Top 10 Questions Asked to Planning Consultants

By Savas Varadas

As a Planning Consultant and Registered Professional Planner in Ontario, I often get asked several different general questions, particularly when I first meet with a new client.  These questions are usually questions that will help my client understand what it is I can or will do for them, what type of process they need to go through and what other information they’ll need to gather for their project.  Some clients of mine are well versed in the Planning process and others are not, and thus the questions may serve as a first glimpse into the Planning process in Ontario.

I thought it would be helpful for people to hear these questions and read the answers that I would normally give my clients.  Below you will find ten of the most frequently asked questions I receive and their answers.  Feel free to contact me should you have a question that is not listed here you would like answered or if you would like more information on any of the questions listed.

1. What can I do with my property?
Many people ask me this question first and foremost. While the question could be easily answered, it could also involve a complex review of the future development patterns of the Municipality and how your property falls into that future plan. The answer depends on many factors, but mainly involves reviewing the Zoning By-law of the Town/City that the subject property is situated in.  A review of the Zoning By-law can tell you the permitted uses of the lands, the setbacks that are required from property lines, the size and massing of the buildings that can be constructed on it and if dividing your lands into more properties is possible.  However, changing the Zoning of your lands is sometimes possible, as is receiving approval for minor variations from the regulations of the Zoning By-law.  While the question could be easily answered, it could also involve a complex review of the future development patterns of the Municipality and how your property falls into that future plan.  

2. How long does it take to get my approval?
The length of time it takes to get a Planning Approval varies on the type of application and the complexity of the approval. Official Plan Amendments and Plans of Subdivision are usually more complex applications with several different professionals involved and often require input from many sources.  Applications such as Minor Variances or Site Plan Approvals may be complex as well, but often are more streamlined and pass through the Planning Process quicker.  A good guideline is to leave around 2 months minimum from the time of filing the application to receiving approval for it for the most basic of applications.  Others can take 4, 6 or even a year or more to make their way through the process.

3. Can I appeal the decision to deny my application?
In most cases, yes, you can appeal the decision to deny your application to the Ontario Municipal Board, or OMB, which is somewhat of a Planning court if you will. Some applications or sections of the Planning Act are not appealable, but most are.  If your application is denied, usually the formal decision you receive from the municipality will have information about appealing the decision to the OMB.  Please keep in mind that any decision can be appealed by any member of the public.  For instance, a decision to approve your application can be appealed by a disgruntled neighbour. However, should your matter be appealed to the OMB, be prepared to fight the case appropriately, which usually involves retaining a lawyer to run the case and other expert witnesses, such as myself, to provide professional evidence.

4. Will my neighbours hear about the project?
This depends on the type of application that is being filed. Some applications involve the public, such as Rezonings, Minor Variances, Plans of Subdivision, etc. and in those cases the Planning Act requires that property owners of a certain distance to the subject lands be circulated information on the application and the date of the public meeting.  Other types of applications, such as Site Plan Approvals and some Development Permit applications, do not require public input under the regulations of the Planning Act and thus your neighbours will not be circulated on the matter.  Check with your Planner or the municipal Planner to determine whether or not your application requires public input.

5. My buildings are old, are they grandfathered?
Whether or not the buildings on your property or their uses are grandfathered, or are considered legal non-complying or non-conforming, depends on the regulations of the municipality’s Zoning By-law. Usually the Zoning By-law sets a date or uses the date of the passing of the Zoning By-law to determine whether a building or use is considered legal non-complying/conforming and also sets out other provisions to consider.  Such buildings are almost always permitted to be reconstructed to their original size and shape, but expansion of the building is regulated differently in each municipality.  As a general rule of thumb in the Muskoka area, any legal building that predates 1970 has a good chance of being considered legal non-complying or non-conforming.  Lastly, when referring to the legality of the building, I am referring to whether or not the building was constructed with a building permit in hand, or at a time when building permits were not being issues or any previous records being kept.

6. Do I need to hire you?
At this time the Planning Act does not require a Registered Professional Planner (RPP) to complete any task solely. Members of the public as applicants can go through the Planning process on their own, representing themselves.  That said, their opinion on the matter is likely not to carry as much weight as the opinion of a RPP in the eyes of Council and municipal Committees and especially the Ontario Municipal Board.  A RPP can help navigate you through the process, being an expert professional on the matter, and can help prepare the application in a way that is more compliant to the municipality’s policies and regulations, as to save you time and improve the likelihood of success. While it is not absolutely necessary to hire a Planner, it is usually not recommended to do so, particularly for complex development proposals.

7. What services do you offer?
A Planner can offer you a wide range of services based on their particular expertise or previous work experience. Some Planners have worked in land development their whole career and can offer services more tailored to land development applications.  Other Planners have worked in policy planning for the majority of their careers and can offer services that may be more tailored to municipalities looking for assistance.  I myself have a background in design and have only worked in the private sector for primarily land development/land use planning related projects.  My services include assisting with a wide range of such applications, such as Zoning Amendments, Site Plan Approvals, Minor Variances, Consents, etc. and my design skills offer me the ability to prepare site plans and conceptual development plans for clients as well.  I have a experience in the preparation of site plans under the Aggregate Resources Act and preparing Zoning Compliance reports for Feed In Tariff Solar projects. Finally, I am well versed in AutoCAD and Photoshop software as well.  Those are the types of services I offer based on my skill set and experience, which are unique to me, but other Planners could specialize in a service you are requiring.

8. Do I need a survey?
Most planning applications require that a sketch be submitted with the application, but this sketch does not have to be prepared by an Ontario Land Surveyor in most cases. However, particularity in Consent and Subdivision applications, after approval the finalization of the application requires a reference plan or other survey plan to be prepared and deposited by an OLS that describes the lands.  Sometimes surveys are extremely beneficial to a Planning application and sometimes they are not necessary based on the existing information that can be obtained and the complexity of the application.  Before hiring an OLS to prepare a survey, speak to your Planner to find out if its necessary and if so, what type of survey or what type of information the survey should contain.

9. Does Council approve my application?
Council is not always the approval authority of a Planning application. There are Committees that serve as approval authorities, Planning Boards, and even Staff often have the power delegated to them to approve certain applications.  Every By-law that is passed, is passed by Council but often is done so on the resolution passed by a previous Committee.  Committees can and often contain Council members as well, such as Planning Committees and Committees of Adjustment.  To understand if your application will be approved by Council, ask your Planner or the municipal Planner for the answer.

10. Do you prepare building drawings for building permits?
As a Planner, unless they have special training the matter, Building Permit drawings are not a service they would offer. The Ontario Building Code requires that Architects or designers with BCIN numbers prepare the drawings that accompany a Building Permit application.  However, the Ontario Building Code permits property owners to prepare their own drawings as well.  As a result, Planners often do not prepare these drawings as they are not experts on the Ontario Building Code.  In rare circumstances, I myself have prepared simple drawings solely as a draftsman for a client.

I hope these questions have given you some insight into the Planning process in Ontario and what a Planning Consultant can do for you.  If you have any other questions please feel free to comment with your question or contact me through my website at