By-laws, Building Heights, the OMB and CDPs – time for a planning primer!


You might have read or heard  speculation about the City of Ottawa’s  intention to appeal a recent Ontario  Municipal Board (OMB) decision on  the Centretown Community Design  Plan. On April 29, 2015, the Ontario  Municipal Board ruled that building  height limits did not belong in the  Centretown Community Design Plan.

The OMB’s decision on the  Centretown (CDP) has significant  implications for Ottawa’s future. Our  recently updated Official Plan (2014)  contains very prescriptive building  heights. The decision to include  building heights in Ottawa’s Official  Plan was criticized by Ottawa’s  homebuilders.

The OMB ruling on building heights in Community Design Plans could be used to challenge building height limits in Ottawa’s Official Plan. Given what’s at stake and the fact that you’re going to be hearing about this in the news media, we thought it useful to provide Ottawans with a short primer on land use planning.

Ontario’s Planning Act

Ontario’s Planning Act sets out the ground rules for land use planning throughout Ontario. It is the foundational document that governs how land uses may be controlled and who may control them. Like a constitution, it outlines the set of fundamental principles according to which people are governed.

The Planning Act serves as the basis for the planning policies and rules that guide future development in Ottawa. The authority to create zoning by-laws, plans of subdivision and official plans, flows from the Planning Act. All of these planning instruments play prominently in Ottawa’s land use debates.

Ottawa’s Official Plan

Ottawa’s Official Plan (OP) is the City’s policy on how land in Ottawa should be used and provides a vision of the future for the City and its physical development. Ottawa’s current Official Plan “provides a policy framework to guide its physical development to the year 2021”. Official plans are intended to be descriptive in nature, not prescriptive.

Official plans are of critical importance to planners, homebuilders and landowners as they provide a roadmap for the future of a city’s growth and development. They shape how and where cities grow, and provide homebuilders with an understanding of what types of land uses will be encouraged.

Community Design Plans

The purpose of a Community Design Plan is to tailor the principles and policies of an official plan to the needs or characteristics of a community. A CDP is a supplement to an official plan. A CDP can focus on the character of the business district through the treatment of building facades, the design of pedestrian areas, “streetscaping” and lighting.

When developing a CDP, the municipality works with the community, landowners, local businesses, school boards and other interested parties. A CDP must be approved by the municipality’s council.

Community Design Plans must conform to the Planning Act. When it came to the Centretown CDP, the Ontario Municipal Board decided that the plan’s building height limits did not belong in a CDP, rather they belonged in a zoning by-law.

Ottawa’s Comprehensive Zoning by-law

Ottawa’s Comprehensive Zoning By-Law controls the use of land in Ottawa. The zoning by-law is a rules-based document that outlines things such as: how land may be used; where buildings and other structures can be located; the types of buildings that are permitted; the use of buildings, lot sizes and dimensions; parking requirements; building heights; and, setbacks from the street.

According to the Government of Ontario: “an official plan sets out [a] municipality’s general policies for future land use. Zoning by-laws put the plan into effect and provide for its day-to-day administration.” A zoning by-law is prescriptive in nature, not descriptive.

When a landowner wants to develop land in a way that is not permitted by the zoning by-law, she/he can seek an amendment to the zoning by-law. These are commonly called “rezonings”. Rezonings are governed by a process that requires strict notification for affected residents and often involve community and industry presentations to the planning committee and then approval by city council.

The Ontario Municipal Board

The City of Ottawa has the responsibility and legal authority for land use planning in Ottawa. The City’s authority over land use planning flows from the Planning Act, which is a Provincial Government law. This means that the City must abide by the Planning Act when it creates community design plans, official plans and the zoning by-law.

When landowners and the City cannot resolve their disagreements over planning issues, they can take these disagreements to the Ontario Municipal Board. The Ontario Municipal Board is an independent tribunal that conducts hearings and makes decisions on matters that arise under the Planning Act, such as official plans, zoning by-laws, subdivision plans, consents and minor variances.


Comments for this post are closed.