often provide a site plan to a municipality before approval. Under s. 41 of the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.13, municipalities may establish site plan control areas. If a developer intends to develop land within a site plan control area, they must provide a site plan. 

How Do I Determine Whether a Site Plan is Required? 

Site plan control areas can vary based on the municipality. To determine whether the land in question is in a site plan control area, consult the municipality’s by-laws to determine whether they have adopted a Site Plan Control By-law (for example, Ottawa’s Site Plan Control By-law can be viewed here.) This document will outline which parts of the municipality are designated site plan control areas. 

Remember that even if the land in question falls within a site plan control area, you may be exempt from providing a site plan depending on the nature of the development. Therefore, developers must consult the municipality’s Site Plan Control By-law thoroughly to confirm the extent of their obligations. 

The Site Plan Approval Process in Ontario 

The site plan approval process can look slightly different depending on the municipality (for example, some municipalities have additional application requirements depending on the type of proposed development). However, in most cases, the site plan approval process will follow the process outlined below. For a comprehensive understanding of what will be required in your situation, speak with an experienced municipal law lawyer.

Submitting a Site Plan Approval Application

Developers who require site plan approval must submit a completed site plan approval application to the municipality. Developers often consult with the municipality before submitting their site plan approval to ensure that the parties are aligned on the expectations and that the developer presents all the information needed by the municipality, thus avoiding extra costs and delays during the approval process. 

The information required for a site plan approval application can vary depending on the municipality’s requirements. Generally speaking. However, a site plan will contain information and detailed drawings relating to a proposed development, outlining the location of existing and proposed: 

  • Buildings and structures (including the height of buildings and structures); 
  • Roads, driveways, sidewalks, and paths; 
  • Parking areas (including the number of parking stalls that will be made available); 
  • Utilities (including water, sewer, gas, and electrical lines); 
  • Waste and recycling centres; and
  • Landscaping, topographical, and environmental features. 

Municipal Consideration of the Site Plan 

After receiving a site plan approval application, the municipal council (or staff, if the council delegates the task to municipal staff) will review the completed application to ensure that the proposed site plan complies with municipal by-laws and other relevant land-use planning policies in Ontario. 

Depending on the circumstances, the municipality may also consult with external agencies or other municipal departments to ensure that the proposed site plan complies with other relevant requirements (for example, conservation requirements). 

The municipality may approve or reject or approve a site plan with conditions. For example, under s. 41(7) of the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.13, a municipality may make approval conditional on the developer agreeing to take additional steps, such as widening highways that border the land in question or designing facilities to have regard for accessibility for persons with disabilities. 

The length of a site plan approval process may vary depending on the municipality; however, in all cases, applicants are allowed to appeal a site plan application to the Ontario Land Tribunal if a municipality fails to approve the site plan application within 30 days. 

Preparing a Site Plan Agreement

A site plan agreement is prepared if the municipality approves the proposed site plan. 

A site plan agreement comes when a municipality approves a developer’s site plan. A site plan agreement is binding between the municipality and the developer. This document is registered on the title, outlining the site plan and ensuring that the development is conducted as outlined in the site plan. 

What Happens After Site Plan Approval is Obtained? 

After registering the site plan agreement on the title, a developer may apply for a building permit with the municipality, which, once obtained, enables the developer to begin construction on their land. 

What If I Fail to Comply With a Site Plan Agreement? 

A site plan agreement is a binding contract between developers and municipalities. If a developer fails to comply with the site plan agreement, they will likely face legal consequences as outlined in either the terms of the site plan agreement or the municipality’s Site Plan Control By-law. 

Final Thoughts on Ontario’s Site Plan Approval Process

The site plan approval process is a critical regulatory tool for municipalities, helping to ensure that proposed developments align with municipal by-laws and policies alongside broader land use objectives in Ontario. 

And, while the site plan approval process may feel daunting, there are many ways for developers to set themselves up for success and avoid unexpected delays or issues down the line. For one, early consultation with the municipality is a prudent step to ensure there is support for the development (and to determine whether any aspects of the site plan will need to be amended before the application is submitted). Another critical step is to speak with an experienced municipal law lawyer. Whether you have questions regarding the process or intend to appeal a site plan approval decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal, they will be an invaluable resource. 

If You Have Questions About Site Plans Contact Our Experienced Municipal Lawyers

Navigating municipal requirements can be significant, particularly for those unfamiliar with this specialized area of the law. 

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our lawyers have decades of experience representing clients in real estate and municipal law matters. We strive to provide timely and comprehensive services. Contact us online or at 1-888-799-8057 to speak with an experienced municipal law lawyer.  


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