Zoning by-laws are development standards that are meant to be a reflection of municipal policy in the official plan. They provide strict direction on what is permitted on a site, including maximum heights and densities, permitted uses, setbacks and stepbacks, number of parking spaces per residential unit, and much more.
Zoning by-laws should reflect the aspirations of a city’s official plan. In many cases in Toronto, the in-force zoning by-law does not reflect its Official Plan, leading to frequent site-specific amendments. As an example, policy may direct mid-rise (6+ storey) or tall-building (typically 12+ storey) development, but the in-force zoning by-law may only permit a maximum of four-storeys. This often occurs because the zoning by-law is updated much less frequently than the overarching policy, with many places downtown reflecting zoning standards from 1986 or earlier.
Most development applications require a zoning by-law law amendment. A typical zoning by-law amendment will follow this process:
Municipalities update their own policy in a similar fashion, and like with development applications, developers and landowners can choose to appeal this policy direction to the provincial tribunal.
City Council is only the final authority on a decision if there is no appeal. The costs of an appeal are not low, but the ability to seek a “second opinion” from a tribunal member means that it is rare where a refusal on a development application does not lead to a lengthy appeal process at the provincial tribunal, which does not favor municipal decision making.