Design Review Panel - An Extra Step In Small Scale Development?

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Whenever you take on any small-scale land development, it’s highly unlikely you would be able to accomplish your objective “by-right”, meaning within the existing zoning by-law framework. Restrictions such as building setbacks, height, lot size, etc are common obstacles you would need to push beyond the current rules in order to make your project feasible, typically through minor variances. This is especially true if you plan on doing any lot severances.

The process involves determining what variances would be required, and putting in an application for a hearing at the Committee of Adjustment (CofA), who are a group of local residents appointed by City Council. The city will evaluate first, and make recommendations to the CofA, who will make a final decision on whether or not you have permission to move forward with the project. It is wise to be proactive, and seek the advice of city planners on your project, either on your own or through the assistance of a private planner.

The recommendations by the City is in the form of a City staff report, and is the most important factor influencing the CoA's decision. It is critical that the report is supportive of your proposal for higher chances of success.

The Design Review Panel (DRP) in most cities is an advisory body made up of design professionals to advise City staff on issues related to design which affects the "public realm, including proposed buildings, structures, landscape and associated streetscapes", as described by the City of Vaughan. In most cases, these are focused on larger scale projects.


However, in the City of St. Catharines, where we currently have 2 projects, they have started a pilot DRP program even for small-scale development. They state that the purpose of the DRP is “to advise and assist in reviewing and evaluation applications for residential lot creation”.

Is this a sign that cities will be adding this additional layer of bureaucracy as a result, even on small projects because of various intensification projects sprouting up as a result of our housing shortages?

We don't quite know yet, but we certainly hope not. And we'll be keeping a close eye on these developments in other cities.

In the meantime, this additional step may be coming to a city near you, so in addition to function and financial feasibility, your project should also focus on good design.