A Guide to Managing the Development Process

From zoning permits to heritage preservation, there is a long list of processes and applications that need to be considered when managing a design development process. While many of these tasks will be taken care of by the project’s architect, it’s important for you to be aware of all of the applications and approvals you will need from your municipality and others in order to complete your project on time and on budget.

If you are the project manager representing yourself in the design and construction of the project you will need to familiarize yourself with a considerable number of municipal zoning processes, agreements, approvals, permits and site servicing undertakings which will require your oversight. Some of these will need to be dealt with at the same time as the design is developing (e.g. rezoning and site plan approval), but others are best left until after the design is complete (e.g. permits). Municipal planning staff can help guide you through the process.

Generally, much or all of the administration and documents for these items are handled by the architect with, in some cases, the help of one or more of the sub-consultants. Often they will all have to be sorted out prior to the start of construction. It is important that you have a good understanding of everything relating to the permits that apply to your project well in advance of putting the shovel in the ground. That’s because in many cases, it’s likely that the various departments in your municipality are understaffed and buried in work, which can lead to delays and surprises and more delays that will have an impact on your schedule and your costs.

At Artscape, project managers for our new projects have to stay on top of a range of zoning, permitting and other approvals. Most of these are municipal but in some cases the provincial government is also involved (e.g. environmental issues).

Zoning, Permits and Services (City of Toronto)
Pre-Application Applicable Law Review (PAL)
This is a useful way to dip your toe in the water to determine whether your project conforms to the local zoning bylaw and any other applicable law before preparing your building permit application. It will also delineate the development charges that are applicable to the project. In Toronto, the PAL fee can be applied to the building permit if you reach that stage.

Preliminary Project Review (PPR)
This provides another method of determining compliance or non-compliance to zoning where the available information is sketchy, overlapping or confusing. Most planners at the City of Toronto encourage applicants to do this. It is useful where the Committee of Adjustment is an alternative to rezoning and can provide regulations on sign variances, business licenses and right of way permits. To learn more about PAL and PPR in Toronto click here.

Whether or not you used a PAL or PPR above to clarify zoning issues, somewhere early on in project planning a determination will have to be made regarding the future uses of the project – will they work within the local zoning designation or is rezoning required? For example, you might want to create a live/work building in an area zoned as industrial or convert a school to commercial uses in an area zoned residential. Your municipality will probably require a zoning bylaw specific to the site. It may also require an amendment to your municipality’s official plan if it includes changes that contravene or diverge from a larger template contemplated by the local or city-wide official plan.

In Toronto, a zoning bylaw generally requires door-to-door notification of a public meeting within a certain period of time and within a certain distance of the property. The meeting itself – where you will make a presentation and answer questions regarding the development – will be led by an employee of the city planning department and may be attended by support staff and the local councillor. This is followed by negotiations with planning and other city staff, passage by one or more committees of city council and finally passage by council at large.

For more on zoning as it relates to the development of creative space read Square Feet: The Artist’s Guide to Renting and Buying Work Space.

Site Plan Approval (SPA)
The relationship between the project and its surroundings is covered by the site plan application. In some cases, a letter of credit is required as security for some conditions in the approval (e.g. vehicle and pedestrian access, parking, servicing, urban design, landscape and streetscape, facade materials, etc.). This can be undertaken concurrently with rezoning. All projects within the City of Toronto require SPA, but this is not the case in all municipalities.

Click here for City of Toronto site plan approval application guidelines.

Record of Site Condition
If you are developing a project in Ontario – in particular on a brownfield property or involving a derelict building — under O. Reg.153/04 you may be required to post a Record of Site Condition to demonstrate that any designated substances on the property have been properly remediated as recommended by a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment by a qualified environmental consultant.


Heritage Preservation Services
You will have to work closely with the Heritage Preservation Services department in cases when an old building’s façade appearance, exterior, or the interior features which contribute to its historical significance is being altered in any way, or the building is being added to (e.g. new floors or wings). This is the case whether it is listed by the city as having historic significance or has been designated as having heritage status by the city via a bylaw. The province may also have a separate interest in the property. This work is usually led by a consulting heritage architect that specializes in heritage buildings.

