Preparing a Site Sketch for a Planning Act Application

By Savas Varadas

As a Planning Consultant, I often prepare Site Sketches to accompany several different types of applications that are filed with the Planning Department of municipalities across Ontario.  Applications such as Minor Variances, Consent Applications, and Zoning Amendments all require property sketches with various types of information added to them to assist the Planning Staff, members of Council, Committee members, the public or any other approval authority with the processing of the application and for making a decision on the matter.  They need to be prepared clear and concise as to properly convey the physical details of the property, its structures and the proposal.  I thought I would share the different steps I go through when preparing a sketch for an application, as to allow you to understand the work behind the simple finished product.


Notebook and pencilThe first step that I usually take when beginning work on a site sketch is to obtain the information I require to prepare a boundary plan for the property.  In rare occurrences I am provided with a “Real Property Report” from my client, which is a survey and analysis of the property.  That type of survey plan provides me with all the information I require to begin to prepare the sketch.  If I am not provided a Real Property report, I visit the Registry Office of the region that the property is located in and search for the Title Abstract of the property, which will give me the legal description of the lands.  The legal description will provide me with any existing survey reference plans that describe the property, such as Parts 1 and 2 on Plan 35R-20503, for example.  I can then find the plan and make a copy of it, thus giving me the bearings and dimensions of the boundary of the property. This is the information I require to replicate the boundary accurately in AutoCAD, the drafting software I use to create the plan. Sometimes a property is not described by a survey plan, which is often the case with very old properties.  There are two approaches I take when this occurs.  Firstly, I review what is called the Block Map for the area that the property is located in.  This map will provide me with survey plan numbers for the lands surrounding the property, if any exist.  Often, there have been surveys of those lands and if I obtain copies of all those plans I can realistically prepare an accurate boundary for the sketch.  If that approach is not fruitful, then I review the Deed/Transfer documents registered on the title of the lands to obtain a Metes and Bounds description of the property.  Metes and Bounds is a system of describing land similar to modern surveying.  Basically it describes a starting point of a known location and then provides you with a distance and bearing to travel to the next point, and the same for the following point, and so on until you return to the starting point, thus drawing a boundary around the lands.  Using these methods, I am almost always able to accurately describe the boundary of the lands I’m preparing the sketch for.

Survey Plan Excerpt

Survey prepared by Coote Hiley Jemmett Limited (

After completing the exercise of preparing the boundary survey, the next step is to populate the plan with the relevant existing topographical information of the property.  This would be items like existing buildings, driveways, roads, septic systems, wells, streams, wetlands, vegetation, topographical contours, etc.  Again, if a Real Property Report was provided to me, many of these items would be easily available to be accurately located on the plan.  In the absence of any existing surveys of this information, I usually obtain the most clear and highest resolution aerial photo I can find, overlay it on the boundary plan and trace the existing features I require.  Then I visit the property, measure the buildings and locate them as accurately as possible on the plan using the previously traced outlines as a guideline.  I often try to find as many of the survey bars as possible, which are normally located beside a wooden stake with a painted top.  This allows me to measure distances from known locations to building corners, and by using triangulation I can locate buildings fairly accurately with this method.  Whenever there is a critical dimension or setback from a property line for the proposal that the sketch is being prepared for, it is best to get an Ontario Land Surveyor to survey the dimension. That way there is not room for error with the approval that is being applied for.  Contours can be obtained from Ontario Base Mapping sources, but usually only at a 5 metre contour interval, which is only detailed enough for larger tracts of land.  1 metre or 0.5 metre intervals are normally only obtained by purchasing them through an aerial photography mapping company.


Zoning TableAfter I have a sketch with all the buildings and topographical features on the plan that I require, the next step that I usually do (if I haven’t done so already) is a review of the Zoning By-law of the Municipality that the property is located in to obtain the information I require to properly assess the property.  The regulations in the Zoning By-law such as minimum yard setback requirements, maximum lot coverage, maximum width of shoreline activity areas, minimum landscaping requirements, etc are all useful regulations to review for the preparation of the sketch.  Often, reviewing this provisions will give you insight into the issues that will arise with the proposal and what sort of exceptions or approvals will be required.  I often create a table on the drawing itself that lists the minimum/maximum requirements of the relevant zone and the characteristics of the property  ie. Permitted maximum lot coverage = 10%, Existing Lot Coverage 7.8%


Excerpt of Floor PlanAfter obtaining and analyzing the pertinent Zoning information for the property, the proposal is normally added to the sketch, whether its a new building, a reconstruction or redevelopment of the existing buildings, an addition, a proposed property line, etc.  Floor plans or digital CAD drawings of the proposed buildings are required to accurately insert the building on to the plan, if that is the type of development being proposed.  In the case of the redevelopment of the property, I often leave the outlines of the buildings to be removed on the plan for reference.  Their locations and sizes often factor into the decision of the application and seeing how the buildings compare in to each other is often helpful. Sometimes the permitted limits of the development of the lands are added as dashed lines offset from property lines, representing the closest building are permitted to be located on the property.  This creates what we call a building envelope, which helps visually demonstrate the locations on the property that building construction can occur.  Often, new additions or buildings are shaded, hatched, or bolded to emphasize their importance on the plan.  If vegetative buffers are required or being proposed as part of the application, those areas are added with hatching or tree/shrub symbols to represent them.


Excerpt of Labelled PlanAfter the proposal details are added to the plan, the finishing touches are added to the sketch.  These involve the adding of dimensions to the plan (both the property boundary dimensions and the setbacks from the buildings to the property lines), labels to all the buildings and areas of the sketch, adding street names, adding lake names, etc to the plan itself.  Also, a title block is added to the plan, containing information such as the title of the plan, the applicant’s name, the legal description of the property, the scale, date, file name, project number, a company logo, and any other relevant information.  Finally, a north arrow and if necessary, a visual scale is added.  The finished product is printed to scale on usually letter, legal or ledger size paper and several copies are enclosed with the application.

I hope this has given you an idea of the work that goes behind the preparation of the site sketch for a Planning Act application.  Feel free to comment with any questions or contact me at