In some cases a Heritage Easement Agreement (HEA) might be required as part of site plan approval or other building or development approvals or permits. An HEA can stipulate building design approaches, the restoration and placement of heritage artefacts on site and historic interpretation elements for public education. The HEA can be registered on the title to ensure its status and agreement elements are respected in the future. Often a letter of credit is required as security for the work specified in the HEA. Preserving heritage buildings can also provide eligibility for grants, loans and property tax relief.

Click here for more information on heritage preservation in the City of Toronto.


Right of Way Management
In Toronto a street occupation permit is required for any construction or demolition project that spills over onto the city property or affects the vehicular or pedestrian public right of way. A comprehensive list of typical construction obstructions is available from the City of Toronto.

This right of way management agreement is also administered by the Transportation Services department in Toronto. It basically requires sign-off from phone, cable, gas, electrical and other service providers stating that they do not have any underground infrastructure in the vicinity of where the below-grade construction or landscaping is to take place.

Encroachment Agreement
If a portion of a building of projection is on or over city property then an encroachment agreement is required.

Streetscape Permit
A streetscape permit will be required for any landscaping, such as tree planting, that you might want to do outside your property line on an adjacent city right of way. The applicant may also have to commit to maintenance of anything they place on city property.

Tree Removal and Protection Permits
In Toronto, these permits are required for any trees that are to be removed or protected from construction activity on public property and any trees on private property with a diameter of 30 cm or greater at 1.4 metres above ground level. Click here to read frequently asked questions regarding tree removal in the City of Toronto.


Sign and Sign Variance Permits
Municipalities have sign bylaws for signage affixed to buildings or free-standing on private property that include restrictions on size, location, overhang and other factors.

Click here to see more information regarding sign variance permits in the City of Toronto.

Electrical and Gas Services
Projects that require a new or increased electrical service will have to contract the local approved provider – in Toronto that’s Toronto Hydro – for work that brings the power to the building. For example, this may include new or additional power lines, duct banks for buried lines, transformers, etc. The same will be true for gas services including gas lines, duct banks and metering. Generally, the provider will either do this work itself or hire sub-contractors to do the work; in any case it will be at the developer’s expense.

Municipal Water and Drain Services
In cases of a new building, increased demand in a repurposed existing building or old and deficient services, the local water authority will contract any work required to bring water supply pipes and drains to the property line at the developer’s expense.

Green Development Standard
Toronto has created a mandatory tier 1 and optional tier 2 lists of sustainable building design requirements for new buildings permitted after February 1, 2010. They are specific to three categories: low-rise non-residential, low-rise residential and mid- to high-rise buildings for either use. Optional tier 2 features will relieve a portion of development charges. Failure to incorporate these designs will prevent issuance of a building permit. Click here to read details regarding Tier 1 and 2 green development standards in the City of Toronto.

Building Permit
Before construction can begin you must have your building permit in hand. It ensures that the project’s plans conform to provincial and local building codes and regulations and local zoning bylaws. Depending on the project’s size and scope, building permit applications are typically circulated through various city departments, such as planning, heritage preservation services, urban forestry, transportation, etc., to ensure that you have obtained all the permits each requires and have otherwise satisfied their concerns regarding your design and approach to construction.

Any department may simply sign off, respond with questions or require you to change plans and specifications. If any disagreements arise, your architect may negotiate with the department on your behalf. It is worth noting that issuance of the building permit does not preclude changes in design and construction approach that may be required by the building inspector assigned to your project after construction has begun. Permits are typically reviewed by the building department and may be circulated/reviewed by other departments if there is a discrepancy between the permit drawings and approved site plan drawings. Click here to learn more about building permits and approvals in the City of Toronto.

For more information on building permits as they relate to the development of creative space read Square Feet: The Artist’s Guide to Renting and Buying Work Space.